Malaysia, day two. The food tour group’s first day on the road leads us to a bubbling cauldron of meat, bones and end trails, with a little toil and trouble; a flash flood and a growing dislike for a deity; seafood with a lyrical name; and taking a fresh approach when facing an arch nemesis on its home turf.
Klang Lek Bak Kut Teh, Klang
After what ended up being a surprisingly decent buffet breakfast of nasi lemak provided by our hotel, The Nomad SuCasa, we pick up our motorised passenger vehicle from the Mid Valley Megamall (known throughout most of the trip as “Mega Valley Mall”) and made our way down the congested motorway to the port city of Klang.
We slowly grind through the traffic on our way to Klang for one express purpose – bah kut teh. As Klang is reported to be the first place that this dish was served in a restaurant, its birth place (at least in a commercial sense) was likely a good place to journey to find a good, authentic example of this dish.
We travel over a bridge, past a sign for a bak kut teh restaurant under the Klang bridge. Seng Huat is meant to be one of the pioneering restaurants, supposedly staying true to the original recipe when the restaurant first opened over 30 years ago. However, we forgo this restaurant in favour of another.
We instead make our way to Klang Lek Bak Kut Teh. With a certain degree of difficulty mind you, as it took some assistance from people at a nearby petrol station to direct us to this restaurant; one which was fairly highly recommended based on some research on the Internet. We did had a GPS, which we obtained with the vehicle. Unfortunately, this unit proved itself to be very good at being very bad at what its primary function was i.e. to direct us to our destination.
We eventually take our seats outside by a kettle that sits on its own burner, exclusively for our table. Whilst our kettle bides its time until it brews with what we would later find out to be Ti Kuan Yin tea, another, much larger, kettle brews a different sort of tea out the front of the store.
Bak kut teh, which translates to “meat bone tea”, is a complex concoction of various herbs, spices and other ingredients. It often includes, but isn’t limited to, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, star anise, Chinese angelica root, soy sauce, pork meat and/or offal, & pork bones.
We end up with two varieties of bak kut teh, served in heated clay pots, each of which costing 30 RM. One contains offal of pig’s intestines known as “9 layers intestines” [sic], apparently what they’re famous for in Klang. The other is a combination of lean and fatty cuts of pork known as half-half. Both pots also include button mushrooms as well as yuba, dried bean curd sheets reconstituted in the dark, herbal soup.
Both bak kut teh dishes were good in their own way. The “9 layers intestines” is wonderfully springy to the bite, somewhat like a firm sausage, whilst the fatty pork practically melts in the mouth. However, I couldn’t help but compare it to a rendition that Lex, professional chef and food blogger of vue de cuisinier, had made up as a trial run for a dish that would later become his entry into a cooking competition (his bak kut teh recipe here). His was just as good in my mind, and that was before he perfected it for the competition.
The two pots of bak kut teh were served along side accompaniments of wilted lettuce, yao char gwai (the fried dough cut up into small chunks), and rice.
Batu Caves, Gombak
After our rather nice lunch in Klang, we hit the road once more but this time to burn some time and some calories at the famous, though I prefer infamous, batu caves (more on that below). It’s the site of a series of Hindu shrines dedicated to the deity Lord Murugan, serving both as a place of worship (one of the most popular outside of India), as well as a tourist attraction.
The entrance to the batu caves is rather picturesque in its own right. Off to one side resides an ornate shrine. Beside the stairway leading to the caves, stands a statue of Lord Murugan; the largest of its kind in the world at 42.7 meters.
Whilst we spend a few moments enjoying the view, the heavens open up, raining down one of the meanest storms I’ve seen in a long while. We take shelter at a nearby cafe, biding our time before we make the climb up to the caves.
I was quite happy to kick back and take our time, as I knew what was in store.
Two hundred and seventy two steps, scaling a height of almost one hundred meters. It wasn’t bad enough that I was already sweating from the heat and humidity.
Anyhow, the storm had come and gone in a short moment. Before we headed to the caves, shoes & socks were removed. Not as a sign of respect for the caves, but as a necessity in order to cross the impromptu, knee-high lake that had bridged the gap between the cafe and the entrance to the caves.
Approximately 40 normal steps, 30 mildly discomforting steps and 202 excruciating steps later, we finally reach the summit. On the brink of collapse and drenched in more sweat that I thought was humanly possible given the already sweat-rendering heat and humidity, there was a serious case of the CBF’s that was had at that moment with regards to photography, let alone sightseeing.
