When I wasn’t book shopping or rummaging through the CD stores in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month, I was content to just stroll around town and soak up the local atmosphere. I stayed in a colorful area between Central Market and Masjid Jamek, conveniently close to the subway/train line and the Chinatown and Little India districts, plus there is noticeable Burmese presence on one street (more about that in a future post).
From either the Pasar Seni or Masjid Jamek LRT stations, I could take a train to nearly any part of town my heart desired. At nearby KL Sentral, there is also a link to the monorail, KL Kommuter trains, and the KLIA Airport Express. Very handy system they have. Once I arrived at my station of choice, I’d either head straight to a mall for more shopping or eating, or just walk around the neighborhood to kill time. There is not much in the way of historical sites to see in the city, but I do like looking at the modern architecture, street graffiti, mosques, Hindu temples, and shops.
The only thing that bothered me this time was all the Christmas decorations I saw, littering the local malls, restaurants, and department stores. And what is it with store employees gleefully wearing Santa Claus caps? Urrgghh! Yeah, I’m a seasonal Grinch, and proud of it. When I moved to Thailand 16 years ago, I thought I would be able to escape the Xmas idiocy, but no such luck. But even in a predominately Muslim country like Malaysia, the Christmas decorations are just out of control. Jingle Hell once again.
I was also disappointed that one of my favorite restaurants, Yut Kee (in Dang Wangi) was closed for some sort of multi-day break during the time I was in town. But there are plenty of good dining options in KL, so it wasn’t like I was going to go without eating for four days. I found another nearby kopitiam for breakfast, dined a few times at a Burmese restaurant, went to the funky The Ship in Bukit Bintang, and of course made a pilgrimage to the mighty Coliseum (more about that legendary restaurant in a later post also) for a sizzling steak with fried tofu on the side. Really. Weird combination, but along with a couple of Tiger beers it made my night.
One of the great joys in visiting Kuala Lumpur for me is the food. I’m an unabashed foodie, so I delight in sampling the myriad choices of sumptuous cuisine available throughout the greater KL area. Of course there any many places for authentic Malay food, but there is also an abundance of wonderful Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern restaurants. If my carnivore side kicks in and I feel like a big juicy steak, which inevitably happens when I’m in town, there is always the famous Coliseum Café or the venerable Ship in Bukit Bintang.
KL doesn’t have the everywhere-you-turn abundance of street food that’s so easily found in Bangkok, but there are parts of the inner city where there are street stalls serving up delectable dishes. The traditional local coffee shops, or kopitiams, are also great places to grab breakfast, or any meal, and some good strong coffee. These joints are usually very laid back and very inexpensive, but also very busy.
I made sure to make several trips to Yut Kee in Dang Wangi for some good hearty breakfasts, and another morning I went to my favorite local Burmese restaurant, Gandawin, for a big bowl of monhinga and a few cups of sweet hot tea. I also stopped by Gandawin one evening for dinner, and the place was packed with expat Burmese workers; eating, drinking, and watching music videos on the big TV screens. Surrounded by all that and speaking Burmese to my waitress — not to mention the betel nut stand out front — I felt like I was back in Mandalay!
When I was wandering around Kuala Lumpur last month I was struck by the increasing sight of graffiti art around town, most of it apparently done with the sanction or approval of local authorities. You can find many examples of the colorful graffiti near the Central Market and the Pasar Seni LRT station, and further along the nearby canal. I even found a few decorative walls in Dang Wangi one morning while making a pilgrimage to the famous Yut Kee restaurant.
One of the highlights of every trip to Kuala Lumpur is eating. But come to think of it, eating is a highlight of almost all of my trips. I’m an incorrigible glutton, so I make no apologies for my food fetish. In the past I’ve tried to sample a variety of Malay food and recommended local restaurants. On this trip, however, I confined nearly all of my meals to two favorite venues I’d visited on past trips. One of those is the Coliseum Café, home of the “legendary sizzling steak”. The Coliseum is located next to the old cinema of the same name and has been in business for nearly a century (most sources I’ve found say it opened in 1921). Legend has it that Somerset Maugham spent more than a few evenings drinking at the bar here, so that gives the joint a certain added historical pedigree.
You can tell the Coliseum is a good place by all the gravy stains on the tablecloths. Or at least I consider that a good indicator of the quality of the food that’s served. This is definitely not a fancy place where they spend a lot of money on the décor, which is fine by me. Who cares about the color of the curtains, tablecloth design, the lighting fixtures, or swank ambience? Just give me good food that won’t cost me a fortune! And at the Coliseum the prices are very reasonable and the meals are always satisfying.
Judging from all those stains on the tables, many diners clearly enjoy eating — and spilling — their food here. Knowing the inevitability of such spills when eating food with sauces and gravy, the waiters will affix a bib to diners. I don’t eat meat that much nowadays, but I still get the hankering for a good steak, and the sizzling slabs they offer at the Coliseum are very, very tasty. Each order comes with side dishes of vegetables, a salad, and bread. I washed it all down with a few glasses of Tiger draft beer and still had room for the fried bananas and ice cream for dessert. Hey, I was on vacation so I felt like I deserved such decadence.
The other place in KL where I had multiple meals was Yut Kee in the Dang Wangi neighborhood. This is a very popular family-run place (described in one guidebook as a “Hainanese coffeeshop”) that’s been around nearly as long as the Coliseum (Yut Kee opened in 1928). It’s packed in the mornings for breakfast and nearly as crowded at noon for lunch. But service is always attentive and the food is consistently good and cheap. For breakfast I usually order the toast with kaya custard and a bowl of noodles. Lunch is always a plate of spicy beef rendang. And of course I order a couple of their kick-ass iced coffees each time.