HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, December 30, 2010

KL - the last word

I've decided that I don't actually like writing in a blow-by-blow travelogue style. It's too self-centered, and I'm not as interesting as the stuff that's going on around me, so I'm mostly going to just focus on the highlights of the rest of my trip to Kuala Lumpur.

After my lunch in Little India on Saturday, I walked over to the Masjid Negara, Malaysia's beautiful national mosque. The aquamarine, umbrella-like roof and towering minaret create a striking appearance. I wasn't able to tour the mosque since I was wearing shorts, but I was content to admire the building from the outside.
I also checked out the Islamic Arts Museum, which is a short walk from the mosque. This was a fantastic museum that had a special exhibit on jewlery and weapons from Mughal-era India, examples of Koranic script from around the Muslim world, exhibitions on the history of Islam in Malaysia, and a fascinating room full of miniature models of the most famous mosques from around the world. All of these displays were quite interesting, and the building itself was beautiful. If you're visiting KL you should definitely tour this museum.
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem
the Grand Mosque in Mecca
 Later that evening, after a taking a break at the hostel, I began my multi-part Christmas Day meal. It wasn't the turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, etc. that I'm used to, but it was incredible nonetheless. First, I got a simple dish of egg fried rice with another teh, a drink which tastes a bit like hot chocolate and became a favorite of mine, from a mamak, or Indian Muslim, restaurant.
After eating I returned to Little India for the pasar malam, or Saturday night market, which I had also read about in the Lonely Planet guide. Once again, the book was right on the money. This market stretched for blocks down a narrow street, with stalls selling clothes, electronics, shoes, and dozens of different kinds of food and drinks, most of which I had never seen before, lining both sides. Everything was cheap and I'm actually still kicking myself for not buying more to eat, since everything I had was fantastic. The sights and sounds of this market created an amazing atmosphere - at one point the call to prayer from the Masjid India was echoing off the buildings along the alley, while thousands of nesting birds chirped away and the throngs of people in the street, who were dressed in all kinds of outfits, conversed in numerous languages and dialects. I took a lot of food pictures during my walk down the market, but I'm only going to post a few.

Also, to give a better illustration of exactly what the market was like, here is a video of it in full swing:
The pasar malam was a cultural experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life, and after scarfing down a few snacks I made may over to Chinatown to check out the night market on Petaling St. I had read a lot about this market, but I was actually rather underwhelmed by it. I thought Little India's was far more interesting, although that may be due to the fact that Petaling St. reminded me a lot of markets I've already seen numerous times here in Saigon. You could buy counterfeit anything there while the police turned a blind eye, and tourists were all over the place. Things got better when I went one street over and found tons of food options. I finished off my Christmas meal with some satays - crab, vegetables, and delicious meat of unkown provenance. Oh and the requisite Tiger beer.

After all of that eating I took on the characteristics of a beached whale; flinging my bloated carcass onto the monorail and dragging myself back to the hostel, where I slipped into a food coma. Upon returning from my trip to Singapore (I'll cover that in the next post) on Monday evening, I headed out in search of, what else, more food. I took the monorail back down to Chinatown and ate at Restoran Yusoof dan Zakhif, another mamak restaurant. I ate a huge meal of lamb masala, rote canai, teh, and rice. It was flawless.
I was passing the Masjid Jamek, heading back towards Little India, when the call to prayer began. This was the first time I had heard the whole thing in such close proximity, and it was stunning. The muezzin's melodic voice was haunting, and I couldn't help but stand still until it ended. It truly is a beautiful sound, no matter your political leaning.

I stopped at a hawker center in Little India and ordered an ABC- which stands for air batu campur, or mixed ice, for dessert. It was deliciously sweet and refreshing until it got very strange at the bottom, when I suddenly came upon vegetables mixed in with the melting ice. As you can probably tell, I'm not shy about trying new foods, but I don't like things that can't decide whether they want to be a solid or a liquid. Having kernels of corn suddenly come up the straw wasn't especially pleasant.

I returned to the hostel feeling energized and ready to check out KL's nightlife for the first time. I discovered a stretch of very cool bars a block away from where I was staying, so I decided to have a little pub crawl. Unfortunately, that idea blew up quickly when I got the bill for my first beer - almost $7. I walked two blocks over to Jalan Alor to see if I could eat some more, but my stomach had gone on strike, refusing to digest anymore food until I gave it a break. I knew I could force something down, but I had no interest in making out with the toilet later that night. So, too cheap to buy any drinks and too full to eat, I walked dejectedly back to the 8-bed dorm room that I had all to myself and passed out.

I awoke on Tuesday morning with nothing particular in mind. My flight wasn't until 5 p.m., so I ended up wandering some more and eating still more food. Near the Petronas Towers I came upon a guy at a picnic table set up on the sidewalk selling these great little doughnuts, 3 for 1 ringgit, or 30 cents.
After that I had some more roti canai, which my waiter informed me is a very popular dish in Malaysia, and I can see why: it's amazing. He also assured me that the cook was a "master" with 20 years of experience.
After taking in a few more sights I had my last meal in KL, this time in Chinatown. I still can't believe I finished the meal, but I found a great hawker center where you got a plate of steamed rice and simply threw whatever your heart desired on top of it. All of this cost less than $5.
By now I was just ridiculously full, and I decided to start heading towards the airport. However, before I left, KL decided to give me a near-perfect departure gift. I was standing on a hill above the monorail line that goes to the train station, looking over part of the city, when the afternoon call to prayer from the Masjid Negara, which I could see a couple of miles away, boomed out over the rail lines and busy streets and past the towering skyscrapers of modern Kuala Lumpur. I realize I've mentioned the call to prayer a lot, but I can't get over how alluring it is. Once again, hearing this ancient custom while looking at a modern city of the 21st century blew me away. I boarded the monorail, and within 30 minutes I was back at the aiport. I caught one last glimpse of the city I had come to know well over four days, and I knew I would be back at some point. The food is incredible, the people are friendly, many of them speak English, and there are tons of interesting things to do. KL, my good friend, you will be missed.

1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU Michael for feeding us SOO GENEROUSLY ! Each dish is visually SOOO appealing that it seems we have devour each one them !