The Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia isn’t unlike the others I have visited in Vancouver and other cities. The handful of blocks this area covers are marked by strings of red lanterns hanging high above. Given the heat, most of the laneways are covered and many stands offer shade to block out additional sun’s rays.
The traditional Chinese culture is well represented by seafood restaurants, fresh produce vendors, butcher and barbecue shops, and plenty of street food to snack on as you stroll. Shopping is almost exclusively China made goods: cheap kids toys, bulk clothes and undergarments, and little trinkets and souvenirs. But here bootleg merchandise is acceptable, and majority of the vendors are selling them to tourist like myself. Nothing was off limits from “Puma” sneakers to “Dior” bags. Even make up is well represented on these fold out tables. Like “Kylie Jenner’s” lip products and the “Naked pallets” from “Urban Decay”. Basically anything coveted in the North American market, has found its way here in well replicated dupes. It was impressive, but I am not about to consider products for my face, that are offered to me by a grisly man posted up next to the sewer. Not to mention they are an imitating bunch leering and calling out to you as you scurry past.
After the first block, it all looked like the same items over and over again. You walk down narrow corridors and are bombarded with these designer replicas and the individuals who insist that theirs is the best, and you ought to spend your money with them. I was warned to keep my electronics close and to wear my backpack on my front, less some one pick pockets from it.
Despite all this, as a tourist destination, this one shouldn’t be missed. Here, I enjoyed so much of the Malaysian-Chinese culture through what I ate.
There were metal drums churning and roasting chestnuts, despite the sun’s heat.
Carts of seafood on sticks were kept chilled by display units carved from blocks of ice. They offered hot pot to go, referred to as “steamboat” here. You choose a skewer and dip it into a lengthy basin of hot water, install within the cart. There, your dried tofu or fish balls start to cook and boil. And when done, you stand and eat, using any of the available sauces provided.
Naturally there were also many durian stands set up by the side of the road, or in the back of trucks offering the “king of fruits” (as it is referred to) whole in its shell of spikes, or carved up and wrapped up in styrofoam and Saran Wrap.
Many vendors make their snacks to order. This peanut cake was made using batter and sugarcoated, crushed peanuts for a starchy and sweet, chewy and crunchy texture. Although having it made to order, meant it was served hot, and not necessarily ideal for a tourist in this heat.
Although the freshly pressed sugar cane drink we had right after, helped to cool us down. Whole rods of sugarcane are fed into a machine that cracks the plant and extracts all its juices. It is fed through twice or trice, leaving only fibrous mulch and a cup of brown-ish green liquid that tastes like nectar and honey.
But out of everything we saw and ate within Chinatown, my favourite was this little noodle shop, hidden in an alley way. It was obscured by tarps, kept covered by pieces of metal strung together, and well lit by halogen lights.
Here they serve hot and spicy noodles out in the open. The broth is kept hot, percolating in tall metal pots. And the handmade noodles chilled in a metal box with ice.
You grab a seat at one of their plastic tables with matching chairs. Each table is set with a help-yourself can of chopsticks, and a squeeze bottle of sauce. If you need a Kleenex you aren’t going to get any here. Most outdoor restaurants, in such markets don’t supply you with a napkin. You are expected to bring your own, or to buy a pack of tissues from them at 50 cents a pack.
Upon seating yourself, you order from the first employee that greets you. The process is as simple as him/her relaying the message to the one manning the kitchen, and them bringing you the assembled bowl. This would not be my most sanitary meal in Malaysia, but certainly one of the most authentic. A link I quickly made, if I wanted to get the full immerse experience as a local.
It’s odd, despite heat in the air and the heat of the bowl, I kept going back for spoon after spoon of this hot and sour soup. It was that delicious. This would be a flavour I would forever crave. And thus ends our time in Chinatown. Assam curry. Actual stall in petaling street. Mint leaves and pineapple. Adds to it. Sour yet refreshing. Bouncyness to noodle. Chewy doughy. Thick. First for mint and pineapple in broth
To watch the video tour of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, click the link and fast forward to 8:17 in.
Don’t deny your cravings.