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.  

 

Top Secret Mission to KL

I’ve been away for two days and apologize for not writing.  Would you believe I left town for the weekend and didn’t bring my computer with me?  To top it off, I couldn’t tell you where we were going beforehand because someone whose surprise 40th birthday party was in Kuala Lumpur this weekend, reads this blog.

Tawn and I arrived at the Grand Millennium Hotel on Jalan Bukit Bintang just before 1:00 am Saturday.  This old hotel was bought and remodeled just a few years ago and is very centrally located to much of the action in downtown KL.  Here’s the view from our room the following morning, looking down at the year-old Pavilion Mall.

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We enjoyed some relaxing time in the afternoon after sleeping in late, spending a few hours by the pool on a relatively cool tropical afternoon.  After confirming details with the party’s host, one of the older sisters of the birthday girl, we walked to Le Bouchon, a French restaurant just a few minutes from the hotel.

Our party was held in a small back room, more like a cellar, that was a really nice setting.  Stephanie, who was my colleague when I worked in Hong Kong and then was later our roommate in San Francisco for the better part of a year, was shocked that we were there.  She was expecting just her family members.

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Above: Tawn, Stephanie and Chris at Le Bouchon.

We were there from 6:30 until about 11:30, a proper Parisian-length meal!  The food was very tasty.  The owner and head chef is French and stopped in to see us.  Entrees were as follows:

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Mixed seafood salad

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Escargots (snails)

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Foie Gras (goose liver)

These were fantastic, especially the foie gras.  Not to get animal rights activists riled up but I firmly believe that government regulation against the production of foie gras is foolhardy.  If you don’t like it, don’t eat it.  If you like, get the word out to as many people as you can about how it is produced, and then let us decide of our own conscience whether or not to eat it.

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We enjoyed a pair of soups, a wild mushroom and a prawn bisque.  These were good, although nothing particularly unique about them.

Everyone was able to choose a main course from the menu, which gave us a lot of variety. 

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I enjoyed a rack of lamb ribs with a mustard and bread crumb crust.  Very tasty although maybe just a little too much mustard.

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A very nice sea bass and linguini.

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Venison stew.  Didn’t have a chance to try this.

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Duck confit with more foie gras on top.  This was lovely.  Confit is such a nice food.

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For dessert, we had a bee cake that was surprisingly moist.  Drinks included several bottles of champagne including a Moet et Chandon I picked up at the airport duty free.  I probably had a bit too much to drink… becoming such a moderate drinker in my advanced age.

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The whole evening was like a Chinese Malaysian version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a very warm and boisterous group.  We really enjoyed being a part of it and were glad we could be there to help Stephanie, in pink on the left above, celebrate this milestone.  Here’s to many more years of good health and great happiness!

KL The End

And so, dear reader, the weekend in Kuala Lumpur came to an end.  After walking around the city, finally exploring some of the sights, watching domes being scrubbed and taking in the majestic phallicness of the Petronas Towers, we returned to the hotel, freshened up, packed our bags, checked out…

and had two hours to kill before our driver was schedule to arrive.

Not wanting to get sweaty again and a bit hungry from our explorations that morning, we walked back to the Pavilion mall.  Here is the outdoor dining area that I was talking about – “the catwalk” along which people stroll or sit and sip coffee, to see and be seen.

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Ignoring all our Lonely Planet sensibilities – local food only! – we stopped at an Italian restaurant along the catwalk called, originally enough, Michelangelo’s.  They had a reasonably priced set lunch and since our flight wouldn’t put us back into Krungthep until after dinnertime, a late lunch seemed reasonable.

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Mushroom soup for me, Caesar salad for Tawn.  A simple pizza to share.

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A seafood pasta dish for Tawn (sorry for the lousy exposure) and a hearty ossobuco for me.

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After some coffee, a short walk back to the hotel as the first drops of afternoon rain started to fall.  Below, the thing I like best about KL: beautiful old trees shading the sidewalks.

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We made good time to the new Kuala Lumpur International Airport, a gorgeous white elephant an hour south of town.  Air Asia flies from the cheapskate… er, low-cost, terminal which is an additional 20 km drive from the main terminal. 

Upon checking in we dealt with the challenge of explaining to the agent that while we had paid to reserve a seat (something new for Air Asia), we would like to pay the difference to the higher fee to reserve an exit row seat (250 baht versus 50 baht).  She didn’t understand what we wanted to do, so we ended up sitting in our original seats.  Not too bad, but legroom is tight so a few extra centimeters would have been appreciated.

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Smooth flight back to the Big Mango as we watched a beautiful sunset over the Andaman Sea.  Good to be back home.

 

Seeing the Touristy Stuff in KL

I manage to make a three-day trip to KL seem like a month, don’t I?  Here’s our final day in KL.  We decided to actually get a little bit of sightseeing in, since Pong had driven us around the evening before and we had a better idea of how the city was laid out.

First, though, breakfast at a cute bakery called The Loaf, located in The Pavilion mall.  While it wasn’t Tartine by any stretch, the baked goods were pretty tasty and the selection was broad.  Here’s a look at what pretty things were on display:

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From there we took the monorail several stops south into the city.  This is a good way to see the city as it is elevated and views are largely unobstructed.  We alighted at the Majarajalela station (I’m sure I mispronounced that when buying the tickets, but we got there alright) and then walked into Chinatown.

First we stopped at the Chan See Shu Yuen temple, which is a Chinese clan association building for, I assume, the Chan family.  Pretty building with a fascinating bonzai tree in the courtyard, which sits upon an old Singer sewing machine base.

