1/2It's a rarity for me, but I'm going to have a go at this one in (blurry) photos because I happen to have to have so many from this particular meal. I spent Merdeka with some equally food obsessed near-strangers I met on the internet who were kind enough to chauffeur us around and show us the best of Kuala Lumpur. We never wouldve found this suburban hawker center in Petaling Jaya without them.
Hokkien mee. We also had a version with rice vermicelli, which isn't
pictured. Lardy, greasy goodness.
Squid with kang kung (water spinach). It's peanutty.
Or chien (oyster omelet)
Chicken satay. I think–there was also beef at the table.
Balitong, a kind of snail/whelk creature that's nearly impossible
to suck out
Bbq stingray with a tasty condiment made of cincalok (fermented
shrimp–James thought it was fish sauce, which is for the best)
and lime juice.
Ahwa Coffeshop * near Jalan 222, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
There are moments when I feel smart and smug, but mostly I feel dumb and confused. Figuring out where the well known Gurney Drive hawkers actually set up made me feel profoundly stupid. We had taken a taxi to Gurney Plaza, the big modern mall, and passed a bunch of roadside stalls along the way, but I didnt think any of those were this specific hawker center. After an afternoon of shopping we were stymied, for some reason we didnt think the esplanade went much further, but didnt think the hawkers were behind us either. Of course, there is a bit more esplanade beyond the mall and thats exactly where the hawkers were. Maybe it was the heat, or our ragged body clocks, but we were baffled enough to almost ask a taxi at the mall to drive us there, which wouldve been really ridiculous as it was mere blocks away.
I'm still not clear how hawkers keep what you order and where youve sat straight. And why some approach/attack before youve had a chance to think and make it seem that you must order from them when I'm pretty sure you can sit wherever, at least at this particular center. After getting our bearings, we got two bowls of assam laksa. I still cant believe this was the only time we sampled this soup style (thick round rice noodles, sour tamarind broth, fish, mint, spice–its nothing like the coconutty lemak versions except in name), but with so many food choices you dont want to repeat yourself. I also got rojak, which was full of mystery items despite my watching the old and young male duo assemble my dish. I think theres jicama, cucumbers, pineapple, maybe squid, and something I later learned were water apples. I love the sweet, spicy inky shrimp sauce the crunchy wedges are tossed with. James got some little mystery fried things and a plate of char kway teow.
On a non-food related note: Penangites seem to have a penchant for loud inappropriate music, not wholly unlike how Mexican joints like blaring jukeboxes. Earlier, at the mall there had been some automobile promotion out front and really really loud hip hop was blasting. Way over the top. At Gurney, a table was set up where two guys were selling dvds and they were also letting the crowd involuntarily sample their wares. But one mans distracting is anothers enticing–they garnered a decent amount of customers. Me, Ill stick to the food.
Gurney Drive Hawkers * Gurney Dr., Penang, Malaysia
Aw, it's been replaced by a book store. (11/7/05)
I'm not sure if this is called Flushing Food Court or if it's just Food Court, the latter is what it says out front. I had high expectations for the two-storied hodge podge of stands. I knew it'd be about as close as I could get to hawker style dining in NYC. But almost half of the stalls were closed. And there was some language trouble. I think I'm particularly bad at communicating with ESL's or NSL's (no second language, to be more precise), which wouldn't be surprising considering I'm not so hot dealing with born and bred Americans. There have been debates over whether invisibility or the ability to fly would be better super powers. However, I've always thought that being able to speak and understand any language or dialect at the drop of a hat would be the ultimate power skill. James and I wound up being served a double portion of a stir fried lamb noodle dish, when in actuality we attempted to order both that and a soup that I'd heard raves about. I'm not deterred though, I'll get it right one of these times.
FlushingFood Court * 36-58 Main St., Flushing, NY
It was round two in Singapore. Thanks to my bad planning we did the country
in two short chunks. This was our second, only a little more than 24 hours
before returning home to NYC. On our last full night in town we tried satay,
my second version of laksa and carrot cake, which doesn't contain carrot at
all. I think it's also been described as radish cake, radish like what they
use in turnip cakes. I don't know why carrots, turnips and radishes are so
confusing. It's really a spicy, sweet soy omelet. Good and fried.
Lau Pa Sat * 18 Raffles Quay, Singapore
Say what you will about the malling of America. But as a rule, foreign food
courts…well, rule. We totally got hooked on the sixth floor food court at
MBK, which seemed like the lowbrow mall in town. At least not as fancy as
the nearby Siam Center or Gaysorn Plaza. It's like a multi-storied, and most
importantly air-conditioned Chatuchak. The fun of the food court is that you
don't use cash (I'm not quite sure what the logic is, maybe something to do
with scamming money), you buy coupons at a little window, which can be
refunded if not used that day. And you really get a bang for your baht. We
bought 400 baht's worth (about $10) and couldn't even spend it all. Some
stalls use English, others don't, but you can get the gist from pictures and
from simple observation. James seemed hooked on ordering duck noodle soups
everywhere we went. I opted for red curry and Vietnamese spring rolls. I
could've eaten more, but the main floor of MBK has a section with tables of
homemade food for sale. It's crowded and nothing is in English, but you can
figure out about 75% of it. I was enamored by the crispy fried pork by the
pound (or would that be kilo?), served in plastic bags (they have a real
penchant for plastic bags–serving soda in baggies is bizarre) with
toothpicks, and vegetable dumplings in vivid purples and greens (beets and
scallion, I discovered). The demented Santa's Hamburgers chain is also
positioned nearby, but I never dared try the food.
MBK Center Food Court *
444 Phayathai Rd., Bangkok,Thailand
I'm not sure that where we ate was actually Kopitiam. I'd heard there was a
24-hour hawker center in the basement of the Meridian Hotel, and this was
the food court in the basement of the Meridian Hotel, but nowhere did it say
Kopitiam. It was a rainy Sunday morning, our last day in Asia. The place was
pretty dead, but we had fun wandering, nonetheless. James tried the chicken
rice because it was crime that we hadn't had it yet, and I got rojak because
I hadn't tried it yet either. I was told rojak loosely translates as crazy
salad, and that would make sense. There are a ton of different variations,
Nonya rojak, Indian rojak, and more. I think this was a pretty standard
version, from an Indonesian stall (where everything was fried and tempting).
If I'm correct, the rojak contained pineapple, cucumber, turnip, bits of
fried crueler, topped with a thick, sweet and spicy, dark kecap manis-like
sauce and crushed peanuts. I'm just guessing, I've seen recipes containing
jackfruit, papaya, mango and other things, so who knows. Oh, I also got
fried Vietnamese spring rolls because it's just not right to eat a meal in
Singapore without one item having been dipped in oil.
Kopitiam * 100 Orchard Rd., Singapore