Malaysians are inveterate foodies. No surprise, then, to come across numerous food blogs when I was researching Malaysia online. One of the best was by Kuala Lumpur's Sue Lynn Tiong (above). Her Bangsar Babe blog is a full-time effort at exploring Malaysia's gastronomic offerings. While Sue Lynn is not as analytical as my Vancouver food blogger friend, Mijune, she covers a lot of territory.
Breadth of experience is one of the more important considerations when seeking local eating recommendations. So when Brian told me he would have a few days in KL, I immediately thought about getting him connected with Sue Lynn. Fortunately, she was returning from Singapore the day after I contacted her, and graciously offered to meet Brian for "lunch". As you will see from the following, it amounted to more than just a meal!
Classic Hokkien Eating
Restoran Hong Ngek is a Hokkien restaurant in a traditional shophouse found in Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown. It's been in the same family at this location for over 70 years. This kind of living history is increasingly rare to come by. So, if local food is an important part of your travel experiences, we highly recommend you come here.
Hong Ngek crab balls are made from minced pork, water chestnut, mackerel, carrot, Chinese celery and crab. They are wrapped in thin bean curd skin (fu chuk) and fried until golden. The sambal is still made according to the original owner's recipe.
A medley of flavours and textures, these crab balls are dangerously addictive. Resist the temptation, though, to fill up on these alone. You don't want to miss out on enjoying the other succulent dishes. Ideally, you've come with at least three other people so that you can extend your sampling range. Note that this kind of no-frills restaurant is unlikely to change their serving sizes to accommodate smaller dining parties or appetites.
Restoran Hong Ngek
50 Jalan Tun H.S. Lee
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel. +60 (03) 2078 7852
The Original Hokkien Char Mee
Kim Lian Kee is famous as the birthplace of Hokkien Char Mee, a dish of thick yellow noodles cooked in a glistening black, soy-based sauce with pork, squid, fish cake and cabbage. This is the original location where they have been making Hokkien Char Mee since 1927.
In a Chinese restaurant, good eating has little to do with the decor. Excellent food is often no frills, like Kim Lian Kee here. Judge a book by its cover, and you will miss out on some fine food. Leave your North American ideas of "good" service and sanitation behind. You're not in Kansas, Toto.
This is KL-style Hokkien char mee (tai look meen in Cantonese). Note that these "black noodles" are distinctly different from the Hokkien mee in Singapore, and even other places in Malaysia outside the Klang Valley. Traditional versions are cooked over charcoal (increasingly rare), and served with sambal belacan and lime.
Restoran Kim Lian Kee
49-51, Jalan Petaling
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel. +60 (03) 2032 4984
Air mata kucing is an iced fruit drink made from winter melon (tong kua), Buddhas fruit (lo han kor), dried longan (long ngan), and sugar – all on display in front of the counter. According to the Bangsar Babe (left), this stall in Kuala Lumpur's Petaling Street serves the best version.
Rehydrated dried longan is added to the drink when serving. (A cup without ice costs more.) Interestingly, longan means "dragon's eye" in Chinese. Whereas mata kucing, its name in Malay, means "cat's eye". This refers to what the fresh fruit looks like when it is broken open and the dark seed inside the translucent flesh is exposed. Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, is said to be named after the variety of mata kucing that grows there. Although the two governments of Kuching like to play up its "Cat City" nickname with feline-themed statues and a museum, there aren't noticeably more cats there.
Air Mata Kucing
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
While Malaysians are prepared to venture far for "the best" X, this Hokkien-inspired food adventure is readily accessible by transit — non-touristy establishments chosen with the tourist in mind. And if you find yourself in agreeable company while enjoying the local delicacies, you may find meal times running into each other, punctuated only by relatively brief interruptions between food destinations. In Brian's case, Sue Lynn was the consummate cultural ambassador. We think she'll make a fine television host. Be sure to visit her Bangsar Babe blog for more Malaysian food highlights.
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