Malaysian market bounty: (from left) wing beans, burdock root, and mint
It's great to be back in Kuala Lumpur. Here's why:
It's Saturday morning, and we've woken with an itch that only an invigorating visit to a wet market can scratch. When it comes to food markets, we're spoilt for choice here in KL. But today we've slept in, so time is of the essence. Pudu (the city's largest) and Chow Kit (a wonderfully confusing maze of dim, crowded, narrow aisles) markets may not be far from home as the crow flies, but negotiating cross-town traffic and hunting for a parking space will eat away precious minutes. In this tropical heat, only the early bird marketer catches produce before it wilts and fish while it's pristine.
Luckily we're close to a dimunitive wet market that makes up in variety what it lacks in size. After walking the dog at a brisk clip, we grab essentials (basket and cooler; pen and notebook; camera, lenses, and tripod) and jump in the car. Just eight minutes later we're in Bangsar, at the daily morning market.
At this compact market, spread over a piece of parking lot measuring not much more than four by four car lengths, we can buy ingredients for most any Chinese, Malay, Indian, or Western dish. Eight or so vegetable and fruit purveyors compete for business; today I find a cart heaped with local mangoes (it's the season in Thailand, but the vendors tell us they won't sell mangoes from north of the border because they're loaded with pesticides). There's fresh and dried noodles, chicken and lamb and beef; pork and pork products are sold from stalls in an adjoining alley.
We decide on seafood for dinner, and ogle the offerings at four or five different stalls.
We bypass the crab carefully weighed, and lovingly prepped, by this vendor in favor of a less labor-intensive entree: big, plump tiger prawns, at just 60 ringgit (about 16 dollars) a kilo.
Just across the aisle two friendly men sell mutton cut to order. We're not in the market for lamb this morning, but make a point of stopping for a few bags of their fresh, tangy, full-fat yogurt.
Dried fish (steamed till soft - twenty minutes or so - then stripped from the bone)
and bean sprouts are essential ingredients for nasi ulam (rice 'salad') and salt fish fried rice.
Bangsar's morning market is especially notable for the vast array of ready-to-eat breakfast goodies on sale, this in spite of the fact that it's located mere steps away from several coffee shops proffering plenty of tasty hawker food.
This dough is ready to be transformed into youtiao - deep-fried Chinese crullers to eat with rice porridge or dip into warm soy milk.
Nasi lemak (steamed rice scented with coconut milk) topped with a choice of curries
and bak chang (leaf-wrapped parcels of steamed glutinous rice with a variety of fillings) are other takeaway options.
We're drawn to a vendor turning out freshly made thosai and appam from behind a wheeled cart.
Working quickly to fill a backlog of orders, he starts his thosai by spreading a circle of thickish rice flour-and-water batter over a ghee-coated griddle.
While the thosai puffs and bubbles (about 4 minutes for the first side, followed by a flip and a few more minutes on the second ) he starts the appam, pouring a measure of ground, fermented rice-and-coconut-milk batter into a small wok-shaped pan. The sides of the pan get a paper-thin coating of batter while the curved bottom collects the lion's share. Unlike thosai, appam is cooked on one side only.
The result is a two-toned (golden brown and snow white), two-textured (thin and crispy, thick and chewy) treat.
While Dave waits for our order I run back to the car with our market haul, making sure to tuck the prawns safely away in our blue ice-cooled chiller bag. Then, thosai and appam in hand, we head for Nam Chuan coffeeshop and grab a couple of seats outdoors.
It's been hungry work shopping for dinner supplies, so we supplement our Indian breakfast with a little something from the dim sum steam case parked next to our table. To drink, sweet and strong iced Malaysian kopi.
We break into our Indian delights while we wait for our dim sum. The thosai has lost a bit of its crisp, but it's tasty enough, especially when eaten with a dab of yellow masala fragrant with fresh curry leaf and turmeric, and a scoop of the vendor's bright-tasting chutney of fresh coconut,chilies, lime, and spices. The brittle edges of the appam, still warm, melt on our tongues; the soft, doughy center packs a pleasantly powerful hit of tartness.
Given their origin (a display case rather than a traditional bamboo steamer), the freshness of our dim sum is a pleasant surprise. Prawn dumplings taste sufficiently ocean-y, bean curd skin has a nice chew, and pork balls are adequately meaty.
Next to us, an Indian family tucks into bowls of Hong Kong fish paste noodles; behind, an elderly expat and his Chinese wife share orders of wonton mee and char kuey teow. At a table by the curb, a vendor of Malaysian kueh and Chinese yam cake takes a break between customers, sharing the morning paper and a pot of tea with friends. As I reach for the last bit of thosai, Dave grabs the third prawn dumpling. It's still early in the morning, and we ponder lunch. Shall we make it a spicy Malaysian chicken curry? Indian banana leaf and fried fish? Perhaps some Beijing-style knife-cut noodles, or Hakka green tea soup...
TIM. It's good to be home.
Bangsar morning market, parking light behind TMC grocery store on Jalan Ara (across from Bangsar Village Shopping Center), Bangsar. The action is pretty much over by 9:30-10:00am.
Nam Chuan coffeeshop, home to morning dim sum, Sarawak laksa, and assorted other yummies, 2-4 Lorong Ara Kiri, Lucky Garden, Bangsar. Most stalls are closing down by 3pm.