A visit to Kuala Lumpur for the average tourist isn’t complete without dropping by the famed Petaling Street market in Chinatown, a crowded and claustrophobic shopping mecca offering bootleg products from cheap Bvlgari watches and perfume to Nike footwear that will probably start falling apart a few months after wearing them.
Some like it, some don’t and this pair of tourists isn’t really interested in any of this stuff so we decide to cut through the throngs and take a seat outside at Restaurant Roland for a refreshing round of cooling beers. How could you not when there’s a Tiger Beer promo of two long necks plus one small bottle for RM37. Still a bit pricey when you convert it back to around $12 but alcohol in this country isn’t as inexpensive as just about everything else.
The restaurant where we were sitting seems to specialise in seafood and judging by the appearance of a few of the dishes that other people were tucking into, it wasn’t all that special. I did take a look at the menu as we sat outside people-watching in the thick afternoon air but found nothing that I felt like nibbling on while sipping beer.
How can a Chinese restaurant not even have dumplings? After visiting the restaurant wc I couldn’t help but stop at the Loong Kee Dried Meat counter half-way in the door and be tempted by the glistening piles of cooked bacon goodies.
I think I’ve found my beer snacks! As I start snapping a few pics the friendly guy manning the counter snips off and offers me a taste of each of the bacon varieties and while I’d like to buy a kilo of everything I settle on the one that I liked best – chilli gui fei meat (Rm 11/100g). I reckon 100g would be enough to nibble on while downing a cold beer or two.
The bacon is cold, or shall I say room temperature and is deliciously smokey with a sweet soy edge and then the chilli creeps up does its thing. Mild, sticky and just the thing to have with a cold beer plus the staff at the restaurant don’t even mind you eating it at their tables. If you have bacon restrictions then help yourself to the fabulous meat floss, meat fluff, mooncakes, cookies or pastries. Mmmm meat fluff.
As the beer dried up and our appetites increased Mr K suggested we go grab some satay “…at that place we went to last time we were in town.” Music to my ears. Not even a minutes walk around the corner on Jalan Sultan is Zainal Satay, your typical satay vendor firing-up delicious skewers of tender goodness.
It’s amazing how the streets transform into a lively hub of foodie madness once the sun sets. Zainal Satay has been in business for 28 years according to a little print-out on the cart and taking a seat at one of it’s few wobbly sidewalk tables has become a tradition when we visit KL.
“What you li, how many?” asks the young lady as soon as our backsides make contact with the tiny plastic kiddie stools. The choices are simple: chicken, beef or offal (chicken liver & gizzard) and as I write this I’ve remembered that I didn’t get any offal. Damn!
Nothing fancy here, just a plastic plate topped with another piece of plastic, slices of red onion and cucumber and those glorious skewers (RM70 each). Satay sauce comes on the side and woops, almost forgot, a side serve of nasi impit (RM1) – cubes of steamed rice cake. I could sit here and eat these all night but it was time for another flavour.
Not even two metres away is another cart selling the beloved roti, one of my favourite street foods. Located just at the entrance of the brightly-lit Family Convenience Store this queen of the hotplate knocks up a mean roti filled with a multitude of options. Somehow we order the same thing – ayam roti (RM3) – filled with minced and lightly spiced chicken. “You li spicy?” she asks.
This just refers to the side bowl of curry sauce that has an extra dollop of chilli sambal thrown in but the mildness of the chilli was more like something you’d get at your average Australian Thai restaurant (ie: no heat). I think I needed XX spicy.
Once these were devoured I looked up at the menu and scanned the options until I hit banana & chocolate roti (RM3.5). How could I not? Within seconds of ordering, the roti queen is flipping and stretching the dough before slicing a banana and sprinkling a mixture of sugar and cocoa powder across the paper-thin dough. Unlike the glorious sticky varieties you get in Thailand smothered in chocolate sauce, this one is much drier and just as good.
On the other side of the road there’s much more street food action in progress and when I spotted what I thought was a red Izakaya lantern hanging above a portable outdoor grill I soon realised I stepped into lok lok territory. Trays and trays of skewered bits of seafood ranging from fish balls to prawns clearing 20 cm in length plus the odd piece of duck and processed hotdog.
My eyes widened and again I started salivating and willed my stomach to rearrange its contents and make room for some more visitors. The price structure is quite simple as each bamboo skewer that holds an item is a different colour at the end. Different colour = different price. The impressive prawns were already priced according to size.
I only wanted a few bits and chose to have them grilled rather than plunged into the steamboat at the scattering of tables outside the Pasaraya KK Supermarket. When I saw the beautifully green otak otak (RM3) wrapped in banana leaves, skewered and piled in a tray I chose two of them as well as one of the mussels.
Both were cooked in no time and when they were brought to the table I noticed the banana leaves were removed and the fish paste was floured and fried and sprinkled with chilli powder, same with the mussels (RM2.5). I was a little disappointed by this as I was expecting to get them grilled in their natural form.
The prawn (RM8) I got made up for the disappointment as it was split down the back and charred with the shell still on, retaining the soft and sweet flesh within. Forget the condiments and sauces, this baby needed nothing more.
It was time to get back to the hotel but before that we wandered and took in a little bit more of what was going on along the strip. Two other vendors next to Fat One Steamboat were offering claypot chicken rice and grilled fish rice and next door while yapping on his phone a guy was flipping puffed foil parcels over a char-grill.
I hung around long enough to see how these curious parcels were constructed and discovered they were filled with vegetables, a splosh of “special sauce” and some seafood. Sounds good but we had to run. Loved how the dishwasher was even out on the street lathering up and rinsing the used plastic plates and claypots for the next round of punters.