Malaysian Street Food : Banana Leaf Curry (south Indian curry spread)

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India has a long history with Malaysia, mass migration occurred during the British occupation of Malaysia when Indians emigrated for labour purposes and long before then Indians and Arabs were travelling the trade routes and settling across the South East Asian region.
Indians are the third most represented ethnic group in Malaysia and have a good diplomatic relationship – India and Malaysia have a migrant working visa arrangement similar to the one that takes thousands of young Europeans to Australia and New Zealand every year.

As such Indian food is wonderfully represented in Malaysia and one that would be most familiar to western visitors is a banana leaf curry, a popular south Indian curry dish.

Banana leaf curry devi's corner bangsar KL kuala lumpur malaysia

Banana leaf curries are a sort of buffet meal in one, usually you’ll get to choose the main attraction, usually  a chicken, fried fish or other meat (sometimes mutton) curry.   And then a server will ladle spoons of vegetable sides, rice, pickles and a poppadum onto your  big green plate.
It seems fairly standard for everything to be drenched with gravy, but often as westerners we get asked if we like any and a little is poured to the side – it’s worth asking what the sauces are as there’s often a spicy chilli one and a rasam (spicy sour) available.

Banana leaf curry devi's corner bangsar KL kuala lumpur malaysia

Banana leaf meals are traditionally eaten with the hand (typically, your right hand only although, many places will have cutlery if you ask) and to show good etiquette you should wash your hands before and after eating.

 Often you can ask for more rice and pickles at little or no extra charge, and when you’ve finished eating etiquette dictates you fold your leaf in half, both as a thank you and a symbol to staff you’ve finished eating.

Banana leaf curries can be a great way to sample a lot of different flavours, as well as being disposable (they literally grow on trees, after all… ) I read banana leaves contain an antioxidant which food can take on, and also gives a nice fragrance. They’re also usually pretty good value for money and will really fill you up as well as giving you a big chunk of your 5-a-day.

KL and Penang have some good places to check out, click on the links to read more.

Malaysian Bahasa isn’t going to be very useful in your average banana leaf restaurant – most staff will speak Hindi/other Indian dialects and some degree of English.

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Malaysian Street Food: Roti babi (fried pork sandwich)

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The name roti babi literally means ‘pork bread’, a dish of peranakan straits heritage, often referred to as nonya cuisine due to the cultural identity of women, the cooks as ‘nonyas’.

Essentially, and very vaguely they are the descendents (the word Peranakan translates as ‘descendent’ in both Malay & Indonesian Bahasa, according to Wikipedia) of Chinese traders who settled into Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Indonesia and whilst retaining their home culture they took to their new environments, married locals and over time fused everything together to create their own, unique culture.

There’s a tonne of interesting foodie things that have come from nonya culture.

Roti babi cake at Yut Kee restaurant Kulala Lumpur`

Roti babi is a sort of fried pork sandwich. French toast with an Asian twist, if you will.  Slices of white bread are filled with a mixture of ground pork, crab meat onions, garlic and a spicemix. The whole mixture is egg coated and fried. It’s often best eaten with Worcestershire sauce and chillies.
It’s absolutely calorific, indulgently greasy Chinese Malaysian dish that is increasingly hard to find available from hawkers. Yut Kee in Kuala Lumpur is an old school Kopitiam well worth visiting, and a place to pick up a roti babi.

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Kuala Lumpur Street Food & Eating guide.

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Kuala Lumpur is a pretty interesting city, relatively young only around one hundred and fifty years old with a multicultural population of Malays, Chinese, Indians and expats. Look past the smoggy skies and the building sites, – which are everywhere in their race to rival Singapore – and you’ll find a city of good tasting food. Penangites, used to their UNESCO world heritage listed city and tourists on food pilgrimages might sneer and look down on KL, one person I met in Georgetown said “If a hawker can’t make it in Penang, his food is not good enough and he will move to KL and be successful” but there’s plenty to take from this city. It’s different to Penang, in a good way.

Get your eat on.

Food Courts

Lot 10, collection of street food and hole in the wall style eateries in a food court in a highly stylised setting. Our favourite stalls are Chua Brothers Famous Fish Ball Soup which also sells Hokkien mee, Asam laksa & curry laksa which are all good & Duckking, with decent char siew pork and duck. 10-20MYR per meal. Song Kee, relative of famous old shop in Chinatown apparently sells excellent beef noodle soup.
Good quality ingredients and an excellent place as an introduction to the local food culture, but lacking the attitude of street food and ‘wok hei’ slightly overpriced experience without the usual fun of street eating, which – for me, at least – is watching the world go by.  Great for wary tourists or those who want to experience something local without sacrificing sanitised conditions, or just a cheap meal in the Bukit Bintang area, which is otherwise full of bars and international restuarants.
Closest transport : Bukit Bintang Monorail Located in the basement of Lot 10 Shopping mall. 