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Continuing north a few blocks past the old chophouses, we arrived at Jalan Petaling, a covered street that looks a little like the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas, minus the LED light display.  The vendors and shops had the typical collection of things that you find everywhere in Asia. 

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We continued west along Jalan Hang Lekir, passing a few interesting boutiques including one called Peter Hoe, which offers textiles, home decor, and a nice selection of batik on the corner of Jalan Hang Lekir and Jalan Hang Kasturi.  Cute place, worth a visit.

We stopped by the General Post Office which, according to my little guide, was open on Sundays.  Unfortunately, it isn’t.  So I returned home with stampless postcards and will have to mail them (once written) and some extra ringgit, to Andrew in Penang and ask him to post the cards for me.

This section of town, near Independence Square or Dataran Merdeka) has some fantastic examples of Islamic architecture, both in traditional forms as well as more modern ones.

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Above, the dome of the Textile Museum is washed, its stripes reminiscent of the duomo in Siena, Italy.  In the background is (what I understand to be) a former government building, although the government has relocated itself to a new city 30km south of KL, near the new airport.

What is fascinating is how the more modern building’s screens echo the lines in the older, more traditional building.  These are motifs that are reflected again and again throughout the city.

We walked a bit further before catching the subway three stops to the KL City Centre area, home of the Petronas Towers.  No longer the tallest buildings in the world, they are still very impressive, especially at night.

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I had initially hesitated to come see the towers, even though Ken had told me there was a park at the base of them.  For some reason I thought the space would be tacky but, other than the high-end mall incorporated into the base of the tower, the park is actually very nice and there are some great areas to sit in the shade, enjoy the fountains and take in the view.

We were quite sweaty by this point so returned to the hotel to freshen up before our 2:00 check-out.  Tomorrow, I’ll conclude our visit.

 

Cafe Culture in KL

For most of our trip to KL we ate, hung out at cafes and generally avoided the touristy must-see places.  Had we done this in Krungthep, we’d think of ourselves as wasting away our time.  But since we were on holiday in another city, it was quite alright.

Very close to our hotel was the Pavilion Mall.  This very large, very high-end mall is equivalent to Paragon in Krungthep except that it has a very nice open-air space that is lines with restaurants and cafes.  Lots of outdoor seating and – I swear! – the largest concentration of gay men I’ve seen anywhere in Southeast Asia.  The area is apparently nicknamed “The Catwalk” for reasons that quickly become obvious.

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Outdoor dining is something largely missing in Krungthep, especially middle- and upper-tier restaurants.  Streetside noodle vendors are a baht a dozen, of course.  There was a nice Illy “Espressamente” Cafe situated at the end of the catwalk.

The menu included a wide range of little bites from panini to olives to cheeses.  From upper left, clockwise: olives, air-cured beef, and fresh cheese served with toasts; “arancita” fried rice ball with beef inside; a latte made with heart; grilled panini sandwich.

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In the afternoon, we went to Central Market, a restored two-story market with many small vendors selling trinkets and souvenirs, some very local and others looking like the same things you can find at any market in Asia.  Next door were some art galleries so we stopped in to see an exhibit.

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Below, Icsse KHOR Chin Tin’s “Snow Falls in Malaysia?  Who Knows?” – mixed media on canvas.

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Mohd Iqbal Badaruddin’s “Unforgotten” – mixed media and silkscreen on canvas

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CHIANG Lup Hong’s “Seven Deadly Sins” – ink and acrylic on paper

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Detail of “Seven Deadly Sins”

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Azmi Aris’ “Bersatu Padu” – acrylic

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Hudri Hayat’s “Kepulangan II” – oil on canvas

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Many thanks to Pong, Otto and Han’s friend, who introduced us to the gallery.

 

Dining on Jalan Alor

This trip hasn’t included a lot of sight seeing.  And we realized after the fact that we know a number of people here whom we forgot were here.  So apologies to those we didn’t see on this trip.  We’ll be back, though, as KL seems a comfortable and laid-back city, even if there aren’t a lot of must-see sights.

First off, the view from the hotel room.  We could see one half of one of the two Petronas Towers.

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The view itself isn’t super impressive.  But the towers are and they really are amazing at night, visible from all over the city, popping up in the background when you least expect them.

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On the advice of some of Tawn’s KL office colleagues, we ventured over to Jalan Alor (jalan = street), a long block of hawker centers and open-air restaurants that cover a wide range of ingredients and styles of cooking.  In front of each restaurant are touts, holding menus and assertively selling you on why their restaurant is the place you should eat.  Not unlike the touts you would expect to find in a red light district which, we discovered, is nearby.

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After walking nearly the whole length of the street, we ran the gauntlet back to the beginning, settling on one of the first places we saw.  There was a large selection of individual vendors, so we felt like the variety would be very good.  We ordered a lot of food, too much for two people, and ate well.

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Spicy squid served in a chili sauce.  Not so spicy as to be intolerable, but with a nice kick.

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Chicken satay with a tasty fresh peanut sauce.  Juicy meat with a nice smoky flavor.

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Eggplant stir fried with ginger.

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Skate wing fried in banana leaf, served with lime and chili sauce.  Never had skate wing before.  Interesting texture as, like shark, there’s a lot of cartilage.

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Fried noodles with seafood and veggies.  We could have lived without this just because we already had so much food.

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By the time we finished, the sun had set and the streets were filling with people.  On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a cinema to see what was playing, ending up watching Slumdog Millionaire, which has yet to open in Krungthep.  Very nice film, well made.