We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at kind of a bad time: it was Hari Raya, the end of Ramadan and a major public holiday in Malaysia. Muslims from KL typically visit their families in the north at this time, and because the holiday fell on a Thursday-Friday, everyone basically had a four-day weekend. The city was eerily empty in some places, jam-packed and business-as-usual in others. This probably contributed to our slightly off-kilter experience, but I think regardless of holidays, KL is not a city you fall for at first sight. Much of the centre is clearly not designed for pedestrians, and we found ourselves walking awkwardly along the edge of highways and under bridges. The public transit system looks great on paper, but all of the lines are owned by different companies and they barely intersect. Making a journey that includes a change of line most often includes leaving the station, walking a few blocks up alleys and across construction sites, then entering a new station and paying for another ticket. Luxury hotels and malls are being thrown up everywhere you look, but nothing fits together logically. It’s the very model of unchecked development. What to do to get our bearings in a strange Asian city? Obviously – morning markets!
We started off with Imbi market, which was a disorienting twenty minute walk from our hotel. Sadly, quite a few stalls were closed for the holidays, but lots were still open, especially of course the Chinese ones.
We became fascinated by the stall selling Chinese crullers, all made from scratch and sold fresh from the frier for dipping into congee or coffee.
The guy who runs the stall cuts the dough with such speed that we don’t have a photo of him that isn’t blurry. He’s a perpetual motion machine.
The end results are pretty enticing.
We bought some to dip in our coffee, but good grief we had a hard time achieving coffee. Most market stall folks are friendly, or at least way more patient than a British person would be with tourists who can’t speak their language. I do a lot of smiling and pointing and often times even customers help out by showing me where to go or who to order from. I am well used to brusque and/or apparently chaotic modes of service in Asia. But the coffee guys? They were just jerks. I waited for ages, standing about a metre from the main dude and he just resolutely refused to acknowledge my existence. Other people came up, ordered, and left with coffee. I tried shouting ‘excuse me’ and even my order in Malay, but it was like I was a ghost. Eventually I gave up and Mr Lemur went over. Turns out only women are invisible and inaudible. Asshole.
Anyway, after that infuriating experience, I let Mr Lemur deal with the coffee situation and went to buy us some pig innard congee.
I know, more innards. The congee was nice and smooth, and it was topped with mysterious bits of crispy pork. Inside lurked bigger, potentially more identifiable organ bits that concerned me slightly. I know I am a bit too squeamish with innards, but I will say that it is totally a question of cooking style. I was nervous about the soft, wibbly subacquatic things, but the crunchy little deep fried bits on top could have been anything and I ate them up blissfully.
Next we needed something sweet (Kenny and Alan have ruined us for breakfast without dessert) and luckily we spotted a stall making the peanut pancakes Kenny had hunted for in Singapore. These look a bit dry and boring but trust me, they are anything but.
These thick pancakes are cooked on one side on a giant griddle, then folded over and cut into strips. The inside is sweet – but not too sweet – crushed peanuts and sugar. You can cut whatever size you want and I wish we had ordered twice as much. God they were good.
On the way out, we walked past mounds of fresh vegetables and a section full of cute boys selling bananas. The market was definitely quieter than usual but it still reassured us that we could navigate KL.
Since this breakfast was kind of carb-tastic, we wanted something different from the Chinatown market the next day. This was a wetter kind of market, with dank corridors full of people chopping up meat. You need to be willing to get splashed with chicken liquid before 8am to have a really good Asian market breakfast…Happily, we emerged from the butchery section to find a row of food stalls including one that specialised in curry laksa. A nice man took our order and even brought us some of the best iced coffee I’ve ever had. Result!
The laksa was topped with thick slabs of roasted eggplant, and nestled underneath was a toothsome layer of deep fried tofu. Below that swam green beens, beansprouts and rice noodles, all in a thick and spicy coconut milk broth. We added a squeeze of sweet calamansi and, tentatively, swirled in roasty-hot sambal. It was really my ideal kind of breakfast with the kind of spicy and rich flavours that really give you energy for the day.
We finished with a cendol from this lovely man, who had lost the fingers on one hand in what I’m guessing was an ice-machine accident, but whose cendol was really rather good. KL is a weird place and I suspect we missed out on some of its culinary treasures because of Hari Raya, but these markets buoyed our spirits for the big dirty city.