Kuala Lumpur

I am a fan of Kuala Lumpur, its wide streets, trees and modest traffic jams along with lovely people and great food, I also usually stay at the same hotel, it is located quite centrally and easy to get places from. Mind you with the ever growing development of KL, the hotel is getting a little jammed into some sort of building canyon that now all but prevents you from a great view of twin towers, but that ok, I’ve seen it many times.

My plans for KL were getting changed, a dear friend living in Penang was making a no trip to the Island all but impossible, in the end I decided to spend just a couple of days in KL and then three more days in Penang. No complaints from me, but my planned excursions around KL had to be rounded down a bit and things like an evening visit to Petaling Street for food and simply to be jostled about, cut.

I had arranged to meet an acquaintance at Hard Rock Cafe, its next to the hotel, loud but quite alright for a drink. In the end my friend was late and so it was easy to just have a quick bite at Hard Rock. The food is relentlessly American and the portions, frighteningly large. It was fascinating to see some, still celebrating Chinese New Year, ordering dinners and then having them served mid table for all to share. White folk simply took a hard look at the plate, tackled it with gusto or decided that a doggy bag was the best option. An American couple (I assume because of the accent!) ploughed their way through the massive serve of ‘salad’ and when the girl had eaten as much as she could, passed her plate over to the healthy looking young man who proceeded to devour the balance. It was by any standards a gargantuan performance of trenchering.

Lunch next day saw me wanting to explore an area called Bangsar, a favourite with expats and home to some good food outlets. The Village Roast Duck in Bangsar – great pork grilled/bbq a great curd dish some noodles and some wok tossed vegetables… the bean curds were broken down and remoulded with spices and prawns and then dipped in a light egg drop type batter and deep fried, the result was a dish that was easy to eat with XO sauce, completely delicious. Its one I would like to know how to make. This was a find, it is tucked away on the first level of the O building in the shopping complex and the food was exceptional. The place was packed and tables hard to get, but it was a public holiday in KL. The BBQ plate was of pork in two ways and was very good. Obviously the house specialty is duck and it is served in a number of ways, the taste and the dipping sauce was great, the skin not quite as crispy as I would have liked, but still very acceptable. The menu is not majorly comprehensive and many have pictures of the dishes. I think what is great is that it is a suburban restaurant in a shopping centre that aims at and I think achieves a level of food and service that is to be admired and emulated by some Asian restaurants in Australia.


Restaurant reviewers in KL don’t rave about it, but it is said to be their signature dish, I enjoyed it none the less. And of course my admitted lack of knowledge of Chinese food may well have deserted me again




Chinese food has travelled the globe several times over and in each place it has settled there has been a strong local influence both in the type of cooking, spicing and ingredient. There is little doubt that local Malay food, spicing blends and local indigenous ingredient have all forged a Chinese cuisine style in Malaysia that would I suspect, not be wholly recognisable in China. The same could be said for the food and cooking of India, mostly South Indian, to a person who lived and cooked there, would find the difference between the food of South India and the food that southern Indians eat in other countries.. ie Fiji, Malaysia and Singapore… is very very different in fact as to be almost unrecognisable. It seems that much of the ‘local’ foods have infiltrated and a brand new cuisine is born.


Sitting on a still tropical evening by the pool and eating of all things pasta al olio with some seafood (not well cooked as it turns out and a bit confused) sipping a glass of French merlot (not half bad) I think that I have the time to contemplate a few things… this is the list that I wrote as I sat there..

Make Bread… what is real bread, why are we confused?

Indian Food.. the strong influences of eg Malay food on the Indian cuisine and the changes it has made.

Why do we eat such a complex menu?

Chinese food… how do we begin to understand and get a handle on the whole thing.

Is the Chinese food we see in Australia more from Singapore and HK and how would any person, not versed in the intricacies of this cuisine, get a handle on a menu that can have 200 dishes?

Why are we NOT obsessed with food… I am currently reading a book set in another place, but romanticising times past, the food was simpler… why does it sound so enticing?

