Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Kuala Lumpur, I did enjoy my time exploring and tasting street food. My introduction to eating in Malaysia happened several months earlier during a trip to Penang. Penang had an amazing mix of different cuisines and I could have stayed there for a month just eating my way around. While traveling in Bangkok I met a woman from Kuala Lumpur and she told me I had to visit and eat on Jalan Alor. The first time I visited Jalan Alor I arrived around 5 p.m. because I was hungry and wanted to go to bed early. As I sat eating I watched the street come to life: men with menus in hand calling out to people, groups searching for tables large enough for their parties, and the smell of grilled meat and fish permeating the surrounding area. This was my kind of street.
My friend suggested I try WAW while on Jalan Alor. I was determined to find it. I walked passed many restaurants and was tempted to stop at many but I kept walking…all the way at the end of the street I found it:
The chicken wings were amazing, so amazing I never took a photo. I also devoured some kangkung, satay and other dishes that the camera just didn’t catch:
Wandering Jalan Alor:
I had friends from Kuala Lumpur tell me very lukewarm things about their hometown. Things along the lines of “spend a day or two there and then head for Penang.” Their complaints ranged from “all people do is hang out in malls” to “it’s just kind of boring.” I had several days to kill in Kuala Lumpur before Victor joined me for a two week trip to Cambodia and Laos. I was determined to explore a bit of KL and come to my own conclusions. I had already visited once before and spent several hours wandering before going back to the airport to catch a flight. Chances are, if you are traveling in Asia, you will pass through KL because it is a hub for Air Asia. I had always associated KL with the movie Entrapment, starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, because there are some pretty epic scenes when they rob a bank in the Petronas Towers.
I decided to wait for Victor’s arrival before heading to the top of the Towers. This turned out to be a bad mistake because Victor arrived right before the end of Ramadan when everything was closed in KL. So, I suppose I saw Kuala Lumpur at a bad time, because most of the city was closed. Although I had already visited, we decided to take a train out to the Batu Caves:
The caves feature Hindu shrines and are a famous sight of pilgrimage. Plus you get a great workout climbing all of those stairs.
I must admit, my favorite part of the Batu Caves were the monkeys. They were incredibly cunning and I watched several steal food and other things from tourists. Plus I captured a monkey eating a popsicle, so it was a fantastic day. Look at the happy bugger:
A good general rule of thumb is if a place is packed with locals, families, old men shooting the breeze, and young couples on dates, you should eat there. It was around 11 a.m. and I was getting a bit hangry (anger brought on by hunger). And that was when I saw all of the aforementioned and a nice lady waved at us, “Hello, sister!” Leong Kee Tim Dim Sum at 61 Lebuh Kimberly was the answer to all my food god prayers.
I think of dim sum as Asian tapas without the tapas price tag. At Leong Kee Tim prices ranged from 0.70 ringgit cents to 7 ringgits per plate. We never did find out what was the most expensive item was at $2. Women hustled around with dim sum carts and stopped by our table and without being able to read the Chinese menu we pointed and pointed and pointed some more until our table was covered in plates of food. Leong Kee Tim wasn’t a fancy place, it was a neighborhood joint with self-serve pots of Chinese tea. But since we were two confused looking white girls, tea was brought too us and people smiled as we photographed our food.
Some buns called to me, so I pointed and then bit into the best bun I have ever had in my life. It turned out to be filled with sweet black sesame seeds and it was perfectly light and buttery. Chloe and I both looked at each other when we bit into this bun — this was the real deal.
My stomach dictates a good deal of my life choices and this time around, I’m glad that was the case. Penang, Malaysia is a culinary capital — a crossroad where Malay, Indian, Indonesian, British, and Chinese traders passed through and live(d). This intersection of cultures and cuisines is at the heart of the island of Penang. The name Penang comes from the word pinang in Malay, which means areca nut palm. And when something is named after food, it’s a good sign.
George Town: The Old World
Penang is about a two-hour flight from Jakarta. It is located off of the mainland of Malaysia and there is a 13.5 kilometer bridge linking Penang to the mainland, here it is on a map. We had a nice view of the bridge from the Princeton in Asia fellow’s apartment where we stayed. When you land there is a handy information desk with city maps and a public bus that for less than a dollar will take you almost anywhere on the island. Oh, Indonesia, if only you had information desks and easily accessible clean buses. My one transportation complaint with Penang is you are never sure how long you’ll have to wait for a bus and taxis are few and far between. Cabs don’t have meters so you have bargain for a price and the cabbies aren’t willing to budge too much. Malay is pretty similar to Indonesian, so we were able to barter in Indonesian.
Our first stop of the day was George Town, the old colonial hub of Penang, where there are many historic buildings and plenty of streets to wander.