There’s no better way to get to know a city than by eating with a local…
I recently went back to Kuala Lumpur to shoot a cook book that we are producing for the BIG Group and whilst shooting the book, I was lucky enough to hang out with my mate Ben Yong eating
our way around the city. While we munched Ben shared his insider knowledge with me, and as the CEO of the BIG Group, the man is a inspiration. A true entrepreneur, with a fantastic group of
very stylish restaurants. Ben also runs Ben’s Independent Grocer – a brilliant supermarket which to me feels like a high quality supermarket on steroids. Seriously good quality produce, and food
from around the world (including a few South West brands – I spotted Cornish Sea Salt and Furniss biscuits). He showed me around his city and took me to where the local eat.
In Kapong we ate at at Restoran Fei Jay. The neighbourhood is sometimes overlooked, due to its former shady reputation, but Ben loves this area for its: “great pockets of traditional food outlets. Nothing fancy. Nothing lifestyle. Home comfort food style.” We ate sour baked crabs in a kind of spicy milk with bread that is deep fried for a lovely crust – epic.
Next was a welcome return to Jalan Alor, the gritty, grimy assault on the senses where the legendary dude smokes his chicken, the guy that I shot to win the Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year this year. My favourite street ever. Here we ate at a restaurant called Wong Ah Wah. Ben wanted to take me there as: “They do very simple Malaysian style-food. A little heavier on
Chinese influence because they are run by Chinese but that’s the beauty of it because you do get a mix of other stuff and you get satays from the store next door.” I tried frogs legs for the first time – they were fantastic – and yep, a bit like chicken, which is fine by me.
Indian influences were next to come at Brickfields. Ben is passionate about this area: “It’s very colourful. Very loud. There is a huge combustion of energy that you get there. I think you probably see it at its best during Deeper Valley – a festive of light. The whole street comes alive. Forget about driving there because you are never going to get out. It’s where the old ports used to be. Where the rivers collide and the taste-buds explode.” I shot a bit of video in Brickfields – and am going to put a video piece together over the winter, a bit like the one I shot of Jalan Aloor. When shooting I ate off the street from a man who told me during the day he was a doctor, so I figured I could trust the food not to make me ill… in fact the following day I woke up after eating his dubious looking curry feeling better than I had felt for weeks!
We enjoyed a few meals in the heart of Chinatown – the second meal came with a very long wait for the food, as the restaurant was so popular. Located down a darkening little alley, properly spilling out onto the street, we sat on broken plastic chairs at a very wonky plastic table whilst the man on the woks worked like a deamon, smashing out the food. He had four woks on the go at any one time, and was sweating profusely – it was like watching a noisy and fiery clockwork cooking machine.
Later in the week Ben and I ducked out of the city to Ipoh, a large, yet sleepy, mining town. It’s definitely getting more action recently on the tourist map, and benefits from limestone cliffs which helps the soil to produce field upon filed of stunning fruit and produce.
The people of Ipoh are obsessed by food: “They like going to ends of the world to find the best food.” And I got to enjoy their findings at lunch in a cafe called Kong Heng . “It has been there forever since I can remember,” Ben explained, “and their specialty is a chicken broth together with prawn shells to give it that rich red oily texture on top of the noodles – that’s their signature.”
And just when I thought I’d hit heaven Ben says: “Coffee is a big thing in Ipoh,” and I, with my own personal coffee love affair (and the 15 different coffee making contraptions to prove it), had to get some. Ben told me that the coffee in Ipoh is: “aromatically beautiful and it’s different from any of the local coffees you will find here in Malaysia. It’s a national pass time in Ipoh” and I can see why, I have an iced version which was beautiful and so refreshing in the heavy tropical heat. We ate more too – kaya toast and scuffled eggs.
Just incase I ever had second thoughts about another return visit, Ben pulled out the convincer: “we missed the Satay guy today. The Satay guy you would have loved because he is a real
character. He has been around for—I don’t know. He remembers my grandmother, that’s how long he has been round. He sells charcoal satay and it’s fairly simple but he tends to put this fleshy
layer of fat pork right in the middle of the satay sticks to mix it.”
Sold. Segera Kembali Kuala Lumpur. (Back soon Kuala Lumper).