Sambal and Indian-style 'salads' (clockwise from upper left): potato, okra, cabbage, green bean
There's buried treasure on the less-trafficked sidestreets of Kuala Lumpur.
Absent recommendations, we search out places crowded with customers or advertising nibbles as yet untried (believe it or not there are still plenty of the latter, even after 10 months of dedicated grazing around KL and environs). When the hour is late and the end of traditional lunch hours draws nigh (ie. when we're desperate) we'll stop for any old reason.
On this Saturday a silly name and a catchy sign (that's teh tarik - 'pulled tea' - he's preparing) draws us in. Stepping out of the car, we're smacked in the face by a wall of heavenly spicy-fishy fumes. We follow our noses to a metal-roofed 'kitchen annex' dominated by a bubbling cauldron of blood red sambal. Lingering doubts dispelled, we settle in for a meal.
Traffic Lights Corner offers a bit of everything. A looong display case houses a mix of Indian and Malay-style curries, vegetables, fried fish and chicken, a couple of sambals,
and an adjacent griddle suggests the availability, at least sometimes, of fresh-flipped roti and tosai. An extensive menu hanging above lists nasi (rice) dishes, goreng (stir-fried) items, and soups. The customer flow at this 24-hour snackin' shack is thin but steady, the welcome is warm, and the smiles on the faces of the mostly Tamil yuk-it-up staff are genuine.
At eateries that attempt to cover all the bases it's often the case that while you win some, you lose some too.
TLC's nasi goreng paprik (fried rice with chilies), a mound of wok-fragrant white rice generously studded with cabbage, Chinese broccoli, egg, and smoky-chewy deep-fried squid, tofu, shrimp, and chicken is a hands-down winner.
Fresh green and dried red chilies provide plenty of heat; the lot's showered with a mound of fried shallots and sizeable, meaty ikan bilis. The slightly sweet but fiery sambal is a lovely accompaniment. This dish does my former favorite fried rice in KL (the sambal fried rice at Yut Kee) one better. It also leads me to question my long-held belief that when it comes to fried rice, fewer ingredients are best.
Chili chicken, while not a loser, is an also-ran (coming, especially, on the heels of the symphony of flavors that is the nasi goreng), a pleasant but unremarkable version of a Chinese-y chicken stir-fry: tender chunks of breast meat, onions, and tomato in a not-too-spicy sauce. It would appeal to diners who avoid tingle and prefer their chow on the sweet side.
Tucking into a selection of TLC's Indian vegetable 'salads' (cooked veggies eaten at room temperature), we find ourselves firmly back in thumb's-up territory. Turmeric, black mustard seeds, and fresh curry leaves are a common theme, but each of the four that we're sampling tastes a little different. Coconut and fresh chilies complement crunchy green beans; carrot pieces, coconut, and yellow dal play off silky cabbage shreds; okra tastes fresh and lively. Our favorite is the potato, a brilliant mix of bright yellow mash and chunks spiced up with pieces of deep-fried dried red chilies. A one-up on both British mash and American potato salad.
Next visit, more nasi goreng and further investigation of the tasties on offer behind the glass case.
Traffic Lights Corner, corner of Jalans Kovil Ulu and Terap, Sentul. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.