We’ve arrived in Kuala Lumpur, KL to the locals, the capital of Malaysia and a bustling, busy little place of around 1.6 million souls.
Combine a bit of Singapore with a bit of Bangkok, throw in a lot of it’s own style and you get the 21st-century metropolis that is KL. You would have seen the tourist bureau advertising, “Malaysia, truly Asia”, well that’s KL, it’s all there, temples, night-markets, high end shopping malls, hawker stalls and efficient public transport.
We’d made our way to one of the cities main attractions, the Central Market, an old wet market now converted into an arts and craft zone, for a photographic exhibition by several Malaysian photographers. It’s a great show and we enjoy it a lot, while we were there we came across the following sign.
Now this sounds just like us and we rush in and book the 9am tour for the following morning.
The next morning dawns grey and threatening, with big fat black clouds looming over us as we hurry to the monorail station, sure enough, before we can get there, it rains, then it pours, then it rains some more, enough that the streets are flooding and we’re sure it will have to be called off.
After negotiating our way across the slippery streets we find that it is still on, very much so, and our guide, a enthusiastic young man named Victor, arrives keen, excited and raring to go, “I hope you haven’t eaten yet” he asks, well, just a small breakfast, but we’re primed and ready to head out into the bustling streets.
There’s just the two of us on the tour, so we have Victor to ourselves and we head out to the first stop, an Indian breakfast hole in the wall where we get to try a roti bread called “Roti Tissue”. A light as a feather, flaky bread, served with a small dollop of curried dahl. It’s crumbly and tasty and also very very sweet, with loads of crunchy sugar sprinkled on top while it’s being cooked.
The first meal consumed and it’s time for some culture and Victor takes us to a local Chinese temple, he’s full of wonderful knowledge and little insider tips about the history and culture of the temple and the surrounding area.
We’ve both been into many similar temples in the past, but never with a local who can explain what’s what, we learn a lot from Victor, the history as well as some of the more intriguing customs of the temple, why and by whom it was built, as well as many other little morsels of knowledge, but it’s time to move on and sample another meal.
Our next stop, a local noodle kopitiam, or coffee shop, where the specialty is a skinny wheat noodle dish with roasted pork and a few slippery greens.
We dig in, surprisingly hungry, despite it being our third meal of the day already, it’s thick with a soy based sauce, sweet and tasty, Annie, not being one to miss out on the chance to try dumplings, has ordered a tasting bowl of their dumpling soup as well.
Along with the noodles, and the dumpling soup, we’re served a chicken rice combination, warm rice, moistened with chicken fat and served with perfectly roasted and chopped chicken, it’s all delicious.
Inspired by our enthusiastic slurping Victor tells us we must walk off this meal before we tackle another, so we head off to a local Indian temple where, again, Victor is full of terrific information about the history and cultural significance of the temple, how it came to be located in the middle of the Chinese area and lots of other anecdotes along the way, but pretty soon it’s time for a well earned break and something to eat, this time we head deep down a little dark alley, “don’t worry about hygiene” Victor tells us, these places have been here for years. We take him at his word and prepare to dig in.
He’s taken us to a small cart where a woman prepares us a soup and another noodle dish, we get to pick what we want by choosing from her display.
Pretty soon we have two more dishes in front of us, these two, a Hakka Yong Tau Foo Noodle and a plain Hakka Noodle.
Victor describes one as a rat noodle, with a laugh, “it’s the shape of the noodle, like a rat tail”. We love it, completely different to the first noodle dish, made with rice and cut into small lengths,then topped with minced pork, sausage and fish cakes.
Our second dish is a soup filled with vegetables that have been stuffed with a minced fish paste and served with a spicy chilli.
Pretty soon we roll out of the alley, quite in need of a walk by now, and Victor obliges with a tour through the nearby wet market, it’s pretty raw and we get to see where our food comes from, some of it still clucking and flapping as we make our way around the market stalls.
We find the time and just a little room to pull into a tea stand to try the famous pulled teh, or Teh Tarik, a pulled tea concoction, it’s hot and sweet, made with black tea, condensed milk and evaporated milk, there’s a fair bit of showmanship goes into the making of it, dragging the tea from one pot to the other without spilling any is quite an art.
It’s served in a handy takeaway plastic bag with a little straw, a little too sweet for our taste, but still quite refreshing.
By now we’re feeling the effects of all the food and drinks, so Victor helps us to digest it all with another walk and some more interesting information on the local area, we learn about the Indian money lenders as well as a bit of the history of the beautiful Arabesque Mosque built over the local Malay graveyard.
The tour is nearly over by now, but not before we have one last stop, deep inside the old wet market is a beautiful old room, now turned into a very classy Chinese restaurant, the Old China Restoran and Bar ” Precious” is beckoning us with the promise of one more meal.
We settle down for their version of the classic Nasi Lemak, considered the national dish of Malaysia. Ours comes with the rice a startling blue, achieved by the use a local flower, along side is the classic accompaniments, peanuts, anchovies, eggs, chicken curry, cucumber and a sambal paste, it’s an odd combination, but all delicious and somehow they seem to fit together.
It’s been a long morning, we’ve been impressed by Victor and his knowledge of the local food and culture, all in all a great tour and well worth looking out for it when you’re next in KL.
We found the tour in the central markets annex +6 03 20321031
All photos copyright Ross Duncan: firstname.lastname@example.org