Day two in Kuala Lumpur, and food is definitely the order of the day.
We arrive at Imbi Market with Robyn Eckhardt (from food blog EatingAsia) just before 8am. It is such a contrast to see this traditional way of life nestled within Kuala Lumpur's new skyscrapers and shopping malls.
The market's official name is Pasar Baru Bukit Bintang but locals refer to it fondly as Imbi Market. It is one of Kuala Lumpur's last remaining wet markets, with many locals now preferring to shop at supermarkets in more comfortable conditions.
Just a few steps in from the entrance, we are greeted with the aroma of freshly made you char kway which are the much loved, deep-fried bread sticks (aka you tiao). I've always loved this dipped into congee or Vietnamese coffee but learn that Malaysians also serve it with their soybean drink!
These are crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and burning hot but moreishly good.
Imbi Market isn't very big but it's got all the essentials covered - fresh produce, meat and seafood, sauces and condiments, dried goods and noodles - and there are even hawker stalls to ensure you don't leave with an empty stomach.
Robyn guides us from fruit to fruit when a stall owner curiously asks where we are from.
"They're all from Australia but he's from New Zealand" says Robyn, pointing to one of the journalists with us from the Dominion Post.
The stall owner lights up, excitingly telling us that some of his fruit was grown in Australia.
I'm surprised that local fruits and vegetables were being supplemented with imported ones but learn that it had something to do with palm oil plantations. I'm guessing it's because they're more profitable to harvest.
We spot dukong fruit, mangosteens, dragonfruit, several varieties of bananas, jackfruit, various berries, watermelon and papaya.
Meanwhile the neighbouring stall sells over eight types of beancurd products - silken tofu, deep-fried tofu puffs, dried beancurd sheets and more.
Over in the vegetable aisles are snake beans, yam beans, winged beans, baby cok choy, Chinese broccoli, eggplant, taro, radishes, corn, cabbages, Chinese cabbages and bitter melons.
And these really beautiful bunches of okra.
In the dry foods section are delicacies such as anchovies and dried shrimps and squid of all sorts, pickled vegetables, legumes and palm sugar.
[WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT AHEAD]
Pork traders are typically hidden from the open area of the wet markets so that Muslim shoppers aren't exposed to it.
Unfortunately, on our way there, we stumble across poultry slaughterers in action. I am grossed out but partially curious, so look on.
What initially looked like a cruel process of half-removing the chicken's head and throwing it into a large container to drown, turned out to be the halal process of slaughtering chicken. Research tells me that for the slaughter to be halal, the ritual requires among others for the
animals to be bled by swiftly slashing the animal's jugular veins and
carotid arteries while keeping the spine intact.
[END OF GRAPHIC CONTENT]
The back room of pork traders contained a handful of skilled butchers who were cutting and slicing with precision. Offal cuts are wildly available and nothing goes to waste.
Fish and shellfish are aplenty.
Finally time to eat, we sample a great selection of hawker food.
Curry Mee (aka Curry Laksa) is a combination of vermicelli with thick egg (Hokkien) noodles in a spicy fragrant coconut-based soup laden with fried tofu, bean sprouts, green beans, cockles and fish cake.
Popiah (fresh spring rolls) is a Hokkien and Teochew influenced dish which we refer to at home as Bo Bia (the Vietnamese variant of this dish which was introduced by Teochew immigrants).
When we have this at home, all the ingredients would be prepared and laid out separately and eaten DIY-style. We would have rice paper, chokos, strips of omelette, hoisin sauce, chilli sauce, crushed peanuts and lup cheong (Chinese sausage).
The Malaysian version is very similar, with the addition of belacan (shrimp paste) and replacing the rice paper with a paper-thin crepe, and stewed yam bean and carrot in place of blanched choko. It's a delicate flavour but so tasty.
Each one of these are just 2RM which is just over 60 cents in Australian dollars. Bargain!
It is stinking hot today so Robyn recommends we trying the wonton mee dry, which means the wonton dumplings and soup are served separate to the egg noodles and char siew.
