While occasionally a nomad, a traveler-cum-navigator is the last apt thing to describe my physical potential, if any at all. Traveling is not my cup of tea and “tourist” will never appear in any “About Me” page about me.
Since I deplore road trips, curse truck drivers, provoke squabbles with locals and get lost more often than not, it is quite safe to say that there is no better place for me than my room.
However a trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was inevitably set—by silly me. Blame promos and pad thai (long story) and mandatory leaves.
As a forewarning, do not expect photos of the city or temples, since I failed miserably in summoning my inner Dora. Instead, let us find joie de vivre in what keeps me alive and kicking. That’s right—food—the only local term I learned, mangan—oh wait, I think that’s eat. Well, even better!
Bukit Bintang houses that Jalan Alor a.k.a. the street food section of the city. It’s supposed to be a hotpot of Malaysian-Chinese-Indian fares that border on the adventurous, exotic—and what I went there for—cheap!
While the food was certainly cheap, prepare first to get baffled by strange and colorful signs, non-English speaking folks and people all over the roads.
If you are patient and easily amused by the tactics of local merchants, then you will delight in this. If you have been living in a sheltered glass room all this time though, just google Jalan Alor. If you have dietary restrictions, I empathize with your plight. Being part vegetarian, I nearly died looking at the signs and temporarily found partial solace in the word Chicken. Still, vegetarian, halal, no meat? No luck.
I would like to explain that I had KFC for my first meal (a very late dinner) in KL out of desperation. I ordered a very strange meal consisting of one piece of chicken (NO GRAVY… WHAT?), a hash brown with jalapeno cheese sauce and afish sandwich. The chicken tastes very different from the Manila version and is 100% more grease stricken. The fish sandwich was bland and the mayonnaise, not really that delectable. Why I am reviewing KFC Malaysia is a pure waste of space and as you can see, no photos! The Manager of the branch though kindly took our orders with motherly patience—perhaps smelling the NOOB in us.
I visited Jalan Alor in the morning because I wanted noodles for breakfast. The only purchase in made in Jalan Alor in the evening was a bottle of coconut juice for RM5 and that does not make me adventurous, just very thirsty.
I had chicken curry dry noodles for 2 consecutive mornings but from 2 different stalls. I love chicken+curry+noodles but the main reason I went for this dish was because it was the safest in the bunch. Everything else smelled of rice and meat and I did not want to risk any more verbal blunders with the local merchants.
For example, in Mr. Lim’s noodle store I asked if they had a vegetarian noodle dish and this guy who must be Mr. Lim kept on nodding and prodding me to a table. I guess it was more of a gestural exchange, rather than let’s-talk-business, and so I settled for the curry dish. By pointing at the photo, of course.
Afraid that this would happen again the next day, I settled for that same dish in a neighboring stall. Same format, except that they did not ask for my money right away. Having Mr. Lim’s as comparison, this was reduced quality and the noodles were less fresh tasting. In short, Mr. Lim has a lesser competitor and after this experience, I stopped eating curry noodles for breakfast.
The next known station of comfort for backpacking newbies can only be the Foodcourt; the Pavillion has become THE absolute home in KL. It fed us and provided very clean bathrooms—a guest could not ask for any more!
Foodcourt denizens include the usual Malaysian, Chinese and Indian stalls, but with certain specialties or focus like Penang, rice, soups, egg tarts (Macau), curry, balls and combo meals.
There are International cuisines spread around for those who are sick of noodles and mee goreng. Might I suggest Subway or Carl’s Jr. which are also on the same level.
I settled for noodle dishes from the foodcourt, having spotted the signage Vegetarian Cuisine. I can’t go wrong with a name like that! It was veggie, stir-fry noodles and fake-meat land. It’s the place you go to when you don’t want to talk anymore. It’s also a place with a very short line—and I learned why.
I first ordered the Char Kway Teow with its rice noodles and very mild soy based sauce. The fake barbecue meat provided the sweet contrasting flavor and while the dish tasted very clean, it left a lot of room for dessert.
My other order here was—trying to be more adventurous—the mushroom stir fried noodles. The photo showed what looked like a very tasty Hainanese noodle dish. However the noodles used were dry egg noodles which I really have an issue with since I find this kind musty and dry. The sauce did nothing and the fake-meat (which I think is soy) redeemed the dish. Next time I ought to just buy 3 servings of that fake barbecue and eat it sans the carbs.
Another stall displayed all raw items for hotpot: vegetables, tofu, fish balls, fish cakes, seafood, mushrooms and everything that you can find in an Oriental grocery chiller. With noodles and a choice of plain or curry soup. There were so many toppings I wish the server knew English because I wanted to ask what each one was, but he looked so miserably bitchy I had to settle for the obvious choices.
Still, I could not resist buying from this place, so that I can finally CREATE my own seafood curry noodle soup! I dunked in greens, silken tofu, all sorts or balls and fish cakes and a stick of kani, wide flat noodles and curry soup. All for RM25! So expensive, I almost fell on my butt when he announced the price. I literally almost ran out of cash! So much for gluttony, but this gluttony paid off as well since it was one heck of a delicious soup. It was a coherently curry-fic noodle soup and the toppings floated all over the bowl. Nothing was scrimped, everything went well together and it was an authentic curry experience. I would never ever find anything like that in Manila. Namaste!
