Quickly Kuala Lumpur
Unlike my previous Hong Kong vacation on a package tour complete with itineraries and a tour guide, this trip is stripped off of such luxuries. As I wandered along at the Puduraya Bus Terminal, waiting for the bus ride to Singapore, I can’t help but grab my tattered map, brace myself, because this time, I was on my own.
Malaysia is a melting pot of races, with Chinese, Malays, Indians and Muslims coexisting peacefully. And owing to such a multi-cultural heritage, is the multi-faceted food.
I sampled my first authentic Malaysian meal in a kopi tiam or coffee shop—the roti. Similar to pita bread, roti is a flatbread traditionally served with curry. I had mine with condensed milk and nutella that I guzzled with the traditional teh tarik or pulled tea.
As I marvel at my meal, all my initial nervousness of traveling backpacker style quickly vanished. Because I knew then, that the trip was going to be one great adventure.
Lured by Little India
Little India in Singapore became my ‘home’ during my three-day stay in Singapore. It is an ethnic hub of Indian living and trading. And here, the vibrant energy of merchants selling authentic Indian fabrics, genuine silver, bronze jewelries and bindi, the striking sights of Tamil and Indian Moslem temples, the smell of turmeric and curry being sold at the market, and the sound of thumping beats of Indian rap were all an overwhelming attack in the senses.
Singapore and Malaysia, which were at the crossroads of ancient trade routes, definitely had Indian influences in the culture, especially in the cuisine. A great example? Curry. And what better way to start a stroll in Little India than by taking a sampling and eating a good curry dish!
Together with a fellow backpacker, a Canadian named George, our escapade landed us in an eatery called Bangles Tandoor Eatery.
The chicken curry and rice I was served looked rather unassuming with its standard yellowish sauce with red undertones. Sati, the daughter of the owner, told us that they use red curry instead of the usual, more common yellow and green varieties which made the dish spicier and creamier in consistency.
Other dishes we ordered were equally savory—stir-fried sweet-chili shrimps with vegetables, barbecued lamb cuts with shallots, whole stewed squids, curried vegetables, fish fillet in oyster sauce and tofu soup. And to douse the spicy fare, we gorged on luscious tropical fruits such as mangoes, chico, young papaya and durian.
Indeed, Little India’s culture is mesmerizing and the food was already a heady cultural experience in itself.
Tummy-Filling Food Courts
The next day, my backpacking buddy George already left for Thailand. See, backpackers bond with fellow travelers and off they go to their next destination without a word. It’s kind of sad for the sentimental. But backpackers come and go. So off I went to Sentosa with newfound backpacker friends, English girls Pam and Amy.
Sentosa is a very wholesome theme park, highlighted by its clean albeit man-made beaches, Siloso, Palawan, and Tanjong. Site-seeing, and festive circus shows are some of the main attractions. One should also see the Orchard Road, Esplanade and Clark Quey where parks and malls offer the stereotypical urban Singapore lifestyle.
Famished, our stomachs guided us to one of the packed and lively food courts inside the mall called Food Republic. These food courts, I’ve been told, were installed to prevent the clutter of hawker stalls in the city streets. How efficient!
Inside the food court, one would feel like being in a world food convention. An array of food choices – Chinese noodles, succulent dimsums, Indian curry and beryani (rice-based food with meat), Malaysian roti, kaya (made of eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan essence) toasts, even Western food abound as if the stalls are representing every race!
What stood out in my book is the famous Singapore National Dish, the Hainanese Chicken Rice (steamed chicken and rice that’s so tasty and packed with natural oils and chicken flavor) and the Singapore laksa (a rich, sour, coconut-flavored noodle soup of Peranakan or Chinese-Malaysian origin, made extra delectable with prawns, tofu, scallions, garlic, vegetables, and chili).
We didn’t leave out Singapore’s legendary Chili Crab of course. The crabs were crazy big, with juicy and flavorful meat, tasty but not overpowered by the chili. Capped with the refreshing Ais Kacang,( shaved ice, beans, corn, jelly and colored syrup, their version of our halo-halo), there’s no other way to describe the meal but perfect.
Hungry for Hawker Food
The next day I went back to Kuala Lumpur and explored the famous Petronas towers—truly a handsome, photogenic structure and the Hindu pilgrimage, the Batu Caves.
But what is even more exciting than site seeing is dining! My stomach took me to Restoran Waw in Jalan Alor, a hawker food street, a lively strip of grills and eateries which is widely popular in Kuala Lumpur.
And for my meal - chicken and lamb satays, grilled to perfection together with a curious concoction of peanut sauce and fish paste dip; yang-chow fried rice, and the traditional Bak-kut-teh, ( long-simmered pork in herbal soup, with the pork’s tender meat slipping easily from the bone). Downing the meal with Carlsberg beer, I thought there could be no better way to end my whirlwind of a five-day trip to Asia’s melting pot of Asian cuisine than this.
The Taste Traveler
In the end, I realized that I was too adventurous for a leisure traveler, but too soft to be a hardcore backpacker. Hence, this trip made me a taste-traveler - a foodie whose travel and adventure take me to where my taste buds lead me.
(this article was published last January in Yummy Magazine of Summit Publishing)