There are few cities of such constant striking visual contrast as Kuala Lumpur. It’s a sprawling, smoggy, congested city. Like much of Asia, it is undergoing massive expansion, evident by the crane lined skyline and never ending suburbs. Within the city’s center, dirty aged shophouses sit dark in the shadow of behemoth glistening high rises. There is constant juxtaposition, as the sight lines of the city constantly draw your eyes upward, past the colorful squat buildings of KL’s historic core. It is difficult even to describe neighborhoods of KL as within a few blocks there might be a world class mall set on wide, clean streets with high end restaurants and a grungy strip of warn down buildings, cracked dirty streets and a foul aroma.
KL is not an inherently easy city. On our first day we spent much of our time trying to find food, and either failing due to hours, or not being able to locate what we had been looking for. The Saturday night little India market, which had been full of vendors when we passed through three weeks ago was now almost entirely lacking food options, likely as a result of Ramadan. Though we wandered around Chinatown and ate delicious chicken in the Golden Triangle district we spent much of the first day wandering and hungry. After a redemptive dinner we finished our evening by purchasing beer from a convince store. The astronomical alcohol tax in Malaysia means prices are near, or exceed western prices. Our hotel, who would prefer we pay $3.50 us for a cup of mediocre beer informed us we were not allowed to bring in our own beer and were promptly sent outside to drink our Tiger on the curb. A fitting end to a strange day.
Our second day managed to redeem the previous. We had come here in part to explore the food scene, and having generally failed the previous day we didn’t have high expectations for this day either. After a light breakfast at our hotel we set out in search for something more substantial. Yut Kee, a kilometer away was reported to have excellent breakfast food, coffee, and roast pork that they only sold on weekends. As we round a corner we immediately spotted the line. Mostly, thankful we had found the place and that it was open. The fact that there was only a minimal wait and they hadn’t run out of anything yet was even more fantastic. We split the roast pork with apple sauce, which we agreed surpassed the famed suckling pig of Bali, and a roti Babi, a fried pork sandwich of sorts. All of which was washed down with thick, sweet, iced coffee.
Lunch involved utilizing the relatively coherent metro to take us towards the University for a set Southern Indian banana leaf lunch. I had been craving Indian food and this was just as good as in India. Even by midday, this day had redeemed KL in our eyes. The afternoon was spent wandering around little India, and finished with a food court dinner back in the Golden Triangle. Some of Asia’s best food centers just happen to be in food courts of malls. Clearly, an extension of hawker center culture. It is quite unfortunate that the US version of a food court is pretty depressing. Why we can’t have good food combined in a singular space is strange to me. We finished the night with gin and tonics overlooking the city with the glistening Petronas towers in the distance.
KL has much to offer, even if it can be a bit off putting at first. It isn’t a hectic city, and it is chock full of many cultures, and historical sights. The architecture is fascinating, and the food delicious. I would certainly return to explore more, as it would take much time to explore the plethora of vastly different neighborhoods and side alleys. Sampling the delicious food along the way, of course.