A side trip to the KLCC Suria Foodcourt brought me to the services of a friendly Indian stall, where it took me 10 minutes to order chicken tandoori, dhal, naan and chickpeas (it was a meal). His English was fantastic; my decision making ability, a pain.
The Chicken tandoori was fab, though my brother squirmed at the taste of the dal. I suppose pureed lentils are not that mainstream and I ended up finishing his bowl as well. Lentils are friends.
Actually the dal was so filling I almost did not finish the naan. The chickpeas look so plain but had that Indian flavor that made me enjoy this odd looking meal.
A juice-smoothie place, Juice Works, was like a local version of Jamba Juice but had all sorts of add-ins like muesli and Weetabix. It was strangely alluring I had to try one. The name of the smoothie was so long but it had mangoes and strawberries, muesli, soymilk and vanilla ice cream. It was a meal on its own but I dare say it was just a mid afternoon snack for me. See those soybeans, yes—now that’s the snack!
Being tourists, it was inevitable to reach out to Western flavors for comfort and solace. I kid you not when I say I craved for a Starbucks Green Tea Frap in my hour of need, and I did get it. Grande, no whipped cream and very expensive.
Starbucks is not worth reviewing though I managed to take home that “Busy Day Sandwich” for my next day’s breakfast. That sandwich has egg and minced chicken curry that would be much more enjoyable had I eaten it on the same day.
Subway Malaysia offers the Chicken Tandoori sub—very tempting—but I went for Crab and Seafood, which is also notavailable in Manila. I’ve been eating a lot of chicken lately, I was close to getting recruited in the poultry-vore society. Nothing much to say since Subway is pretty much straightforward, except that in Malaysia, they have no yellow mustard and olive oil. Oh dear. Mustard is like, my salt and pepper!
Baskin Robbins is another haven for lost children and one which necessitates at least 2 visits. First time I managed to order that Brownie a la mode, topped with Jamocha Almond.
It was the best meal a kid could ever have; ignore calories and sugar content. The next day the promo ended and so I had 2 scoops of ice cream. Jamocha again and what tasted like chocolate mousse. The lava cake will be missed.
Nando’s Peri-Peri is a big thing in other countries, does not exist in Manila and has a fine share of long queues in Malaysia. This too warranted at least 2 visits. Purportedly the real thing when it comes to Peri-peri, Nando’s is a refuge for the lost and the chicken lovers.
The chicken is so filled with flavor, even no-skin eaters will enjoy its full peppery zing. Bottles and bottles of chili, sauces and dressing flood the sides and they all complement the already fabulous chicken roast. The garlic peri-peri sauce is meant to be taken home, just that the bottle was darn too large to fit in any bag!
The sidings were all right but I believe the potato wedges topped with cumin were the winner. The coleslaw may seem unappetizing but made safe for Halal, poses a number 2 favorite. Tried the Spinach which falls under the “Fino” siding (supposedly the special ones belonging to the more expensive category) and it was on the plain side. I suppose—how else can you embellish spinach? If given a 3rd chance (highly doubtful), I would go for the potato wedges+coleslaw combo. Again, highly doubtful unless Nando’s pays a visit to Manila—oh, please do!
The green tea egg tart on the photo is not from Nando’s but from the nearby Pavillion foodcourt. I bought it in an effort to go green and to pair it with my spinach. It did wonders to get rid of the spinachy after taste which we all hate!
The grocery is another nirvana for the weary and hungry. Most of our cash was spent here, buying snacks (chickpeas and that curry flavor Roller Coaster), spreads (sugar free peanut butter), cookies (the usual), candies and more sweet treats. There is a Japanese section in Isetann, Lot 100 with all sorts of Japanese viands, candies, rice snacks and sushi/sashimi by the piece.
In Mercato at Pavillion Mall, I found a BLACK CAT brand of peanut butter, but what I bought was another brand that was sugar free! I bought 2 jars and alongside other heavy purchases, lugged them all around in my H&M knapsack, which thank God made it to Manila in pristine condition!
We also found a rare spread: Cadbury milk chocolate. Take that, Nutella! Or not—since we bought Nutella too!!!
I’ve eaten more than I visited places.
I never saw the National Mosque and got lost finding Petaling Street.
We alighted the monorail and ended up in the wrong side of town and I am sure I tasted liver in one of the noodle breakfasts.
A KK salesman screamed at me, while our cabbie refused to shake my hand.
Is Malaysia truly Asia? It’s up to you to decide. All I did was be a lazy backpacker who ran out of cash so many times.
So if you ask me about Malaysia, hmmmm, all I can say is: Praise the gods for H&M, Peri-peri and Baskin Robbins!
If we share the same beliefs, then book the next flight to Kuala Lumpur!
In the spirit of tourism though, here are some photos that may seem relevant for those who ended up in my blog looking for tips and treasures: SEPHORA (note the all caps), Batu Caves, Trains. That’s it, what do you expect? (Thanks to the unsuspecting @mijigonzales for the photos grabbed from his Instagram when I was too lazy to take photos on my own!)