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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — I felt a bit giddy after reading an email from a very close friend of mine. She pointed out how she was glad to hear that even when you enter your 30’s, you are still able to have ‘firsts’. The month of April produced a trio of firsts for me: my first overseas business trip, my first holiday to a foreign country solo, and my first blog entry.
It seems that after a rather yo-yo start to the year, April is shining as the month of a shift. Perhaps it is because the six months of winter that consumed Beijing (where I currently reside) is now blooming with spring and warmer months of summer are just around the corner. A last minute obligation for work prompts me to book a trip to Kuala Lumpur in less than 24 hours. Prior to my departure I manage to squeeze in the opening of NOBU and attend Jackie Chan’s birthday dinner. Nice way to kick start my trip! Malaysia truly Asia here I come.
I am up at dawn to catch my flight to Kuala Lumpur via Hong Kong and after 15 hours of travel, I finally make it to my lifestyle club room overlooking the famous Petronas towers at the Renaissance hotel. My room with a view, the warm, humid air and the friendly energy that this city emits, rid me of exhaustion and give me a second wind to discover Kuala Lumpur later in the evening.
On my first evening in KL, the glow of the Petrojaya towers beckon me. I heard about a free outdoor concert happening so was keen to take a peek and hunt down my first meal. A mere five-minute walk from the hotel, and I spot a night market with food stalls. Perfect! Just how I like to eat when traveling — local. The more local I eat, the better. I believe it is in the local street food stalls that you really get to sample ‘home cooking’.
The first stall that catches my sense of scent is the satay stand. Plumes of smoke carry the aroma of the satay barbecue. After self-electing to go vegetarian for almost three weeks, the thought of passing up smoking satays is impossible.
A young lady greets me, telling me that I should try the satay set meal — four satay sticks with nasi impit (compressed rice). As I wait, I walk through the market to see what other goodies might tickle my taste buds. I spot a refreshing dessert stall stocking my favorite South East Asian dessert condiments; red beans, corn, grass jelly, sago and green flour worms. The people managing their stalls seem to be mind readers as the young man managing this one approaches me and asks ‘You want ABC?’
ABC? Hmm, never heard of it as a dish and the first thing that pops to mind is the Jackson Five song. I am here not only for business, but also for my tummy. It is my mission to combine my busy work schedule with as much eating as possible.
I find myself an empty table for four and as soon as I sit down, my satay meal arrives. Four sticks of piping hot satay served on a plastic plate with nasi impit, cut cucumber, and red onion with a generous serving of fragrant peanut sauce. I take great satisfaction in dunking one of the chicken satays in the peanut sauce. The chicken is cooked perfectly; crisped with a bit of charcoal flavor and succulent. I sit at my table for four and smile. I look up at the sky glowing from the city lights and feel warm and fuzzy inside. My first dinner date in Malaysia and I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.
Satay made its way here to Kuala Lumpur from Indonesia. It is my first witness of how diverse the food culture here in Kuala Lumpur is. Many surrounding Asian countries have greatly influenced the cuisine here. The peanut sauce is thick with crunchy chunks of peanut and the flavor rich and creamy. Whether it is proper food etiquette or not, I dunk my cubes of nasi impit into the peanut sauce. I joyfully switch from a bite of satay to a bite of nasi impit, then a bite of cucumber. I can’t help but dunk everything in the satay sauce!
As I finish my plate, my ABC arrives — shaved ice, condensed milk, pink sugary syrup topped with grass jelly also known as ais kacang. I expected more condiments than I could see in my dessert.
Thankfully, as I dig my spoon further into the ice, out pop plump colorful sago beads. My ABC dessert isn’t anything too special; a refreshing dessert drizzled in sugar. It doesn’t beat my Cendol dessert from the streets of Saigon.
My slight disappointment doesn’t stop me from consuming it all at once. My stomach is definitely satisfied. I feel like purchasing more eats but remember that I have seven days and six more nights to feed myself with all that Kuala Lumpur has to offer. I return to my hotel, excited at the thought of eating my way through Kuala Lumpur for the next seven days. Work has gifted me this experience and I expect to love every minute of it. — Cristina McLauchlan