Monday, April 17, 2006

What and Where We Ate

The last time we had been in KL we had eaten mostly Malay food. This time, we started out wanting to "soh lup sup" which in Cantonese literally means to "collect rubbish", in other words, eat different types of junk food aka street food. KL has its own distinctive brand of Chinese street food, mostly Cantonese-inspired with a touch of Penang, while Singapore's is more Hokkien and Teochew-inspired, so we were eager to taste the difference.

Take, for example, this meal at Dragon View Restaurant, located at the corner of Changkat Bukit Bintang and Jalan Alor. As the first "proper" food outlet a tourist would encounter in the hustle and bustle of the Jalan Alor area, Dragon View is the perfect place for tired tourists to plonk themselves down for a good ol' fashioned Chinese meal. The two mainstays of the menu are the Cantonese roast and the typical Cantonese-style zhi cha menu.

We were there for a late lunch and had:

KL-style kon loh mee, sans chilli

roast duck and roast chicken

prawn wantan soup

These noodles were served with little more than soya sauce and oil (see yao sok yao). That suited us fine because we would normally have asked for noodles without the chilli sauce or tomato sauce that Singapore hawkers are wont to serve kon loh mee with, yuck. The sauce was a little sweet for HM's liking, but the noodles were suitably al dente. Interestingly enough, the duck had herbal overtones which was a nice touch. Lastly, we had the ubiquitous KL dish, prawn wantan, which is again not common in Singapore where you get either pork wantans or shrimp dumplings.

Together with 2 glasses of Chinese tea, the meal cost us M$28 (S$14). Incidentally, while we were satisfied with the meal, it was by no means earthshakingly good. There must be cheaper, or better, or cheaper and better Cantonese roast places in KL; there was nary a local in sight at Dragon View each time we passed by.

Another familiar yet novel meal was the beef noodles we had at Tengkat Tong Shin, the lane behind and parallel to Jalan Alor. The hawker stall, Ngau Kee, is a local favourite. To locate it, look for the end of the road where Hotel Corona is situated; you'll find Ngau Kee along a five-foot way near it.

The beef noodles were quite different from the Singapore style ones. In Singapore, the dry version would have been drenched in a thick gooey starchy sauce. Here, the noodles were topped with a light sauce made with minced pork, quite like the topping used as accompaniment for hakka yong tau foo noodles. The same sauce was added to the soup which in Singapore would have been flavoured with salted vegetables instead. Last but not least, instead of the thick bee hoon that is usually served in Singapore, the KL stall offered either lo shi fun (bee tai mak) or hor fun.

dry beef noodles, with everything (tripe, beef chunks, beef balls)

Two bowls, one soup, one dry, cost us M$9 or S$4.50. Our verdict: Ngau Kee is a must-try. A word of warning: to eat there, one must be prepared to avert one's eyes from the state of cleanliness, or lack thereof, surrounding the stall, but the food will be worth it.

Ipoh hor fun is another dish that is quite different. In KL, the default seems to be the soup version, rather than the dry, and there are no mushrooms, only shredded chicken.

We had ours at a coffee shop just off Jalan Imbi, next to the popular Weng Heng Coffee Shop. We liked the soup stock there for it was made with prawns. Sedap! Incidentally, we also had the lime juice with sour plum, a refreshing accompaniment that many KL stalls serve.

ipoh hor fun

more prawn wantan soup

chin chow (left) and lime juice with sour plum

For two bowls of hor fun, one bowl of prawn wantan, and two drinks, the bill came up to M$18 (S$9). Cheap and good, we say.

Then we moved our street food experiment upmarket, to check out Madam Kwan's, a popular eatery in KL. We went to the branch at KLCC; the other is in Bangsar. Madam Kwan's is like a Kopi Tiam, the one at Swissotel the Stamford. It serves street food at hotel standard quality and prices. The decor is updated coffee shop chic.

Madam Kwan's, bustling

We enjoyed the signature dish, nasi bojari. It reminded us of a hotel-style nasi goreng, except the essence was Indonesian rather than Malay. The rice was subtly spiced - we detected laksa leaf! The otak otak was also delicious, although the texture was more like Thai fish cake. The chicken rice was good but less impressive; at least the soup was made from good stock.

nasi bojari, with prawn assam, ayam goreng, and beef rendang (clockwise)

otak otak

mushroom chicken rice

we love our food

All in all, it was a good meal. The bill came up to M$66 (S$33), a steal compared to something similar in Singapore. Madam Kwan's is worth a visit if you find yourself in need of a meal or snack in KLCC or Bangsar.

We would have squeezed in another street meal except that it was raining cats and dogs, far too wet for an evening out on the streets. We decided to take advantage of the Ritz-Carlton's air bridge to Starhill Plaza and pamper ourselves at one of the restaurants in the basement.

KL has a plethora of Middle Eastern restaurants, thanks to the burgeoning Middle Eastern expat community and the influx of Middle Eastern tourists. Tarbush, the Lebanese restaurant chain, is well-known for its good food. The Starhill Plaza branch is beautifully decorated.

the crowd at Tarbush

play spot the camels

Tarbush's food was excellent. The quality and quantity were both good. The meat was well grilled yet not overly oily. The use of spices was complex and subtle. In particular, we liked the foul (fava beans) with hommous (chick pea spread) for the way the beans and the chick peas blended in taste. The dessert, mahalabia, was also outstanding - milk pudding sprinkled with pistachios and infused with cardamom, mmmm.

peppermint crush

kibbeh (deep fried minced lamb patties)

foul (fava beans) with hommous

sweet yoghurt (like a lassi)

Tarbush mixed grill (lamb cubes, minced lamb, chicken cubes ala tandoori)

arabic coffee with syrup on the side, and dessert

The best part was the meal only cost us M$112 (S$56). For a similar meal and experience in Singapore, we would have had to pay at least S$80. We were glad we had made the detour.

N.B. Both Madam Kwan's and Tarbush serve halal food.


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