Archive for the ‘food’ Category

10 reasons why I love KL

This 1st February, Kuala Lumpur turns 44 years old as a federal territory of Malaysia. Love it or hate it, KL is the lady in red that makes an impression. Tacky or classy, it’s in the eye of the beholder.

But in keeping with the concept of this blog, and in honouring this city I’ve lived in for 17 years (gosh, it has been that long?), here are 10 reasons why I love KL and will continue to call it home, even though I’m from Penang. Yes, I still identify myself as a Penangite even though I’ve lived longer in KL than Penang.

 

  1. KL is great for non-drivers

Traffic can be horrendous in KL for drivers during the rush hour commute, and expensive parking rates will put a huge dent on your wallet if you’re working here, but it’s relatively easy to move around by public transport or on foot. As someone who can’t drive, KL works for me.

My main mode of transport into the city is by train (KTM Komuter, LRT, monorail). From the train station, it’s possible to walk to many places, unlike the suburban townships that are mostly surrounded by highways. And the best way to discover the city’s nook and crannies is on foot.

What about taxis? Yes, our taxi drivers are on the world’s worst list, but there’s Uber and GrabCar now. Buses? Frequency and punctuality of buses into the city centre still need to be improved but within the city, you can hop onto the free Go KL buses.

 

  1. The greenery is a soothing sight for sore eyes

Despite the skyscrapers that dominate the city’s landscape, KL is still quite green. Shady trees provide respite from the scorching sun and soften the edges of the concrete jungle. There’s even a forest reserve (Bukit Nanas) in the heart of the city, at the base of KL Tower.

 

  1. Its population is very diverse

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KL has always been a tempat cari makan (a place to make a living) for out-of- towners and foreigners alike. Today’s Bangladeshis, Nepalese and Myanmarese are last century’s Chinese and Indians. You can find a sense of belonging even among strangers. When I first moved here, I used to attend mass at St. Joseph’s Cathedral. I called it the church for lost souls. Unlike community churches in the suburbs, it’s easy to maintain anonymity here if you want to. Old city dwellers, Filipino maids, diplomat families, new arrivals… all can come and go without much fuss in the house of God.

 

  1. Free activities

art

City living is always expensive but there are places you can go to for free. How about catching a free movie at KLpac (look out for free screenings of international films every two months or so) or Content Malaysia Pitching Centre?

If you’re an art buff, visit Galeri PETRONAS, Ilham Gallery, and Bank Negara Museum and Art Gallery.

 

  1. There’s something to do every weekend

I don’t know why some people say there’s nothing to do in KL. There’s so much happening I need a 3-day weekend (one day to go out, one day to do housework and one day chillax and recover). With Facebook, it’s so easy to seek out groups with similar interests.

If you like photography, join photo walks or look out for special talks and exhibitions. For arts, history and culture, there are events organized by groups such as Malaysian Heritage and History Club, Pusaka and Badan Warisan Malaysia. If music is your thing, there’s the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and No Black Tie.

Also check out Meetup for various interest groups (sports, arts, social, etc.) and Time Out KL.

 

  1. The malls have character

Ya, ya, there are too many malls here, but let’s go with the positive spin, okay? There are different malls for different folks.

KLCC is a personal favourite of mine. It was my weekend hangout I first moved here largely because I was renting a room then and needed to get out for some me time. After church, I would take the train here for lunch, a movie, Sunday banking, book browsing at the Kinokuniya bookstore, errands at the post office, grocery shopping at Isetan, art admiration at Galeri PETRONAS…

I don’t go there often now but I still love the place for it’s international vibe. The crowd is cosmopolitan, the layout is simple enough that you don’t get lost in the maze, the size is manageable (you can walk from one end to the other in about five minutes) and there’s a park outside.

While KLCC is prim and proper (yet approachable), Sungei Wang Plaza is the kooky cousin, and still hip at 39 years old. Think Vivienne Westwood vs Anna Wintour. This is the place to go for funky fashion and fun finds. Be warned that you could get lost in there, so if you like something, get it then because you might not be able to find the store again.

Pertama Complex in the grittier part of town is underrated as far as malls go. It may not look much from the outside (or even inside), but this is the kind of place where you can get your shoes resoled, fulfil your rocker dream with bespoke leather pants, give people something to talk about with a holster for your gun and source for sewing supplies – do you know how hard it is to get something as simple as press tarts and elastic bands in the fancier malls? This 40-year-old mall is also home to the Yoon Hin bag shop, where you can get genuine backpacks (Osprey, Deuter and the likes) at prices much lower than anywhere else. Just bring cash (credit card not accepted) and be prepared that Madam Sia may not like you for some reason.

