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Monday, May 24, 2010

A Malaysian Food Tour - Food Blogger Style

Petronas Towers

I'm back!

After a week in Adelaide, there was only a day-and-a-half to do laundry and re-pack for a 16-day holiday to Malaysia and Thailand. Along for the ride - foodbloggers Billy, Minh and Simon along with The Pom and Yewenyi.

It was my first trip to Malaysia, a vibrant melting pot of Chinese, Indian and Malay people with a cuisine that includes influences from China, India, Thailand and Indonesia.

We arrive in Kuala Lumpur mid-morning, our cheap Air Asia flight involving a circuitous route via Melbourne. We exit the airport, past the McDonalds selling ayam goreng fried chicken, and past the crowds sipping teh tarik sweet pulled tea at Old Town White Coffee, and walk straight into a wall of humidity that makes our bodies slump and our arms prickle with stickiness.

The taxi ride to our hotel takes us through a whirlwind of images, a collision of contrasts that includes skyscrapers, rickety vendor carts, palm trees and temples. Families of four crowd onto a single motorbike, outdoor markets bustle with activity, pandanus leaves grow on the side of the street. And whilst we seek refuge in the air-conditioned comfort of our taxi, the locals hurry on, dressed in jeans and long sleeves, oblivious and unperturbed by the stifling heat and relentless humidity.

Fountains near the base of the Petronas Towers

If there's one thing that symbolises Kuala Lumpur, or KL, it's the Petronas Towers. Completed in 1998, they remain the tallest twin buildings in the world, and dominate the city skyline. You can spot them from almost everywhere. From a distance, they are impressive, two powerful monuments made of glass and steel connected by a small but distinct observation deck. Up close, they are even more fascinating, a gleaming repetition of angle and curves that shimmer in the afternoon sun.

Billy tells us that the locals call the Petronas Towers the Corn Cobs, or Coin Stack Towers, their graduated structure really do look like towers of coins. The Towers also featured in the 1999 film Entrapment starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Nasi lemak with ayam goreng RM8 (about AU$2.90)
with teh halia ginger pulled tea RM1.70 (about AU$0.60)

We grab a late lunch at Suria KLCC, the shopping centre located near the base of the Petronas Towers. The food court offers a more upmarket version of the hawker-style food courts, but even then, the prices are still jaw-droppingly cheap. With a current exchange rate of roughly 3 ringgit to one Australian dollar, the local staple of nasi lemak - coconut rice with fried chicken, boiled egg, cucumber, sambal spicy sauce, peanuts and crispy fried anchovies - equates to less than AU$3.

ABC ais kacang

At the Just Desserts stall, the boys opt for ais kacang, colloquially known as ABC which stands for air batu campur. Air batu translates as "stone water" or ice, in Malay, and campur means mixed. Ais kacang translates as ice bean in Malay. Beneath the mountain of ice drizzled with rose syrup and creamed corn is a mixture of red beans, palm seeds and cool cubes of glossy black grass jelly. The consistency of the ice here is significantly finer than the ones you will find in Sydney, the ice made by a hand-operated ice shaver that creates soft crystals that melt instantly on the tongue.

Red ruby RM4.20 (about AU$1.50)

I spot the red ruby on the menu and order it immediately. The red rubies are in fact small chunks of water chestnut that have been tinted red, dusted with tapioca flour and then boiled. The result is a slightly starchy chewiness that gives way to a crunchy waterchesnut centre.

The dessert has its roots in Thailand where it is traditionally served with coconut milk and poetically described as "pomegranate seeds". In Malaysia, these shiny red rubies are piled on top of shaved ice, scattered with slices of jackfruit and splashed with salted coconut cream. It's cool, refreshing, rich and sweet, all at the same time.

Keen to explore Hakka cuisine, we catch a taxi that evening for dinner at Hakka Restaurant. Strings of fairy lights cascade from the steel support beams, and whilst there is seating inside the air-conditioned restaurant, most people opt to sit outside, beneath the glow of Chinese red lanterns and the distant city skylights twinkling overhead.

Patrons at Hakka Restaurant

Steamboat being delivered by trolley

Homemade Hakka noodle RM20 (about AU$7.30)

We order a mixture of dishes, the tofu with minced prawns, mushrooms, chilli and spring onion (RM10 or about AU$3.60) uses fresh tofu made on site, the soft wobbly cubes taking on the saltiness of its surrounding ingredients.

Homemade Hakka noodles have a satisfying chewiness, interleaved with the crunch of fresh bean sprouts and lengths of peppery garlic chives. The signature dish of moi choy kiao pork (RM14 or about AU$5.10 for three pieces) involves thick slices of stewed pork belly - generous with slippery layers of fat - served with preserved vegetables in a thick and sweet black soy sauce.

