Malaysia: Kualalumpur

Malaysia: Kualalumpur

By
Luke Nguyen
Contains
18 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781743792193
Photographer
Alan Benson

Sprawling Kuala Lumpur is the centre of the Malay universe – a relentlessly modern dynamo of a metropolis. You have to look slightly harder for street food here but people still throng, as they’ve always done, to carts, stalls and casual eateries, in search of their favourite hawker-style dishes. From early in the morning until late at night, this city has a collective stomach that doesn’t rest. It’s my kind of place.

It’s been said before but I’ll say it too; Malay food could well be the original fusion cuisine. Just look at the influences on it: indigenous Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, English, Dutch and Portuguese, all combining to make one amazing hodgepodge. As I walk the tree-lined streets and explore hawker centres, I feel like I’m in Mumbai one minute and Beijing the next. I meet Chinese women queuing for pakoras, curry puffs and vadai in Brickfields, a staunchly Indian quarter. Meanwhile, in a Hokkien-dominated area, ethnic Indians slurp bak kut teh, a porky, herbal soup from the Chinese medicinal food tradition. So many different languages, aromas and cultures all mashed up together make Kuala Lumpur intriguing to me

At Imbi Market, which is unbelievably busy even at 7 am, the atmosphere is frenetic, but everyone waits patiently for his or her breakfast to materialise. My favourite dish is popiah, made using fine, freshly cooked wrappers, the filling addictively crunchy with peanuts, fried breadcrumbs, fried shallots and turnip. A close second favourite are silky chee cheong fun, wide, slippery rice flour noodles topped with thick, spice-scented soybean sauce and a huge selection of garnishes. These dishes have layer upon layer of strong, complex flavours and so many textures. Everything is cooked with care, served with real passion and tastes so, so fresh. With every mouthful I fall more in love with Malaysian street food.

With every mouthful I also feel less able to walk – I’m so stuffed full! Slowing the pace down a bit, I have a great time meeting Grandma Lim, who’s 74 and has been making pan mee, a type of rustic noodle that she rolls out with a beer bottle, for forty years. She serves it in a light, clear, anchovy-based broth with shiitake mushrooms and choy sum; those noodles taste gorgeous.

There’s also a real sense of fun around eating here, which I think is very, very cool. Some dishes, and their cooks, take this to a whole new level; like the flying wantan man, who tosses his noodles two storeys up in the air, then catches them in his wok before cooking them. Eating ‘sup gearbox’ always cracks me up – who else but a Malaysian would think to serve an entire, gigantic beef hock in a bowl of flavoursome soup, complete with a straw poking out of the bone for sucking up the marrow? No one, that’s who. So come explore this totally unique place with me and I’ll show you a tasty thing or two.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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