This first blog post is part of Food Safari Kuala Lumpur 2014 – a series of ten mouth-watering blog posts of the best eats during my 9-day trip to the city.
Allaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah hu Akhbar!!
Welcome to Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia.
There is something about the cool, morning air here. I am at my parents’ home in Ukay Heights, a hilly suburb east of KL that is surrounded by misty, tropical rainforests.
And as early as 5am, the air is punctuated with sounds of chirping birds and morning prayers from a faraway mosque that remind me of the Islamic country I am in. This daily ritual is an inevitable alarm clock but a little jet lagged means 7am Sydney time anyway.
It’s exciting to be awake at this early hour because a quick shower and a five-minute drive later, I am wandering around a ‘wet market’ in Kuala Ampang.
Pasar Basah Kuala Ampang (Kuala Ampang Wet Market)
‘Wet markets’ abound in KL.
Unlike Australia where friendly neighbourhood butchers, green grocers and seafood outlets are housed at the local shopping strip, Malaysia’s fresh food markets are less regulated. Large fresh food markets are located in highly populated spots around the city.
It’s a ‘wet market’ as opposed to a ‘dry grocery market’ because fresh meats such as beef, pork, mutton, chicken and seafood are processed and prepared for sale on site. Large quantities of water are required especially for poultry processing and as a result, many floor areas in these markets are wet.
Certain parts of KL are notorious for petty crimes such as pickpockets and snatch thieves.
One should be vigilant when walking around KL and depending on the area, it’s best to avoid carrying loose handbags, large amount of cash or wearing elaborate jewellery.
Food stalls are plentiful at these wet markets and by 6am, many are setting up their stalls and beginning their daily trade.
Locals and tourists alike come to buy fresh foods, seek out popular snacks for breakfast.
I’ve tried most street food in Malaysia and it’s very tempting to snack on so many local delights such as karipaap or curry puffs (cover image above). I resist snacking because it’s early days into my KL food safari.
One of the most important aspects of a food safari is to pace yourself when it comes to eating. In a city like KL, food is everywhere and the calories from snacking adds up at the end of the day.
My preference at wet markets is to wander around and check out what kind of food looks good.
Some food hawkers are reputed to be better than others and locals have their own preferences as well.
Ayam goreng or fried chicken is usually sold by Malay food hawkers selling Malaysia’s number one breakfast by popular choice – nasi lemak.
Malay food in general is usually pre-cooked and some items like fried chicken have been cooked hours before. Unless they are cooked to order, fried chicken may not be as crispy and delicious as it seems.
Yong tow foo is normally sold by Chinese food hawkers.
A variety of vegetables and tofu puffs are stuffed with fish paste and then gently braised. It is a popular breakfast among the local Chinese.
For today, I take my time to observe and settle on something light since it is day one of the food safari.
I love the casual nature of street food dining in KL.
Chairs and tables are usually old, a telltale sign the hawker stall has been around for ages which then gives you further insight into the quality of its food.
Soft boiled eggs, tasty stir-fried noodles and rice are among the most popular breakfast choices.
Another favourite breakfast item among locals is roti canai which is a must for me when in KL.
A good roti should always be made fresh so that it’s crisp and fluffy. I have always been fascinated by the skills of roti canai makers.
So here it is dear readers, probably one of the cheapest and tastiest breakfasts in the world.
You can shred a crisp and fluffy roti canai with your fork and spoon or simply do what the locals do. Tear the roti into bite-size pieces with fingers from just one hand. The index finger is used to press down the roti while your thumb and middle finger act as pincers. Then dunk the roti into the curry gravy and pop into your mouth.
The spicy fish gravy with its distinctive tangy taste is sure to whet the appetite.
Washed down with a teh tarik or ice Nescafe, this is a must-try breakfast experience that is light and sets you up for your next breakfast dish.
Part of the fun and excitement of walking the streets of KL is observing derelict scenes which always seem so photogenic to me.
Naan Corner is a row of food hawkers that’s merely a 3-minute drive from my parents’ home.
It’s been around for more than thirty years and through time, more food stalls have started to trade at this popular eat strip near Ampang Jaya.