Bitter gourd RM13 (about AU$4.70)

Herbal chicken (RM20 or about AU$7.30) has been simmered in a fragrant concoction of Chinese herbs and spices. I find myself relishing the bitter gourd dish, slightly undercooked so the vegetable is still crunchy.

Kem Heong style prawn RM30 (about AU$10.90)

Kem Heong style prawns are sweet and succulent, stir-fried in a sticky mixture of dried shrimps, minced garlic and curry leaves.

River white whisker catfish RM60 (about AU$21.80)
(Market price RM70/kg)

Fresh catfish is our splurge of the evening, the whole fish steamed and dressed simply with soy sauce, coriander and chilli. I can't stop staring at its whiskers which are so long they look more like tentacles. When I'm dared to eat them, I take glee in doing so, using my teeth to scape the gelatinous layer off the inedible tendon, and crunching my way through the thinner point at the end.

Petronas Towers by night

We dine beneath the glittering presence of the Petronas Towers, easily spottable through the steel girders overhead. By night, the Petronas Towers come into their own, so powerfully illuminated they take on a white glow. They're a sight to behold, a reference point and calming visual anchor for the sprawling city of KL.

Petronas Towers from the roof-top Luna Bar

The soaring presence of the Petronas Towers means they cannot be escaped from anywhere, even from the Luna Bar on the top floor of the Pacific Regency Hotel. By day, hotel patrons use the roof-top swimming pool but at night the pool is closed and the area converted to a swanky poolside bar, offering members of the public spectacular 360-degrees views of the city from the 34th floor.

Bar stools

At RM30 (about AU$10.90) for cocktails, drinks aren't cheap, but it's a small price to pay for the glamourous surroundings.

Windowside lounges

The windowside lounges tend to be reserved in advance by cosy couples looking for a romantic evening, but we're happy to sit at the bar leisurely nursing our drinks. The only drawback is the open rooftop means there's no escaping the humidity, and despite the crystal blue waters of the inviting swimming pool, we're soon sweltering as though we're in a sauna.

And thanks to Billy's cheeky opportunism, I can say first-hand that the men's bathrooms offer unprecedented views. "Look at the urinal!" Billy says with excitement, and I do, an impressive glass-backed facility that backs directly onto the 34th-floor window.

Whilst the women's bathrooms are lovely, we don't get the same backdrop. Sometimes men have all the luck.

> Read the next Malaysia 2010 post (Street food, stingray and durian)

PS Today is the last day to enter the Freebie Friday competition to win a magic Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs umbrella. Entries close at 5.30pm so hurry and enter now!

Pool-side lounge chair

View Larger Map

Suria KLCC
Jalan Ampang,
50088 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +60
(03) 2382 2828

View Hakka Restaurant in a larger map

Hakka Restaurant
6 Jalan Kia Peng
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Tel: +60 (03) 2143 1907

View Larger Map

Luna Bar
Pacific Regency Hotel Suites, Level 34
Menara PanGlobal, Jalan Punchak
(off Jalan P.Ramlee)
50250 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Tel: +60 (03) 2026 2211

Opening hours:
Mondays to Sundays 5pm - 1am (until 3am on Fri and Sat)

A cover charge of RM50 (inlcudes one drink) may apply on weekends after 9.30pm

> Read the next Malaysia 2010 post (Street food, stingray and durian)
22 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 5/24/2010 02:37:00 am


  • At 5/24/2010 7:08 am, Blogger Gourmet Chick said…

    Another amazing trip! And those desserts from just desserts look brilliant - really interesting

  • At 5/24/2010 7:42 am, Blogger phonakins said…

    Love Malaysia - get to be there soon!

  • At 5/24/2010 9:34 am, Blogger Ellie (Almost Bourdain) said…

    Welcome back, Helen! Glad to hear you all had a great trip. All these posts are making me homesick. Need a trip back home soon.

  • At 5/24/2010 10:15 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    welcome back! and lol glad to see you got your fix of abc on your first day!

  • At 5/24/2010 10:15 am, Anonymous The Ninja said…

    Welcome back : )

    Petronas Towers have decent shopping too, better than some of the traps out there. Although Mid-Valley is still the hot pick for megamalls...

  • At 5/24/2010 11:25 am, Anonymous Jacq said…

    welcome back helen! looks like you had a wonderful start to your trip - can't wait to read more about it :) the food is so cheap!!

  • At 5/24/2010 11:26 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    Sigh. Geez I love KL. Looks like a nice introduction to Malaysia for you. We stayed at the Pacific Regency on one of our visits recently, the apartments are very nice and I loved having the rooftop pool (part of Luna Bar) to cool off in before the drinkers arrived at night. I look forward to your upcoming posts!