Are we lost in the world of food and eating and is it the Journo’s that are to blame?

Cooking pasta requires a few things, great pasta (never compromise) add some cooking water to the sauce (why?? coz it helps thicken the sauce coz it contains carbohydrates) and make sure the sauce is great and lastly, don’t add parmesan cheese to everything.!!

Now I can throw away the little bit of paper.

Tomorrow Penang. I think I underdid KL a bit, but then I can overdo Penang!!


Maybe I was wrong about Penang, I have been very wrong in the past… Penang is changing. I can’t speak with the authority of a man I met at breakfast who had travelled from Wales to escape the cold of the UK and also to visit and I would suspect, relive some of the old colonial times in Malaya as it was known then. Malaya was part of the British expansion into Asia and was home to many British soldiers and administrators. Some of the surrounding countries also shared that experience. Penang Island was a favourite place for the Brits to escape the every day drudgery of life in foreign army barracks, offering as it did then, white sandy beaches, a highly developed Chinese population who were in fact responsible for the establishment of Georgetown. (I am curious when the Indian population first came to Penang, The Indian people of Singapore Island were very early arrivals, bringing with them their own financial system, insurance and banking… but more research needed there).

Its strange that Penang has become so rapidly and some might say, badly over developed and that the money that is doing this is, in the main, Chinese. There is also some very wealthy Indians in the mix, but for reasons of their own they prefer not to be known and use a series of front men to work for them. The native Malays have a very small hold on the island but I suspect a great deal more hold on the local government side of life. I would hesitate to say that there has been some exchanges of favours to obtain permits and in some cases where a beautiful old Penang house was in the way of a major development, instead of the usual old trick of simply removing the windows and allow the weather to do its worst, a quick fire or some night event would occur. The waterfront area of Penang is the area that is being most over done with land reclaimed from the ocean in many cases and moderately vile high rise apartments built. I did enquire about occupancy rates and was told that many of these tower blocks remain mostly unsold, often with deposits taken and no further money being paid. I was also told that the local and federal authorities are ‘confident’ that tourist will increase and I note that todays local paper cites the local government people on Langkawi as encouraging ‘medical’ tourism, which has also started to boom on Penang with the mushrooming of many private hospitals. Just what sort of medical work is on offer, I am not certain, but a bit of research into that could also reveal all.


Its hard to blame the local and even the federal authorities, they want the best for the country and for its people, I suspect that they see the growth of tourism and the encouragement of development as a means to better the live of its people. Well that’s the altruistic viewpoint, the reality may be very different with the private coffers of already wealthy people being further filled.

The Indian food of Penang is dominated by the food and cooking of Tamil Nadu and has been, as I suspected modified by the cooking of local Chinese and Malays. The Tamil cooks of Penang hold very close to many of the methods used in Indian Tamil cooking, (such as dry frying some green split peas and don’t mistake these for normal western peas, and in the case of the dish that I ate, some spinach is fried in a little oil, the split peas and the spinach are then pounded to a paste to thicken and flavour the food) The famous Dosa (a pancake like rolled and often filled with curried vegetables… recognisable because they are huge and come in a very large tube), my eating companion loves it scattered with a little butter and some sugar… this is still regarded as savoury and so a series of dipping sauces is supplied.


The dishes were Dosa, as above, lamb (or mutton and do remember that mutton is goat) in a curry flavoured with green peppercorn and the spinach mix mentioned above. This of course also uses ‘spice masala’ or spice mix and I can tell you that black cardamom seed was much in evidence, this spice needs careful use and should only be used in a dish of robust flavour . It was delicious. We also ordered the now well known Aloo Gobi (potato and cauliflower curry) and it was also a simple but delicious dish and the same technique for thickening the dish was used, this time I suspect that it was yellow gram (???) or yellow lentil that is fried and pounded to thicken the dish.

I know that I have this love hate relationship with Penang, I always wonder will I be back… who can say.

~ by peterwatson on March 13, 2012.

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