Food in KL – Limablas

While in KL, a former colleague from the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (now, mercifully, called CAAMFest), met me for lunch, taking me to a charming restaurant called Limablas

Located in the eclectic Mesui neighborhood near upscale Bukit Bintang, Limablas (which means “15” in Malaysian) resides in an old shophouse that has been meticulously restored. The co-owner, Uncle John, keeps an eye on the business and visits with guests, many of whom seem to be regulars.

The interior is a veritable museum of antiques and a meal there feels a bit like a trip back to the middle of the 20th Century. Old glass jars hold ingredients used in the dishes, including dried chilies and dark, sulfurous palm sugar.

The collection of decorative items can lead you to wonder whether you should sit at a table or simply stand and admire it. That said, sitting is a good idea so you have a chance to enjoy the food!

The menu is pretty straight-forward, filled with a selection of basic Malaysian and Chinese dishes. Both Bryan and I ordered the mee siam, which is a noodle dish with a curry sauce that is ostensible Thai-style. More than anything, this illustrates a common food heritage stretching from southern Thailand (think Phuket) into central Malaysia. The noodles were simple but tasty. Since this was lunch and I had enjoyed a large breakfast, I didn’t try anything else from the menu. Prices were reasonable, especially for this area, and other reviews I’ve read online praise the food as authentic and tasty.

For a combination drink/dessert, I had cendol. The bowl is filled with (sorry, not visible in this picture) thin, green pandan-flavored flour noodles that look a bit like worms. Shaved ice is mounded on top and then the rich, molasses-flavored palm sugar syrup is poured on the ice, followed by coconut milk. Perfect for the warm weather. Probably not so perfect for my diet! This dish also speaks to the common culinary heritage of the region. Probably originating from Chinese traders, the same basic dessert is found in Thailand, too.

For a final thought, I will leave you with this cute picture of a couple huddled over their smart phone amidst the brightly colored walls and open air well at the back of the restaurant. If you find yourself in Kuala Lumpur around lunch time, I would suggest you stop by Limablas for a bite.

 

Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur

This past week, I traveled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to renew my non-immigrant visa at the Royal Thai Embassy. While there, I had a chance to visit with some friends and also to stop at the Islamic Arts Museum, something that has been on my to-see list since I first went to KL a few years ago.

The Islamic Arts Museum is located in a large park not far from the central train station. It is surrounded by expressways, though, making it very difficult to reach on foot. The museum is just up the street from the National Mosque, a beautiful blue-roofed complex that is worth a visit.

The collection is not as well-curated as I had hoped, although it covers a diverse range of subjects from architecture to textiles, ceramics to metals. Also, the collection represents all the major cultures in the Islamic world from Africa to the Middle East to India to Southeast and East Asia. Here is a selection of some of the pieces I saw.

There was a large selection of beautiful Quran. This book is the central religious text for Muslims and there is a wonderful tradition of hand-painting copies of the text, complete with exquisite illustrations, calligraphy, and gold-leaf decorations.

The exhibit also explained the different fonts of calligraphy – Arabic and otherwise – used in the displayed Quran. The scripts are beautiful, written from right to left, some highly stylized and others with more distinct characters. 

There were many examples of fine metal working, especially silver. My understanding is that Islamic art generally avoids representations of humans or animals and so there is a lot of emphasis on geometric patterns (which represent the perfection of creation) and floral patterns.

There were many ceramic pieces. Blue seems to be a popular color and this turquoise glazed three-legged pot was practically glowing, the color was so vibrant. If you look closely (sorry, hard to see clearly through the glass), there is stylized calligraphic script around the top band of the pot.

This example of cloisonné, metalwork decorated with enamel. Very fine detail and, again, very vibrant colors.

This piece, a painted glass bottle, is one of the few exceptions I found to the “no people, no animals” prohibition. A little bit of research while writing this entry and I discovered that this type of restriction is known as aniconism. New word for the day. 

The final piece I want to share with you is this finely sculpted chess set. The detail was amazing and I can only imagine the pressure the craftsman must have felt to not make a mistake and waste all the hard work completed so far.

I hope you enjoyed the selection of pieces from the museum. Sorry for not posting more while on the road. I’ve found the Xanga site to be uncooperative in the past few weeks, often freezing while a page is loading.