I love visiting Kuala Lumpur, but at the same time, I can’t help but view each trip with a bit of trepidation. After all, May is our host — the same woman who took us to a char siu place, a laksa shop next door, and then bought two pork meatballs for me to eat on the road because I would be without food for 15 minutes. This woman. She hosts us. And, although we are immeasurably grateful, there is no way for us (me, really, who cares about the others) to prepare for the immense mountains of food awaiting us.
This trip is no different. Perhaps anticipating the gluttony in store, my husband (with good intentions) orders me a gluten-free breakfast on Thai Airways, which ends up being a wildly overcooked poached egg next to a smattering of unseasoned sautéed mushrooms. So I am hungry when we enter Fuego, but it is the last time we are hungry for the next three days.
Fuego does a very brisk business serving up snazzy cocktails, creative South American-inspired tapas, and a lovely view of downtown KL that has only recently been obscured by construction for the new Four Seasons Hotel. It doesn’t really matter though. It’s all about the food: a handful of guacamole and ceviche iterations, different arepas, smoked quail eggs on a seaweed and vegetable nest. A ho-hum-sounding salt-baked potato with foie gras is actually the best thing I can remember having this year, covered in a sage hollandaise made with whole butter and so delicious that I will never attempt to make it on my own. A grilled watermelon salad with fried halloumi is refreshing; the lamb ribs toothsome and meaty; and the Malabar fish stew surprisingly light. We finish everything, and it is only after 3 or 4 (or 5) Sangrias (including Nat’s) that I remember to take a blurry photograph of our half-eaten churros dessert, served with a salted caramel espuma.
The next day, I am not hungry, but that doesn’t stop us from following May’s advice to “pick up a roti” at Sri Paandi (37 Jalan Date Mahmud 11/4, 46200 Petaling Jaya). The roti ends up becoming a chicken biryani or two, because let’s face it, we don’t really understand what they are saying to us and “biryani” was the only word we recognized.
We take everything they offer to us, different curries and dhals from buckets and tiny bowls of yogurt and whatnot, so it’s a surprise that they don’t offer the best-looking stuff of all, whatever this is:
But we are already headed somewhere else. Kumi Cafe (21, Lorong Setiabistari 2, Bukit Damansara, 50490 Wilayah Persekutuan, +60-12-651-1182) specializes in Malaccan Eurasian cuisine, a mix of local Malay and Portuguese cooked by chef Ruben Moissinac. There are expected staples like curry seku, a Goan-Portuguese dry curry thickened with coconut milk, otak-otak (a steamed fish paste similar to Thailand’s hor mok) and a stew made with keluak (sadly unavailable that day), a nut that is poisonous on the tree but edible after it is buried in volcanic ash for three months and soaked for one week in water that is changed daily.
But the best dishes were unexpected, like the savory pie stuffed with dry sambal chicken.
Don’t worry. When we finished, it was only a couple of hours before dinner, which would be at our friend’s house. There, a Nonya-style pork curry would prove so delicious that we could not help but stuff our gorges yet again, only to bitterly regret it later on when we cannot sleep.
The next day, dark circles under my eyes, the first thing I eat is lunch, because I cannot imagine even the hint of food anytime before noon. Too bad for me lunch is a dazzling Indian vegetarian at Ganga Cafe (19, Lorong Kurau, Taman Bukit Pantai, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, +60-32-284-2119) and I once again can’t help myself — I have to have as much stuff as possible. We have thosai, light flaky stuffed crepes made with rice flour and paired with coconut chutney, but also something from the display in front, sweet pumpkin stuff and spicy chick pea something-else and dhal and bracing tamarind soup in a silver cup. There’s also panipuri, little cups of fried dough filled with chili, potato, onion and chickpeas. It’s left to you at the last moment to pour a little bit of coriander-flavored water into your “cup” before putting it into your mouth and enjoying the perfect bite: crunch that explodes into something tart, salty and just a little bit sweet.
That night, we eat where we always eat when we are in KL: Overseas Restaurant. But to mix it up a little bit, we eat a succession of different things that now blur when I think of them, because we also had a lot of wine. We had perfectly stir-fried lettuce leaves with touched with a hint of fermented tofu and a fish soup that reminded me of Thai gaeng som, or sour curry. Of course, we had the roast suckling pig, served the way only Overseas does, with a side of sticky rice and plenty of curry sauce. There were other things that I no longer remember, but I’m sure we gamely tried them all. We didn’t end up exploding in KL, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.