Another food court in the golden triangle is Food Republic, less stylised than Lot10 and looking a lot more like a conventional food court there’s a huge amount of stalls selling specialties from other Malay states as well as international options, fast food chains and a teppanyaki bar. Like Lot 10, a bit more expensive than the street options
Clostest transport : Bukit Bintang Monorail. Located at Pavillion shopping mall.
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Central Market Food Court: came in here on a whim, and found the kopitiam in the middle sold laksa & prawn mee –  We were surprised to find the prawn mee to be awesome, the laksa, of the Penang asam variation and had a great taste, spiced for malay palate – other stalls are mostly Thai and Indonesian style foods, Nasi Ayam (chicken rice) seemed popular with the clutch of westerners eating, but most patrons were Malays on their lunch breaks.
Clostest transport: Pasar Seni LRT. Located on 1st floor of Central Markets.

Imbi markets : Whilst it’s not a foodcourt, but an outdoor market it’s still a potentially worthwhile place to visit in the mornings for a breakfast – It’s really only likely you’ll bother to make the journey if you’re staying in the Bukit Bintang area, as it’s about a 10-15minute walk away from Bukit Bintang metro station & the city.
Opening times are 630AM – 12noon, but when I visited at 10AM, not much was open, whether this was due to the day of the week I’m not sure.
Clostest transport : Bukit Bintang Monorail. Located at Pasar Besar Bukit Bintang

Chinatown area

 

Mamak canteen in Kuala Lumpur

Mamak canteen in Kuala Lumpur

 

Old China Café: Excellent Nonya laksa (amongst other things), in a beautifully restored shophouse on the edges of the bustling Chinatown : a good option if you don’t have time to get to Melaka. 11MYR a portion. Book a table for the evening to have a nice meal out.
Closest transport – LRT: Pasar Seni/Monorail : Maharajalela. Located on Jalan Balai Polis

Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock: A friendly and modern take on the traditional kopitiam, stripped away walls and clean lines with simple furniture and all the classics of mamak food. The staff are pretty attentive and the food and coffee and both good. Slightly more expensive than your average kopitiam.
Closest transport – LRT: Pasar Seni/Monorail : Maharajalela. Located on Jalan Balai Polis

Restoran Yusoof & Zakhir
: Good teh tarik, tandoor chicken & well spiced kumpung rice but generally quite inconsistent with nasi lemak. Great value for money nonetheless.
Closest transport – LRT: Pasar seni.  Located on Jalan Hang Kasturi

 

 

Hameeds Nasi Kampar Penang: Opens very early & closes very late run by jovial Indians, the Malay equivalent of a greasy spoon café, with honest, cheap food. With roti chanai and curries you cannot go wrong whilst people watching an ‘interesting’ cross section of society. Very close to Petaling street & the backpacking district.
Closest transport : Pasar Seni LRT. Located on  Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lok, opposite Starbucks. 

Maulana foodcourtNasi lemak in the more streamlined takeaway form (wrapped in banana leaf)  but with good, if slightly sweeter sambal. A good range of curries, roti and drinks with helpful staff. Look for the parked taxis outside.
Good place to head for breakfast if you arrive early on a nightbus with time to kill, only two minute walk from Pudu Sentral
Closest transport : Plaza Rakyat LRT. Located at the end of the row of shops closest to the station on Jalan Pudu. Five minute walk from Chinatowns backpacker district.

Koon Kee Wanton noodle : A tiny little shophouse hidden behind the many stalls selling handbags, sunglasses and junk on Petaling Street, in the heart of Chinatown. ‘KL style’ with dark glazed soy noodles and char siew pork with wan tans.  It’s been around for a very long time, it’s very popular with locals and they make everything by hand including the noodles and the wantans. Around 6RM per portion.
It’s hidden behind the hawkers, look for two red hanzi characters on a silver corogated background. Don’t be put off by the back to basics surroundings, they’ve been doing this a long time.
Closest transport: Pasar Seni LRT, Located on Petaling Street’s most northern section.

