Not Malaysian: Jimmy Saw's khauk swe thohk
We recently spent a little under 24 hours in our old home of Kuala Lumpur. Under the auspices of the KL office of the UN High Commission for Refugees Dave has been teaching photography classes for mostly Burmese refugees since July.He usually busses down to KL, teaches a couple classes, stays a night, and heads right back to Penang with little time for food or friends. Last weekend we decided to drive down together and make a mini weekend of it.
KL, KL. What is there to say? In the less than four months we've been away so much new construction has been started, so many trees have been shorn from hillsides (and hillsides themselves shorn). Brickfields is a shadow of its former self. The area around the old Pudu prison looks like a war zone. Streets are being dug up for the train extension (and a good stretch of Chinatown is set to give way too).
KL will be a brand new city in ten years, of that I'm sure. Whether it will be one in which I'll want to spend any time is very much up in the air.
But the food is still great. And more and more, it seems, the city's dining scene is benefiting from an influx of foreign blood. On Saturday night we joined two friends for dinner at Xin Dong Tong, a Hunanese restaurant behind Berjaya Times Square. We were "off duty" and took neither notes nor photographs, walking out with only delicious memories:a salty, spicy pickled vegetable dish called jiachang xia fan cai, the nicely pungent kimchee-like pao cai (pickle), silky shreds of "sea bas" garnished with deep-fried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns, slices of smoky la rou fried with dried radish, stir-fried pig stomach that even an innards non-lover like me could love, and a vibrant green, fabulous dish of finely minced choy sum (salted and squeezed, we speculated) fried with chilies and pork.
Before banging out of town on Sunday we stopped in Bangsar to stock up on canned tomatillos and followed with a late lunch at a Burmese-run hawker stall. I wrote glowingly of Jimmy Saw and his "Myanmar laksa" a couple of years ago when I was Food Editor at Time Out Kuala Lumpur (read the review here). Jimmy, who's been cooking in KL for 16 years, is still doing a fantastic job. These days his mohingya includes slices of banana stem (when we first met Jimmy he bemoaned of finding a steady supply) and tastes as rich and fishy and indefinably Burmese as ever.
Jimmy has added to his menu what he calls "dry Myanmar noodle" (khauk swe thohk -- top photo). It's a tangle of freshly boiled yellow noodles tossed in cool ingredients that include a toasty chili oil, fish sauce, and shallot oil. Hidden amongst the noodles are bits of crunchy yellow lentil fritter. Fried shallots, garlic slices, hard-boiled egg, fish paste and Chinese celery leaves are the garnish. It's a wonderful dish.
I've eaten some disappointinly inauthentic (yes, there -- I've used the reviled word) non-Malaysian southesat Asian food in KL, and so it's refreshing to see a foreigner feeling uncompelled to modify his food to suit local palates. Jimmy doesn't need to; he sells out most days and, he says, the majority of his customers are Malaysian.
If you must go local, Jimmy also serves Penang-style Hokkien mee(prawn noodle soup) -- which we haven't tried -- and sizzling yee mee. We wouldn't turn our nose up at a serving of the latter. If you do stop in, tell him Robyn and Dave said "hi".
Myanmar Laksa, Nam Chun Coffeeshop, 2-4 Lorong Ara Kiri, Lucky Garden, Bangsar. Closed alternate Wednesdays. Opens at 11am.