Other dishes we try are fish congee (rice porridge), chee cheong fun (rice noodle rolls) and roast pork.
A dish new to me, is the Hakka-style pan mee (flat flour noodle soup) which translates directly to English as 'board noodles'. Robyn tells us that this is one of Kuala Lumpur's specialty dishes. These noodles are pasta-like in texture and served both dry and in a soup. The noodle soup version features dried anchovies, minced pork, mushrooms, and sweet leaf (sauropus androgynus). The dry version combines the same ingredients and is fried with dark soy sauce. Both versions are absolutely delicious.
After the markets, we head to Yut Kee, one of Kuala Lumpur's oldest kopitiam (Chinese coffee shop). There's an immediate sense of warmth and heritage.
Yut Kee is a popular meeting point for the neighbourhood and is well known for its Malaysian-Western cuisine. The last wave of Hainanese migrants used to work as cooks for the British colonial rule, so these are the dishes they once served.
We try the lamb chops, chicken chops, roti babi (fried pork sandwich), belacan fried rice and Hailam mee.
But what really stands out is the kaya (coconut jam) toast. The toast is grilled over hot coal and the kaya is splendidly fragrant.
Jack (who bears a startling resemblance to the ancestral portrait of his father - see above pic) and his son Mervin now run the coffee shop - this is Jack showing how the kaya is made:
It is a 20 hour process and the kitchen makes this from scratch every three to four days. The base of kaya is simply coconut milk (from about 70 coconuts), egg and sugar. This is steamed and requires to be stirred through at intervals. The final step is to add pandan leaves which finally turns into this:
The last thing on today's agenda is a cooking class at Bayan Indah Culinary Retreat, focusing on Kampung cuisine (home-style / village Malay food).
This venue is stunning and is a true foodie paradise. We start with a tour of the garden, where everything from laksa leaf (Vietnamese mint) to peppercorns to ginger torch and pineapple is grown. When possible, ingredients are hand-picked from the garden for use in the cooking class. It doesn't get fresher than this.
We're split into three groups and cook up a feast -
Nasi Kerabu is an aromatic herb rice salad which would traditionally include as many herbs as possible. Herbs need to be sliced extremely thinly to ensure there is a subtle blend of flavours. Our cooking class instructor, Pick Shan, tells us that mothers used to judge potential daughter-in-laws based on how finely they could slice the herbs for this dish!
The other dishes featured in the above pic are Masak Air Cekur Manis Dengan Labu, a simple vegetable dish consisting of pumpkin and sweet leaf (sauropus androgynus), onion, garlic and chilli and Ayam Percik and Iyan Percik, grilled chicken or fish marinaded in ginger and turmeric root and served with a gravy, fragrant with dried chillies, shallots, garlic, belacan (shrimp paste), coconut milk and fenugreek seeds.
This is me making the Roti Jala which is a lacy pancake served with curry:
Below is Masak Lemal Udang Dengan Nenas, a prawns and pineapple curry and Kerabu Jantung Pisang, a spicy banana blossom salad, gorgeously flavoured with chillies, roasted belacan (shrimp paste), tamarind, sugar, shallots, coconut and torch ginger.
We even make our own Ondeh Ondeh, a Malaysian kueh made of glutinous rice and pandan that is coated with lightly salted grated coconut and bursts in your mouth with the goodness of melted palm sugar. I end up eating about six of these - yum yum yum!
What a long blog post this turned out to be! I don't think it was humanly possible to fit any more food into one day.
Jln Kampung, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
35 Jalan Dang Wangi, 55100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Phone: +60 3 2698 8108
3343 Kampung Palimbayan Indah, Sungei Penchala, 60000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Phone: +60 3 7729 0122
Next blog post: Arrival in Melaka and a look at Nyonya cuisine with celebrity chef Florence Tan
JENIUS attended the Malaysia Kitchen Media Famil as a media guest of MATRADE (Malaysian External Trade & Development Corporation) and Tourism Malaysia, with thanks to Ogilvy Public Relations.