musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Malay food’

KL’s famous Coliseum Café

My favorite place to eat in Kuala Lumpur, hands down, is the legendary Coliseum Café. It’s legendary because it’s been in business since 1921, they serve excellent food, and a variety of famous personalities — Somerset Maugham being one — have dined there, or drank the night away in the adjoining bar.


On the food front, the Coliseum is best known for their sizzling steaks. They also serve a variety of other Western dishes, Malay cuisine, seafood, and pasta. One of my favorite appetizers is the chunks of fried bean curd accompanied by a spicy dip. I used to always order a Tiger draught beer with my meal, but upon my last visit I was dismayed to discover they’ve changed the brand of beer on tap.


Judging from the beer switch and other changes, it seems that the Coliseum has changed owners or is under new management this past year. The basic décor —– or lack of it, which I find comforting — has not changed at all, but now you can’t miss the tie-wearing “management types” shuffling around the premises, grim looks plastered on their faces, as if they are determined to find the slightest signs of irregularity. In addition to the stiff-looking dudes, the menus now have a much slicker look, complete with “specials” glaringly listed, and there are posted signs encouraging diners to use a certain brand of credit card. It also appears that the old crew of long-serving waiters has been culled. A few of the waiters that I’d seen working there in recent years had obviously been at the Coliseum for several decades, but I didn’t see many of those guys around this time. One sweet old fellow would always ask me, after I had finished my meal, if I “would like some pudding.” There wasn’t any “pudding” listed on the menu, but that was his charming way of referring to the dessert options. I didn’t see him anywhere in the restaurant during my two visits last month, which made me feel a bit sad. If he and the other old-timers have been sacked or have retired, that’s a damn shame. They are as much a part of the atmosphere, and the appeal, of the Coliseum as the food.


Besides the absence of veteran waiters, the biggest shock upon my recent visit was seeing waitresses working at the Coliseum! Call the police, there are women working! I certainly have nothing against females waiting tables — in many cases, they do their job better than most guys do — but to my knowledge there were never any waitresses working at the Coliseum during the past 90 years, so this is a big, big change. It’s akin to the New York Yankees hiring a female manager. Historic. One young woman, however, who wasn’t dressed in any sort of uniform, walked around the room along with the management cretins one night and attempted to take my plate away — not once but twice — before I had even finished my meal. I was tempted to stab the oblivious hussy with my fork. If there’s food remaining on the plate, missy, I ain’t finished yet!


The Coliseum also doubles as a hotel, boasting a few very basic fan rooms upstairs. I talked to a Belgian couple at my bookshop in a Bangkok a few months back, who had stayed there recently. In fact, they had gone there specifically because that’s where they stayed on their honeymoon … thirty years ago! They were thrilled that the Coliseum was still in business, serving tasty meals and offering affordable accommodation. I’m in full agreement that the food at the Coliseum is still quite delicious and they serve generous portions, but the recent changes, no matter how subtle, strike me as a cause for concern. I just hope they don’t tinker too much with the basics that have endeared the restaurant to so many diners over the year. If, for example, when I dine there the next time, and I see a sign trumpeting the fact that they now have wi-fi, or are offering “live entertainment” each evening, I think that will be the last straw. Bring back the pudding man!


Eating KL

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!



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