It's the water, they say. When asked what's so special about their noodles, such as the rice ribbons called hor fun, natives of Ipoh, Malaysia, cite the limestone formations that surround the city. Because the local water is alkaline (that is, hard), goes the theory, noodles made in Ipoh are silky soft.
A sugar-cane juicer can do only so much. As with the species I encountered in Vietnam and southern China under equally parched conditions, cutting away the tough outer layer of the stalks makes the actual cane-pressing more productive. Even then, several passes through the press are usually needed to squeeze out every last drop. Sugar cane juice (rm 2.50, about 80 cents at the time.)
Lim Brothers Fruit Lorong Ara Kiri 3, Lucky Garden, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur (From a summer 2010 visit)
The bright blue in this butterflied pair of pulut tai-tai (rm 1.30), a traditional kueh prepared for Nyonya weddings, comes from the sundried, boiled petals of the bunga telang. Whether that flower was chosen because of its resemblance to a part of the female anatomy (hence the scientific name), I don't know. Just don't call it Mulva.
Blue, by the by, is only blue; the glutinous rice is prepared with coconut milk, but the flowers add no flavor of their own. Pulut tai-tai is typically served with kaya, a pandan-flavored coconut spread; here, a firmer pandan layer may have been employed for ease of production and transport.
Aroma Nyonya Kueh Inside O&S Restaurant, Jln. 20/14, Paramount Garden, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia (one of many locations) www.AromaNyonya.com (From a December 2006 visit)
Not open when I passed at lunchtime, sorry to say, but in light of my subsequent language studies, worth an observation from the chowhound behind LauHound. Regarding the frog claypot rice we shared at A-Wah, he noted that the formulation "tastes like X" figures in Chinese as well as in English. The two characters meaning "frog" — in the photo shown here, they're third and fourth — literally translate as "field chicken."
Fried chilli frog stall Kuala Lumpur (From a December 2006 visit)
During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observant Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. In Kuala Lumpur, preparations for buka puasa, the fast-breaking meal, often begin in midafternoon with a visit to one of the city's many pop-up Ramadan bazaars.
There's always a sense of excitement in the air, even when you don't overhear a long-forgotten adventure theme blaring tinnily from a streetside TV. There's also a feeling of fellowship: That same evening, several men on separate occasions made their greetings, asked if I was traveling alone, and invited me to join their table in breaking the fast. And of course there's the food, some of which is prepared especially for Ramadan; my slideshow barely begins to capture the bewildering variety. You should see for yourself, if you can.
Malaysia's murtabak takes its name from an Arabic word for "folded," though this etymology glosses over the entertaining way in which the dough is flattened and flipped. The stretched-thin, translucent dough eventually encases minced fillings featuring mutton (rarer than reports suggest, and not available at this stall), chicken (shown), or beef (my choice this evening, rm 2, about 65 cents at the time). Whether my murtabak was further folded inside a newspaper wrapper, or downed on the spot, I leave you to guess.
Murtabak stall At a Ramadan bazaar near Jln. Bangsar Utama 9, Kuala Lumpur
When you enjoy stall food in Malaysia or chow down at a hawker center in Singapore, napkins are almost always BYO. Many folks rely on packets of sturdy all-purpose tissues; at busy times these can also be tossed down to "chope," or reserve, a seat at one of the communal tables. Just as in the States, the tissues are widely available in convenience stores. However, I prefer to buy them as needed (and even when not) from an independent vendor who wanders the food courts or, when that's not manageable, sets up her small business nearby.
Spelled with or without a trailing "h", the popia of my acquaintance had always been fresh, yet these crisp firecrackers (three for rm 1) went by the same moniker. What gives? I later learned that "popia goreng" — incorporating the Malay word for "fried" — was the more specific name, one that's understood by the locals but not often used in full. It seems I was the only one present who hadn't been properly introduced.
Popia stall At a Ramadan bazaar on Jln. Rajah Alang, Kuala Lumpur