However, after a much earned breather and the achievement of reaching the summit behind me, and despite being tired, wet and bare footed, I pushed on into the caves to see more of what I’d already seen outside – statues, shrines, small bodies of water and-
Oh, this is so wrong. More stairs? Seriously? Two hundred and seventy two steps wasn’t enough? Buddha is out there probably laughing his arse off right about now.
Aside from the shrines, statues and stairs (!!), there are also wild macaque monkeys, and a man wielding a large yellow python for photo ops, to see. However, between the humidity, flash flood and ungodly number of stairs to climb, I was very far from caring to give them much notice.
In spite of all the hardship, I was able to take in, and by the end even appreciate, the grandeur of these limestone caves. After all, all the pain and suffering was behind me.
Jalan Alor, KL
Flash forward to the evening. After a much needed rest-stop and change of clothes back at the hotel, we find ourselves on Jalan Alor once more. However, this time we do away with the alfresco seating and opt to dine in at Meng Kee Grill Fish.
The decor is quite reminiscent of many no-frills Chinese restaurants that can be found in the suburbs of Sydney. There are various articles posted around the restaurant, presumably promotional material for the restaurant or the owners. The hat was an odd touch though.
As with most meals, we begin the dinner with drinks. Likewise, as with most meals, the drinks seem to be handled by an operator independent to the establishment we dine at. I’m not sure if it’s just my ignorance of Malaysian food culture, but there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between food hawkers and drink vendors.
A pear and sour plum iced drink is what I decide to go with. It has a very grass-like flavour to it, which seems very unusual to an inexperienced palate. Refreshing, but unusual none the less.
My first serious dish of vegetation on this trip thus far is this dish of Fried Sambal Chili Four Angled Beans (8 RM). It’s the first time I’ve had this uniquely shaped vegetable, which I find to be rather pleasant.
Continuing on with the sambal chili, there was the Fried Sambal Chili Lala (15 RM). Apparently, “lala” is what KL locals call pippies. I pity the poor tourist that points quizzically to a plate of these in a restaurant, to only get back the answer “it’s lala, lah!”.
Grill Stingray Fish (varies from 15RM to 40.50RM) is the wing of a stingray grilled in a simple fashion, served with a dipping sauce. The meat is rather mild in flavour but otherwise quite a pleasant tasting bit of seafood.
Fried Oyster Egg (varies from 8RM to 15RM). This oyster omelette is interesting in that rather than being fluffy, the egg is cooked to a crispy texture. Personal preferences polarise some of the dining party into fluffy and crispy camps.
Fried Kue Teow (5 RM). This version of char kueh teow had nice, slippery rice noodles and was neither stodgy nor greasy.
Grilled Taufu (varies from 4RM to 16RM). Grilled slices of crunchy tofu sandwich a medley of vegetables and a prawn-flavoured dark sauce. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had referred to this as an interpretation of rojak, as those were the flavours and textures that came to mind when eating this.
After dinner, we make our way out to Jalan Alor proper to frequent the dessert place from the previous night for Ais Kacang & Chendol. Just as we’re about to leave Jalan Alor, we make one last dessert pit stop at a durian vendor.
I have no love for durian. Actually, a history of distinct hatred for it that I do not have for any other food item I’ve come across to date. To be fair, I’ve only ever had durian in either its frozen or artificial forms and never the fresh fruit itself. Figuring that having it fresh in the country that is known for their production of durian, if I don’t like it here when people who like it says it’s good, it’ll be stuck forever from my list of things to eat and be considered fructus non grata.
The first taste of fresh durian (16 RM/Kg) was unusual. It wasn’t the disgusting taste that I’d learned to despise. Instead, a distinctly strong flavour of onion came through this savoury, custard-textured room temperature fruit (by Malaysian standards i.e. warm). It was one of the most unusual experiences I’ve had.
Though I’ve no longer written off my arch nemesis, “the king of fruit”, it was very far from winning me over. For now, the jury is out.
Luna Bar, KL
The bar has a number of distinct features. Firstly, the majority of the bar is without a roof, making this something of an open air bar. There’s the swimming pool taking up the majority of the floor space within the middle of the bar itself. The men’s urinals, which is just a window out to KL with little more than an opaque strip covering ones privates. That was an interesting experience. Lastly, the inflated prices for drinks, which were close to being expensive by Australian standards, let alone Malaysian ones.
Having capped off another food-filled day, we make our way through the streets of KL to find a taxi back to the hotel, passing numerous billboards and the occasional street performer entertaining tourists and locals alike.
I wonder if there is a bronze man too…?