As the night falls, many restaurants appear in Chinatown with popup kitchens and plastic chairs spilling on the pavement. Our favourite, Restoran Han Kee outside the twenty four hour laundry on Jalan Sultan sells good claypot dishes, and cheap one plate meals.  Lookout for the fishtank with frogs and eels out the front.
Closest transport: Pasar Seni LRT. Located on Jalan Sultan

Banana Leaf

South Indian Malay curry spread.
There’s loads of options all over the city, and expect to pay a little more than an average meal but it’s well worth it.

Banana leaf curry devi's corner bangsar KL kuala lumpur malaysia
Vischaltchi Food and Catering in Brickfields was worth a trek, a little on the more expensive side, although the tandoor fish pieces were the highlight of the meal.
Closest transport: KL Sentral. Located on Jalan Scott

Devi’s Corner was also well worth hunting down in trendy Bangsar, full of coffee shops and bakeries. The fish curry was delicious and all the vegetable sides were fantastic – you get a little bit more for your money here than at Vischalcthi. Around 15-20MYR per person
Locals also recommended we try Sri Nirwana Maju, also in Bangsar but we didn’t quite get the chance.
Closest transport Bangsar. Located on Jalan Telawi 4

Other

 

Restoran Kin Kin: Selling one very popular dish, chilli pan mee. A bowl of thick noodles, meaty ragu, ikan billis and a poached egg served with a wickedly spicy dry roasted chilli paste. It’s exceptional, good value & very popular with locals. A bit off the tourist trail but well worth seeking out & trying as a double hit with Yut Kee, a five minute walk away.
Less than 10MYR per serve, open seven days, between 7am and 7pm but closes earlier on weekends. Closest transport : Medan Tunku (monorail) but also a short walk from Dang Wangi. Located on Jalan Dewan Sultan Sulaiman.

Chilli Pan mee Restoran Kin Kin Kuala Lumpur  KL

Yut Kee: Had been trading since the 1920’s in the same shophouse until a forced move in 2014, The style, food and ownership have barely changed since it began and they serve traditional Hainanese style food, great marble cake, kaya roll and coffee. They also have roast pork dinner on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
A good stopping point for coffee and cake on a walk about the city, as well as main meals. The roti babi is the stuff of dreams. Big fat greasy delicious dreams.
Closest transport :Dang Wangi LRT station. Located on Jalan Kamunting.

little India is also home to a heap of options to eat simple Indian snacks and spreads, a good place to pick up Indian sweets as are the market stalls around the Batu Caves.

You can buy fresh fruit including all the tropical favourites from all over the city at little stalls, they are usually similar prices per kilo as the big food stores like Cold Storage you find in the malls, just be picky as they will try to offload the overripe first.

Cold Storage and Isetan are also good options for picking up pieces for a picnic, the Botanical Gardens, KLCC park & Mederka Square are all great options to laze the afternoon away reading and snacking. Isetan in particular is good stop to pick up sushi.

 

diners at kl restaurant yut kee

Diners at the famous old Yut Kee restaurant.

 

Unfortunately, due to visiting during Ramadan we didn’t really get a chance to sample the delights of Kampung Baru, the traditional, lowrise Muslim residential enclave of KL. It’s a great area to visit, just to see another side of KL, which isn’t all commercialisation and modernity. Another reason to visit is the availability of pop-up street food stalls which reputedly sell some of the best nasi lemak in the city, amongst other delights.

Ramly burgers are to KL like a hot dog to New York, the typical local fast food.  The end product can vary depending on whats available but generally it’s a thin patty of chicken or beef with condiments and then wrapped in egg, served in a bun. Locals love them, the stalls are pretty much all over the city, several in the Chinatown area. Cheap, quick and affordable.

Transport

The transport network is great and you should never really need to take a cab, single journeys are between one and three ringgits. The LRT (red) line is very efficient and should cover most places you could want to visit. The monorail (green) line covers the gaps, but wait time seems to be a little longer.
There are also free GO KL! buses, which travel from Chinatown to Bukit Bintang and back.

words worth knowing!

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamat tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry
Lagi – more/again

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Whilst this selection is by no means exhausted it’s places we enjoyed hanging out, drinking teh tarik and eating on a budget in no frills kinda places, generally we just wandered into places for a teh tarik, and came back to eat if we liked the vibe.
We like to think we have good taste, but we’re open to suggestions. Join us on Facebook & if you liked our posts please share them using the little social media buttons below.

Malaysian Street Food: Chilli pan mee (dry minced pork chilli noodles)

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Pan mee is a dish of Chinese –Malay heritage, a product of the Chinese immigrants from the Hakka clan. In terms of Malaysia, it’s something you’ll (generally) find in Kuala Lumpur & the south, but not in Penang and the north.