Most of the food stalls operate in the evening from around 5pm although there are a few that serve roti canai, nasi lemak and nyonya cakes in the morning.
Studio 3 began serving roti boom which is a smaller and crispier version of roti canai that is rather unique only to this area in KL.
Personally, I am not a fan of roti boom because it is usually pre-cooked and although quite crispy like a biscuit, it seems to be saturated with a fair amount of oil.
Studio 2 & 3 at Naan Corner serve Malay & Indian style food such as mutton and chicken curries, butter chicken, curry vegetables, mee goreng, mee rebus and many more.
Deep fried sambal and curry fish is popular with steamed rice among the Malays.
If prepared fresh, the fish is quite crispy but when left on the bain marie, it can become a little chewy although this does not seem to bother the locals.
For me, I come to Naan Corner to eat only a handful of items which I think is the best of the best.
Nasi lemak is Malaysia’s unofficial national dish which is usually eaten as breakfast. Hawker stalls in KL that only sell nasi lemak usually start trading around 6am.
A variety of sides are usually available to complement nasi lemak such as kari ayam (curry chicken), rendang, sambal sotong (squid sambal), sambal kerang (cockles sambal) and bihun goreng (stir-fried rice vermicelli). By 10am, the popular stalls will be at the tail-end of their trading day having sold out most of their food.
Nasi lemak (Cun-one)
Nasi lemak bungkus or pre-packed nasi lemak wrapped with banana leaf is one of the most popular breakfast items among Malaysia’s working class. It is nasi lemak at its most basic without any add-ons such as chicken curry or rendang.
These little parcels of goodness are usually found pre-packed and wrapped with old newspaper at hawker stalls all over KL in the morning.
The nasi lemak bungkus at Naan Corner is so popular among locals, it’s even branded as Cun-one (pronounced ‘chjune-one’), a colloquial term meaning ‘very exact and beautiful’.
The signage says ‘resipi tulin 1936′, meaning it’s an original recipe from 1936 though I have my doubts about this claim.
This stall at Naan Corner keeps its nasi lemak bungkus fresh and warm in an open steamer. It also bucks the trend of other nasi lemak stalls because it is not open for business in the morning and only begins trading around mid-afternoon everyday.
I dream about nasi lemak bungkus whenever I am in KL and Cun-one is one of the best in town.
Once opened, you know the gentle steaming process has kept the nasi lemak warm and imparted fragrant banana leaf aromas into the rice. This is simplicity at its best – coconut-flavoured rice with spicy sambal, deep-fried anchovies, peanuts, cucumber slices and a wedge of hard-boiled egg, all for the equivalent of forty Australian cents.
I am hungry but I savour this nasi lemak slowly. If I let loose, I can easily eat five to six packets of Cun-one.
But for today, I’m settling for just one packet as it keeps me hungry and on the edge. Washed down with a Malaysian style ice-coffee, it’s the perfect start to an exciting food adventure.
So ends my first blog post for my 9-day food safari in KL. Stay tuned for more deliciousness from this food haven of Malaysia.In addition to Cun-one, I highly recommend the chicken satay (from Zaini Satay) at Naan Corner because it’s simple, tasty and good value!
Here’s some of my tips when planning a food safari in KL:
- Do some basic research on eat streets, hawkers and restaurants which are known for particular Malaysian style dishes to get some idea about whether the food actually suits your tastes.
- Local weather can be warm and humid, so do wear loose and comfortable clothing.
- Comfortable footwear is important if you are planning to walk the streets of KL.
- Carry bottled water and lots of face tissues for those deliciously greasy noodles.
- Pace yourself and avoid snacking on all sorts of foods as calories do add up quickly.
- Be very certain about what’s in your food if you have food allergies.
- Carry medication for diarrhoea and food-poisoning, especially if you are consuming street food for the first time or have even built up resistance.
- Be vigilant on the streets as some areas of KL are notorious for petty crimes such as snatch thieves and pickpockets. Avoid carrying loose handbags, large amounts of cash, important travel documents, credit cards and elaborate jewellery.
Kuala Ampang Wet Market
Lorong Awan 12, Kuala Ampang
Jalan Kerja Air Lama