Since my last post I've divided my time equally between scuba diving, reading on a beach and sleeping. The requirement to speak largely prevented by solitude or 18 meters solid water pressure.
Much longer and I fear returning to the world of the socialising with other human beings might have be difficult.
Terrestiral communication through hand signals is certainly less endearing that it's aquatic counterpart.
Bar a cancelled bus and a 12-hour journey to get there, Tioman island has been the perfect tonic and a great way to start this chapter.
After the recent soul-searchy, philosophical musings I felt it was about the right time to talk about the star of the show... food.
Looking over my posts I realised a glaring exemption from the topics I've covered so far. That is Kuala Lumpur AKA the city I've called home for the past year.
Despite being the capital, KL occupies a weird place in the hearts of foodie Malaysians. Almost universally people will report a preference for another region's food, likely Penang if not Ipoh, Melaka, Kelantan etc.
It's true that these places have amazing (arguably better) food cultures. KL seemingly below par, with it's modern malls, western chains and tourist traps.
Yet, despite this, some of my absolute favourites actually originate in KL or the broader Klang Valley. That is the continuous metropolitan development including KL, Petaling Jaya/PJ, Subang, Shah Alam & Klang - an unofficial equivalent to Greater London.
So here a my top 3 Kuala Lumpan eats.
1. Hokkien Mee
This simply translates as Hokkien Noodles. The Hokkien being one of the main Chinese groups that have emigrated over the last few centuries, disproportionately settling in Kuala Lumpur (this is important).
Confusingly, it's also the name for 2 completely separate dishes.
In Penang this is a soupy, seafood noodle dish but in KL in the 1920s an innovator completely redesigned the dish to stand out from the crowd.
Thick Hokkien noodles are stir-fried in pork lard and dark soy sauce with cabbage, prawns and the vitally important crispy pork bits from the rendering of the lard. Piled onto a plate and sided with a spicy sambal for an extra chilli and umami kick.
The best are stir-fried over charcoal to give a pronounced "Wok Hei" or wok breath, the smoky/charred flavour that is the mark of a master Woks-man.
The result is glorious noodles in a smoky and unctuous gloss of porky soy sauce. The cabbage stands up well to the big flavours and I don't think I really need to explain how brilliant crispy pork lard bits are!
There are a few great plates of this around including:
- Ah Wah Hokkien Mee in PJ. My first experience with Hokkien Mee.
2. Bak Kuh Teh
The origin of this dish is a little unclear, however locals in Klang claim it as their own.
Supposedly developed as a health boosting supplement for hungry Chinese Malaysian workers around the 1930s and 1942s (note Chinese Malaysian again).
Bak Kuh Teh literally translates as "Meat Bone Tea" and consists of a melange of porky offcuts boiled in a broth with a complex mix of herbs and spices.
The variety of cuts use would make the average westerner wince, however the Chinese are truly the king of using every part of the pig. Ribs, liver, intestines, trotters and ears are commonly found, picked out with chopsticks in some kind of macabre lucky dip.
The spicing is incomprehensibly complex and apparently includes familiar spices such as star anise, fennel and cinnamon, along with traditional Chinese roots such as dong quai (aka female ginseng) and others I can't even pronounce.
The addition of soy sauce and copious amounts of raw minced-garlic really set the dish alight. Then, after you've picked out all the primo-offal, you can mop up the broth with a side of You Char Kway, a kind of savoury doughnut sponge.
I am far from an expert on Bak Kuh Teh, but have enjoyed bowls in a couple of places:
- Yik See Ho in Pudu, KL.
- Yu Kee in SS14, Subang.
I'm yet to get as far out as Klang, however it's definiltey on the cards in the next few months!
3. Chilli Pan Mee
I've saved my favourite for last.
If I've put on a couple of extra pounds (cough) in the last year, this is a great place to start when it comes to apportioning blame... (heaven forbid any lands on my doorstep!)
The baby of the 3, this was invented in just 1985 as a riff on the old favourite Pan Mee that originated in Hakka, northern China.
Another Chinese Malaysian dish. Another pork dish.
The pork, however, plays second fiddle here in a concerto of flavours led by some Mozart-level orchestration between noodles, egg and chilli.
The dish is served as a bowl of thick egg noodles, neatly topped with pork mince, dried anchovies, spring onions, fried garlic, fried onions and a super-soft poached egg.
You then add as much or as little dried chilli mix as you like and set about mixing it all together.
This is where the magic happens. Chilli and egg combine like an epoxy resin to create this brilliantly spicy and rich sauce, almost evocative of the most luxurious carbonara (almost). Coating the chewy noodles and crispy elements for a satisfying crack-like lunch (or breakfast or dinner).
To put out the inevitable fire it is served with a clear broth containing sweet potato leaves (sayur manis).
Utterly delicious. Utterly addictive.
My favourite bowls can be found here:
- Restoran Kin Kin. The OG in Chow Kit, KL.
- Sabah Chilli Pan Mee in SS15 (Subang) and SS2 (PJ). Not sure what link Sabah (a Malaysian state in Borneo) has to do with this dish but it is rather good (they also have a really tasty and interesting Sabah Laksa).
- Super Kitchen Chilli Pan Mee. in SS15, Subang (and 9 other locations apparently). My favourite. The one I'll invoice my personal trainer/liposuction bill too...
Above - Pre and Post Mixing of Chilli Pan Mee at Super Kitchen in SS15.
You'll notice that these were all dishes of the Chinese Malaysian persuasion. This is likely due to the comparative over-representation of Chinese Malaysians in this region, about 50% of the total population. This is due to KL's historical importance as a trading hub and Chinese immigrants being primarily traders. This comparative high-density makes KL a much more important cultural hub for the Chinese Malaysians.
Now this isn't to say that there isn't fantastic Indian Malaysian and Malay dishes in KL, just it was harder to pinpoint any as being uniquely and originally Kuala Lumpan.
Those dishes will have to wait for another week.