I recently paid Kuala Lumpur a visit, on business, but had decided to arrive two days early to revisit my favorite food joints. I consider KL as one of my hometowns, as I was based there for 2 years when I worked for the biggest manufacturer of salad dressings, bouillons, and ice cream in the world. Back then, I used to help formulate, create concepts, and standardize products for Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It would be safe to say that I enjoyed my job, no matter how much people thought I'd sold out. It's not that easy to actually mass-produce a product millions of people would like - it involved heavy research, a good marketing strategy, and a great product. Take ice cream for example, there are so many flavors to choose from - how do you decide or pin down one flavor (gambling your name in the process) and guaranteeing that producing it will generate business? Sell out or not, what most modernist chefs do these days is to some extent, what we've been doing in our labs -- they play with raw materials like xanthan gums and oleoresins, use items from flavor houses, understand the chemical reactions of each and every single ingredient when cooked together, and use fancy food science -- you get my drift.
Now back to Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur is such a diverse city of flavors and trying to pen it all down in one post won't do it justice. I do intend to share a few of my favorite places because I realized earlier on that I wasn't diligent enough to actually keep a list of the good finds. I used to rely heavily on Benny Tan, a colleague, who piqued my interest in all the food KL had to offer. He's since moved on to the after life, may his soul rest in peace.
As a tribute to Benny, let me begin with breakfast. We used to work in Menara TM, which is a short drive to Petaling Jaya. The photo above captured 2 of my favorite places in PJ known for Rotis, Canais, and Char Kway Teow. The first two, I usually eat for breakfast and the latter for lunch.
This is the home of The Original Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar. They painstakingly do everything by hand, use massive amounts of Planta Margerine (if you know who produces this, then you know which company I used to work for), and serve everything in a no-fuss manner. Business for them just kept getting better, since they've renovated several times, now with air-conditioning and new tiles. I was apprehensive at first, since most of the time, success or fame gets in the way of consistency, but they've remained to stay true with the flavors they've been known for. Prices have gone up a modest 2 Malaysian Ringgit in 5 years, and I'm not complaining, since everyone in the city seems to have gone the same direction.
Roti Canai is an Indian-inspired flat bread, served with curry or lentils, and best with Teh Tarik, a Malaysian concoction of black tea and condensed milk.
Dosa Masala is another one of my favorite breakfast items. It's a fermented, crepe-like pancake folded into a flat cone, cooked in clarified butter or ghee (but usually cooked in margerine in Indonesia and Malaysia), then stuffed with vegetables. It is served with several curries and is usually eaten for breakfast.
The cooks actually allowed me to stand and join their line, allowing me to flip a few rotis, during their peak hour! Quite an oily yet gratifying experience.
Full from having both items for breakfast, I had to pay next door a visit.
You'll find James Bond, the name the cook goes by, on the second stall from the left of the facade. He's responsible for one of the best Char Kway Teows in town. I know, everything is almost rice-based here. The rotis are made of rice flour, and the noodles for the char kway teow are also made of this humble ingredient. Take my word for it, diets and KL food don't make a good marriage. You just have to live with all the carbs, which in my opinion, is worth it!
He's been doing this since he was young. His char kway teow is an amalgamation of soya sauces (both light and dark varieties), belachan, rice noodles, cockles, shrimps, eggs, bean sprouts, and chives. Consume this humble perfection as soon as it's served.
If you stare long enough, you'll see his name plate. And in all honesty, I forgot to take a photo of one of the tastiest noodles in town.
The Original Kayu Nasi Kandar
64, Jalan SS2/10
47300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
James Bond Char Kway Teow
Ho Ho Sek Food Court, right beside Kayu Nasi Kandar