In Kuala Lumpur, you don't have to leave the big city to eat in a village.
Kampung Baru ('New Village') is a hodgepodge of old Malay-style wooden houses and open-air snackin' shacks offering everything from ikan bakar (grilled fish) and spit-roasted chicken to nasi lemak and traditional Malay kueh (sweets). Sitting just across the Klang River from the high-end shopping mall, gleaming office towers, and fast-rising luxury accomodations that are Kuala Lumpur's Golden Triangle, it's limited maze of lost-in-time lanes is hemmed in by slowly but surely encroaching unattractive concrete apartment blocks and ever-widening roadways.
Known previuosly for its lively Sunday market (the building burned down two years ago) and presently for its unparalleled Ramadan bazaar, Kampung Baru (KB) was established in 1900 as a 'Malay Agricultural Settlement' (MAS), under a British plan to attract rural Malays to the country's big towns. Settlers under the MAS scheme were encouraged to replicate their rural lifestyles by planting rice and other crops.**
These days you'd be lucky to find a blade of grass, let alone a patch of paddy, in KB. But the area does possess a distinctly different flavor to most of the rest of KL - more relaxed and small town-ish. On a scorching Saturday mid-afternoon its main (two-lane) drag is surprisingly busy; parking lots are doing a steady business and (mostly Malay) families, couples, and groups of same-sex friends are strolling and chatting, eyeing the goods on display at eateries lining the road. Probably less than half of the businesses in the area are open, leading us to suspect that KB really comes alive at night.
After surveying the landscape (and sweating buckets in the process), we settle on a sweet, spotless little eatery with bright blue checked cloth-covered tables and the most welcoming staff on this restaurant row. An Nur Nasi specializes in briani gam Johor (rice cooked with lamb, chicken, or beef in the style of Malaysia's Johor state), but in this heat we can't imagine tucking into a steaming pot of anything, so we opt instead for a couple of noodle dishes that hail from Muar, a town in Johor.
Mee rebus, thick yellow noodles swimming in a smooth, yellowish gravy thickened with sweet potato, arrives first. I'm a self-confessed chili head, but still I find much to love in this mild, slightly sweet dish. The not-too-starchy gravy is complex (if I hadn't known sweet potato, I might've guessed coconut milk), with a hint of tomato and the barest whiff of fishiness. Tender, assertively flavored chunks of mutton lurking beneath the gravy are the first of their kind that I've encountered in a Malaysian noodle dish.
Crunch comes in the form of fresh bean sprouts and prawn cracker shards covering the surface, optional heat in the form of fresh green chili sliced thick and large enough to be easily visible - and thus easily avoided if spice isn't desired. A squeeze of kalamansi juice is all that's needed to bring this plate of disparate parts together.
Mee bandung - same yellow noodles, radically different gravy - is yin to mee rebus' yang. Made with pounded dried shrimp and chili, this sauce speaks of the sea (though not as loudly as versions we've sampled elsewhere in KL) and is characterized by a slowly creeping heat that only makes itself known after three or four bites, in the form of tingling lips and a burn at the back of the throat.
Here, flavorful beef stands in for rebus' lamb, and a perfectly poached - that is, plenty runny - egg centers the dish, which also includes small rectangles of firm tofu and shreds of an unidentifiable sturdy and extremely delicious green vegetable.
In addition to mees rebus and bandung (and briani Johor), An Nur offers laksa Johor (unavailable this day). Satay is served in the evening, bubur (rice porridge) in the morning.
An Nur Nasi, Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur. (Street name is forthcoming).
**For more on the history of Kampung Baru and the rest of Kuala Lumpur, see the excellent 'Insider's Kuala Lumpur' by Sam Seng Fatt.