Rambling through the streets of Bukit Bintang, our stomachs were now begging to be satiated. The smells emanating from the Spanish Tapas bar, German Pubs and Iranian restaurants were inviting, yet not enough to excite our desire for adventure and discovery. The thrill was in unraveling the mysteries of South-East Asian cuisine, and simply doing what the locals would do. That meant looking for street hawkers bent over their sizzling woks, stir frying local delicacies for the hungry onlookers. Nothing fancy, but that would have been the true taste of Malaysia. As far as the eye could see, there was no such vendor along the fashionable Bintang Walk, hence our journey continued till we saw a sign board, rather a number of sign boards, that befuddled us.
Our curiosity led us to a haven of street food. Just looking at this upmarket street, no one could have ever imagined the culinary treasures lying just below ground level. As we paid careful attention to the hoarding, we had reached the Heritage Food Village in Lot 10 Hutong. A narrow escalator took us to the basement and our imagination fooled us. The very thought of a food village or food court conjures up images of a large open space with plastic tables and chairs in the middle and stalls all around. The Heritage Food Village was not even comparable to an ordinary food court.
Tiny alleyways dotted with famous street stalls made up the entire blueprint of this food village. We had to make our way through a labyrinth of small lanes that linked all these food stalls. Talking to the first stall owner, my first question was with regards to the design of the space. He said that it was based on architecture of Old Beijing, where most neighborhoods and houses were linked by alleyways called hutongs. As a way of paying homage to old Chinese culture and heritage, this food village was designed to represent the Beijing of a bygone era.
This food village had been influenced by the concept of heritage. 25 street hawkers, who founded their stall on the corner of some street plating up for taxi drivers and workers, have now found themselves catering to a very different clientele. The grandchildren of those who would stand in the blistering heat cooking their family’s best kept secret, are now operating from an air-conditioned environment, maintaining the same recipe and quality of food and ingredients. According to one of the vendors, the oldest stall in this food village dates back to 1927. Some vendors even display the year they commenced business on.
It’s a place where all your five senses will be tantalized; the sizzling sounds of egg noodles being stir fried in a wok, the spicy aroma of lemongrass, kaffir leaves and fish balls cooking in chicken broth, the sight of roasted duck being sliced up and tossed into gravy before being served, tingling your fingers as you pick up the hot bowl of soup and finally the taste of South East Asia on your lips with your first bite.
All the flavors of the East are available under one roof; noodles, stir fries and curries from Thailand,
teriyaki from Japan, hokkien mee noodles from Fujian, Indonesian delights Nasi Goreng, Cantonese meatball noodle soups, Penang Laksa and of course dessert stalls among many delicacies on offer. The dessert stalls offered the famous Chinese lotus paste biscuits,
And other specialties such as Pineapple Tarts and Sweet Cheese Tarts.
Like me, you will walk up and down the alleyways a number of times before actually deciding on your manna. The engaging sights and smells are sure going to make the job difficult. After much thought on my part I opted for the Penang Assam Laksa.
For my husband, it was not a tough choice, he stuck to what he had eaten before, Mee Goreng.
Watching my laksa being cooked made my palate sweat even more. The steaming thick rice noodles being tossed into soup made from Mackerel
The difference between Assam Laksa and Curry Laksa is that Assam Laksa is made from fish soup whereas the latter is a coconut curry soup. It is a no brainer of course, that the Penang Assam Laksa originated from the famous Malaysian city of Penang.
Garnished with poached mackerel flakes, pineapple, fresh mint leaves, lemongrass, galangal, julienned onions, a sweet prawn paste, my Penang Assam Laksa was piping hot and ready. Due to my appetite for spicy food, I took a side of green chillies and chilli paste as well.
An overpowering taste of fish captured my entire palate. Something had to be done to downplay the fishy taste. That is where my condiments came to my rescue and of course the understanding that all the ingredients should be scooped out together, the noodles, the soup and the vegetables.
I unleashed the fire of the chillies and the chilli sauce onto my bowl of laksa and let the taste unfold on its own. The second bite was more palatable, with the sour, tangy taste of the tamarind, the sweetness of the pineapples, the cool effect of the mint and finally, the kick of the chillies. With all its ingredients, the laksa can be termed as a square meal in a round bowl.
Feeling our bellies satiated and our desire for adventure satisfied, we left Lot 10 Hutong, two very happy people. I can sincerely vouch for the fact that it is a must visit for anyone who comes to Kuala Lumpur and has an appetite for culinary adventures. As we made our way to the Bukit Bintang monorail station with a smile on our face, we were greeted by a sign that finally gave our happy day an even better ending.