  • At 5/24/2010 12:02 pm, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Yay! Everything is making me homesick :( Looking forward to all your Malaysia posts! LOL oh man the prices are the best, we have to pay quadruple for a teh halia here in Sydney!

  • At 5/24/2010 1:19 pm, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    good times... :P i already craving for nasi lemak and teh tarik...

    I forgot to tell you what I meant to say about Luna Bar hahaha...they used to have a proper entrance instead of a construction site when we were there. I remember when I was walking out and saw the sign LUNA BAR backwards and funnily it reads similarly to... you know... LOL

  • At 5/24/2010 4:15 pm, Anonymous Simon @ the heart of food said…

    So quick with the posting. I've barely settled back in.

    It seems like such a long time ago since the day you've covered in this post. I can't barely remember it (though, that could just be my poor memory).

    So much food. So many memories. So many photos...

  • At 5/24/2010 4:22 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh, those prices! Dear heavens, I really need to travel to Asia next, I can't afford to go to America and Europe everytime... Plus, I've never had an Ais Kacang, and that is simply Not On.

    Or a Red Ruby. Wow, that looks fantastic! I love these travel posts of yours :)

  • At 5/24/2010 4:59 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ahhhhh, red ruby! Where can you get that in Sydney?!?!


  • At 5/24/2010 5:56 pm, Anonymous penny aka jeroxie said…

    Envious! All those delicious hawker food. And the desserts to die for. Sighhhh

  • At 5/24/2010 6:45 pm, Blogger FFichiban said…

    OH MANNNN everything is just soooo cheappp!!

  • At 5/24/2010 8:34 pm, Anonymous Minh said…

    lol that damn bathroom, I'll admit it was worth getting in trouble just to see it

  • At 5/24/2010 8:40 pm, Anonymous Tresna said…

    I love KL - every day is an absolute adventure for a foodie! I'm all for roti chanai for breakfast, banana leaf for lunch (with that bitter gourd!) and chicken rice for dinner.

    Sounds like you all had a great time!

  • At 5/24/2010 11:39 pm, Blogger foodwink said…

    Welcome back Helen. You had me at nasi lemak and ais kacang. They are available in Sydney but nothing beats the real version!

  • At 5/25/2010 2:13 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Gourmet Chick - I think 2010 is going to the year of the passport, and I'm definitely not complaining! I'm a big fan of red ruby - I must make my own sometime soon!

    Hi phonakins - Lucky you! I am missing the amazing food already.

    Hi Ellie - It's good to be home although the cold has been a bit of a shock to the system! I can understand now why you all get homesick - so much good food!

    Hi chocolatesuze - Thanks :) I was constantly craving abc but lol, what's new?

    Hi The Ninja - Thank you. It's great to be back. We did shop at Mid Valley and well as 1 Utama. omg the malls there are insane in size!

    Hi Jacq - The food is crazy cheap, and yep, we had a ball! The next post is ready for devouring here.

    Hi John - Minh and Billy both mentioned they have stayed at the Pacific Regency before. I would love to swim in that pool during the day :)

    Hi Stephcookie - The prices are deliriously cheap but then, I'm guessing the hourly wage is significantly lower too. It does make travel on the Aussie dollar very appealing though.

    Hi billy - You have a very dirty mind. lol. And yes, I guessed the makeshift entrance we used was only temporary!

    Hi Simon - No rest for the wicked. Chop chop! And nothing like a few photos to bring back all those gastronomic memories.

    Hi Hannah - Asia is such an affordable place to travel and you must rectify this ais kacang shortcoming immediately! lol

    Hi Stan - I've yet to find red ruby in Sydney, but I'm keen to make my own.

    Hi Penny - We had an amazing trip and travelling with food bloggers made it the ultimate gustatory adventure!

    Hi FFichiban - Cheap indeed. So much good and tasty food!

    Hi Minh - lol. I wish I'd had a chance to see that waiter's face when he busted you :)

    Hi Tresna - KL was a food lover's playground and it was just the start of our eating adventure!

    Hi foodwink - Thank you. It's good to be home. I agree - Malaysian food does taste better when made by locals!

  • At 5/25/2010 9:09 pm, Blogger Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    Welcome back Helen! I'm soo jealous now, I wish I couldve gone with you guys!!

  • At 5/25/2010 9:57 pm, Blogger mademoiselle délicieuse said…

    Cool and spicy foods for the hot, humid weather =) LOL at noticing the urinals!

  • At 5/26/2010 2:55 pm, Anonymous yewenyi said…

    wow, it seems like a decade ago! I just had a last brunch at the old town white coffee shop here is LCCT after 4 days of feasting with the family in Ipoh.

  • At 5/27/2010 1:25 am, Blogger mr. pineapple man said…

    drool~~ the shaved ice looks fantastic!


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