As a meal it’s a fairly straightforward comfort food. Thick flour noodles are blanched and served with a tomato & pork mince sauce, served with a poached egg and a handful of ikan billis, or deep fried anchovies.
Whilst these ingredients are all agreeable, the addition that raises it from kind of average to superb is a huge spoonful of deep red, roasted chilli paste. The rich, slightly smokey flavour and oil really amplify the other ingredients.
The noodles are served with a side bowl of potato leaf soup. Traditionally, I’ve read the soup is often served on top of the noodles but it’s become customary and perhaps fashionable in KL for it to be served on the side. I have to agree, it’s an improvement and there’s nothing stopping you pouring it over if you wanted to.

Chilli Pan mee Restoran Kin Kin Kuala Lumpur  KL

This is a serious palate puncher, the richness of egg yolk, the almost Italian qualities of the porky ragu with salty anchovies and eye wateringly spicy chilli paste that will have you reaching for the napkins to dab your sweaty brow should you not be so accustomed to such spice levels.

After some internet research, we ventured to Restoran Kin Kin, in Kuala Lumpur. It’s a one meal only kind of place and although a little of the tourist map it’s easily accessible and the owners are helpful enough.
It’s excellent value at less than 10Ringgits, Kin-Kin was shortlisted for the ‘Best Cheap Eats’ by Time Out KL in 2013.

Restoran Kin Kin is located near the KL Metroline station Medan Tuanku. Be aware of the ‘other’ restaurant across the road with a very similar name.

Phrases worth knowing!

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Malay street food : Curry laksa (curried chicken noodle soup)

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Laksa, the soup of the gods.

I’ve previously written about asam laksa and how depending on where you are in Malaysia, the word ‘laksa’ means different things – in Kuala Lumpur, for example just asking for laksa will get you a curry soup, but if you asked for the same in Pinang, you would get an asam laksa.

Curry laksa is characterised by its thick, rich, spicy curry soup broth. The soup is created by mixing worm-like laksa noodles, beansprouts (known as taugeh, in Malaysia) with the unctuous, coconut milk heavy chicken curry which will have been bubbling away and developing flavour for many hours before you sit down for lunch. The curry base showcases chicken on the bone and blood cockles; a rich shellfish which actually contains haemoglobin and has a strong taste. They are quite different from the pickled cockles available from European fishmongers.

Penangs version, curry mee will usually have a thinner vermicelli type noodle called bee hoon, or rice vermicelli.

For some reason, I never took pictures of Curry laksa, so thanks to Mylifestory & LWYang via creative commons licensing. 

Additionally, boiled egg, prawn and bean curd or tofu puffs are added with one last chilli kick added  – a spoonful of fresh sambal is thrown in for good measure.

Curry laksa is the sort of big, bold dinner that includes huge flavours of Malaysia and also the sort of hearty concoction you wished you could get hold of on a cold winters afternoon back in Europe. It’s soup and curry all in one!

Satu – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
sila (see luh) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry

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Malay street food : Teh Tarik (stretched milk tea)

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Tea, the Chinese have been enjoying it originally as a medical concoction for thousands of years and has spread through Europe since the sixteenth century. It was popularised in Britain and was for many years and expensive luxury item until plantations in India yielded increasing supplies and the value decreased as the popularity increased amongst everyday Englishmen.

According to Wikipedia tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, beaten only by water and an important part of social life in many areas of the world. Tea is very important.

The delicious nectar

The delicious nectar

Malaysia is no exception and the tea culture here is an integral part of community and peoples social lives. Malaysia has two elements in its recent history which to me would suggest it’s a tea-mad country – the large population of Indians, who are well known to be keen on chai and the recent colonial history and involvement with the British, well known throughout the world as a nation of tea drinkers.

Teh tarik is drank by all in Malaysia and is a popular drink to while away time in a kopitiam or Mamak bar. Taking influence from Indian chai, teh tarik is sweet, rich and milky.

The word tarik literally translates as pulled and can sometimes be called stretched tea also. Black tea is brewed and combined with sugar and condensed milk before being repeatedly ‘tariked’ between two vessels to create thick, rich creamy tea full of bubbles.

There is sometimes a certain amount of showmanship in creating the drink as servers will pour the tea between increasingly widening cups without spilling a drop.

The tea is served in a glass cup so you can view the rich, viscous pulled tea in all its bubbly glory. The  perfect way to start the day or as an afternoon pick me up.

One final thought – The Englishman, Sir Arthur Wing Pinero once said “Where there is tea, there is hope”.

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