I’ve been pondering something all week.
Why is that that despite having eaten at starred and hatted restaurants, the food that I crave is always the side-of-the-road, hawker style, street food stuff? I’m sure most Malaysians would agree with me too. Don’t get me wrong, I like eating at nice restaurants but I really love eating street food. I made the mistake of writing that in my Masterchef application last year – I don’t think the casting company were impressed seeing as I never got a call.
The best street food vendors in KL use recipes that have been passed down through generations and refined over the years. They do it to give their children an education and put them through university. As the children are often tertiary educated, they move on to higher paying jobs leaving no one to take over the family business. My old nasi dagang lady said she was sad that her children didn’t want to learn to cook it for their future families, but happy that they had studied and moved on to better jobs. Dagang in kerja susah (selling [food] is hard work).
I often wonder how much they make in a day. I wouldn’t think it’s verymuch, but I’m extremely grateful that they continue to do it. So much of Malaysian culture is caught up in food and I couldn’t imagine a Kuala Lumpur without street food. Unlike some other countries I’ve visited, Malaysian street stalls will always charge tourists the same prices as locals. At least, I’ve never heard of them charging Westerners inflated prices for food (other goods are fair game though).
This aunty has been selling goreng pisang for over twenty years. That’s longer that most people stay at one job. When I asked her how long she’d been doing this, she had to stop and think. She didn’t remember exactly, but said ‘Dah lebih dua puluh tahun, anak bongsu I masih dalam perut lagi. Dia dah umur 23, kerja manager kat Telekom dah.’ (Over twenty years, my youngest child was still in my belly then. She’s now 23 and a manager at Telekom.) In case you were wondering, in Asian culture, everyone of an older generation is referred to as ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’ as a term of respect.
She makes an assortment of tea time snacks including karipap (curry puffs), masala vadai, fried nangka (jackfruit)and cekodok pisang (fried banana dough). And then, she was so taken with the fact that I’d spent some time talking to her and taking pictures that she gave me a big goodie bag of food and wouldn’t let me pay for it.
You’ll find her on the corner of Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 1 and Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 3 in TTDI.
Next to her is a putu piring lady – I don’t think there are many people who make this anymore. It’s uniquely Malaysian, a local interpretation of the traditional Indian putu mayam.
Each putu piring is handmade from a rice flour mixture and sprinkled with gula melaka (dark palm sugar) then topped with more rice flour.
They are individually steamed to hold their shape, then topped with grated coconut and a banana leaf square. You flip them over to serve so you can eat them off the banana leaf.
They’ve gotten a lot smaller over the years. I could eat these for breakfast, lunch and tea but strictly speaking they’re only really available in the evening. Don’t you love the brown sugar peeking out?
Last of all, there’s the famous mamak rojak van behind the Petronas in TTDI.
There’s almost always a queue, especially around lunchtime when you’ll see cars double parked along the street. It’s not usually a long wait as they have everything prepped and ready to go.
Rojak just means mix in Malay, and can refer to many different types – though it’s usually this one, rojak pasembor or the Chinese rojak buah (fruit rojak). Rojak pasembor is a Mamak dish that consists of fried tofu, coconut fritters, prawn fritters, a boiled egg, grated timun (cucumber) and sengkuang (a type of turnip) and topped with a sauce – the lady told me it’s made of ground chillies, crushed marie biscuits and peanuts. It’s no wonder their rojak is famous – the sauce is thick and slightly spicy with a generous amount of peanuts. Combined with the freshly grated vegetables, it’s a perfect lunchtime snack.
They also serve cendol, which is so-so, tasted a bit watered down for my liking.