Home > Uncategorized > What to eat in KL

What to eat in KL

This deals only with the most vital and important part of travel (and no, this isn’t a lesson in how to use the toilet in South Asia–you folks can ask independently about that): FOOD!

Kuala Lumpur recalls the idea of “salad bowl” diversity, as many of my UCSB professors liked to use to counter the “melting pot” idiom.  In this case, I think we can get away with calling it simply “the wok”.  The city includes a mixture of Indian, Chinese (mostly from the South–Hong Kong, Guangdong and Fujian) and Ethnic Malays and therefore reflects the cuisine of each place both separate and simmering in one anothers juices.  Snap.

First, Teh Tarik was certainly good, kind of like a warm milk tea that one could find in China, except without the tang of too many chemicals.  While we drank, a few drops of rain began to fall, and immediately the sidewalk cafe full of people picked up their plates and re-settled inside seconds before an extremely heavy downpour washed the sidewalks and left the smell of wet blacktop in the air. 

For breakfast, Usha’s roommate Anu took me to what looked like a barn that had pillars in place of walls.  Food stalls of all kinds circled the center court, kind of like a free standing mall food court without Dominos and the like.  She ate something that I also tried later that afternoon called Nasi Lemak.  If you’ve ever had Malaysian food (other than Nasi Goreng–fried rice), this is likely what you had.  It’s super moist chicken (though sometimes other meats) with dried anchovies and peanuts with a side of steamed rice that’s been soaked in coconut cream.  You can find it in a lot of places wrapped in a purse like bundle in a banana leaf.  I just ate it on its own.

I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed the flavor that the dried anchovies brought to the dish, not usually being someone who enjoys fish all that much.  This time their beady little lifeless eyes struck no fear whatsoever into me, except perhaps, the fear that they may once have been employed at a local foot spa, eating dead skin from in between the toes of tourists.

Usha, who has Sri Lankan heritage, brought me to a neighborhood in Bangsar that is famous for its Apum, an Indian crepe-style dessert.  I spoiled my dinner with it, though, which was ok–we went to Chinese food afterwards.  The Apum was not much to look at–a lot of brown sugar melted on top of a pastry at the bottom of a stainless steel bowl, but it was the perfect blend of starch, sugar, and butter.  What more could I ask for?

Usha was busy for most of the week working on a book about campaign finance (she is a proper grown up and has a proper job…maybe proper isn’t the word…), so Anu was my host in most of the adventures I took.  The week was mostly spent in the city lounging, as it was extremely hot and I was down to my last couple hundred ringet.  As soon as I’d been ushered into the house, however, a tense moment erupted between Usha and Anu.

“You should take her to the Baba-Nyona part of Malacca, and while you’re there you should try the chicken rice balls,” Usha said, half to Anu, half to me.

“What are those?”  I asked.  I knew that chicken rice was as simple as it sounded–pieces of well seasoned chicken in thick sauce with rice.  But balls?

“They make the balls out of glutinous rice-lah, you know, sticky rice?”  ‘Rice-lah’ isn’t any different than normal rice.  Malaysians just say “lah” a lot at the end of English words.  Kind of the same way we say “like.”

“Yes, with a lot of butter,” Anu said.

“Noooo-lah, they don’t make them with butter,” Usha said.

“Yes they do,” Anu said, “they do make it with butter.”

Etc…until

“Ok, Emily, now you have to go to Malacca and find out,” Usha said.

Anu and I took a road trip to Malacca, two hours to the south, during which time I splurged on a mint-chocolate chip shake from Baskin Robbins.  They don’t have that in China.  Don’t judge me.  After walking around the brick block ruins of St. Paul’s church, we found another food court, and the chicken rice balls right up front.  No butter.  They’re just steamed with lots and lots of water.

The final night I had Char Kuay Teow with Usha, which is an improved version of Chinese fried flat noodles with shellfish throughout.  Then, of course, I had to try Satay.  It only looked like meat on a stick at first glance–something I have all the time in China–so I was hesitant to waste a meal on it.  As it turned out, though, I was still peckish after the Char Kuay Teow and tried a little bit.  It didn’t have the same lemony kick as Chinese barbeque, but rather had a bit of a fruity sweetness in the marinade.  I was really glad that I didn’t miss out on that opportunity.

Even as Usha’s friend Ramesh picked me up in his cab the next day to take me to the airport, I was finishing the last of a Kopi Cao, a really strong local coffee mixed with condensed milk.

I lost somewhere near fifteen pounds when I moved to China due to the lack of dairy products and various other unpleasantries.  I don’t think I gained all of it back…no not all of it.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 24, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    I enjoyed your blog. You are lucky to have such good friends to act as guides to all the interesting food and places to visit. Is it good to be back in a more familiar place or are you itching to be on the road again?

  2. February 28, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Hey Em, it’s Anu here. yeah u r right, there is no butter, only lots of water and the rice is patted into balls while still hot!

    It ws good having u with us. keep in touch!

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