 

  1. The weather
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The weather is always nice for a swim, especially in the evening when the sun has warmed up the water.

Hell, yeah! I actually love the tropical weather here. I hate the cold and I don’t like being bundled up and having to carry a jacket, scarf and gloves whenever I go out. I love the freedom of going out wearing something light and not having to add and remove layers of clothing. You complain so hot? Pop into a shopping mall or restaurant lah. There’s air conditioning everywhere and sometimes, even the Mat Sallehs complain our air con is freezing (I sometimes wear a wool jacket in the office).

 

  1. Democratized dining

generations

KL is a city of wonderful contrasts. You can be hoity-toity and indulge in omakase for RM380 at Nobu, or slurp delicious noodles next to a drain for under RM8. I tend to go for chap eats because they often taste better when it’s just about the food rather than the décor or image.

 

  1. You can play tourist in your own city

Every now and then, be a tourist. Go for a guided walk and discover your own backyard. Do the museum or temple thing. Eat your way through Chinatown and Little India. I bet you would be saying “I didn’t know we had this!” a lot.

 

  1. We have some amazing architecture

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As a person who is drawn to aesthetics, I love many buildings in KL, both old and new. In the old part of KL, the influences are varied: Moorish (Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station), art deco (Central Market, Lee Rubber Building, OCBC Building), colonial (Muzium Telekom), traditional (Rumah Penghulu Abu Seman) pre-war shophouses (Medan Pasar). For modern architecture, the condominiums around KLCC give the city a very international appeal.

So there you have it, my top 10 list. How about you? What do you love about KL?

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

In the 1967 movie of the above title, a meet-the-parents dinner turned into a comedy of feuds. Joey Drayton was bringing her fiancé home for the first time. Mr. and Mrs. Drayton (played by real life couple Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy) were thrilled to meet their future son-in-law Dr. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), until he walked through their door. Dr. Prentice was black, a fact their daughter neglected to mention.

The turn of events shows how the company one has at the dinner table matters over everything else.

The guest, Bobby Chinn

Bobby Chinn and Joelynn Chin. What a joker. He was imitating my pose and I was pretending not to notice.

So, what company would celebrity chef Bobby Chinn make?

I had the opportunity to dine with him two months ago, courtesy of a contest organised by StarMag and TLC. It was part of a publicity blitz for his new TV series, World Café: Middle East.

Food seemed to be the recurring theme in my life the past year, so I had the quiet confidence of winning. When the call came from the PR company on a Monday for dinner on Wednesday, I was pretty cool. I had already penciled the dinner date onto my calendar.

I could bring one guest along, so I called LK and AS. I thought they would jump at the opportunity, as we are hatching an idea to cater home-cooked food for small dinner parties.

Nope, busy and not interested.

I SMSed KL, who, like me, enjoys a good conversation over some makan.  She replied, ‘Don’t mind the dinner but not his company.’

Er… I took that to mean she would feel awkward eating with a stranger. I reassured her that it’s not just us. There would be other winners too, and I’m sure the PR handlers would be there to ensure we behave.

I didn’t know much about Bobby, so I Googled him to prepare myself with some conversation fodder. I paid heed to The Economist ad line Would you like to sit next to you at dinner?’

Woah!

There’s enough information about him for me to make some talk. But there’s even more on what people think of him. And boy, are they vocal and extreme. People either love him or loathe him.

A few more things got me worried. Like that incident at a Singapore awards show. The no-holds-barred comment that a dessert tasted like leather. And the spanking of dough while exclaiming something I would not want Daddy to hear.

Yikes! Did I just sign up for a pleasant evening or a long and painful night? If he turned out to be rude or obnoxious, I was prepared to walk out. But I was more worried about dragging my friend to an experience she would hate me for.

I could only hope for the best. I don’t know him personally and neither do those critics, so why not give him the benefit of the doubt?

I told KL, ‘Dinner with strange company and good food. What could be more interesting?’ I’m always up for a good chat, entertaining stories and learning new things.

D-day, no turning back

Wednesday came soon enough. Butterflies were making aeronautical spins in my tummy.

Dinner was booked at a Middle Eastern restaurant in a 5-star hotel in town. KL was running late so I killed time at the shopping centre across the road before heading to the hotel.

KL was already there. We met another winner (through a radio show), her husband and the PR people (whom I already know from working with a mutual client). Hors d’oeuvres were served while we waited. Bobby was apparently, busy gelling his hair.

Hey U!

We made our way to the restaurant and took our seats at tables arranged in a ‘U’ shape. KL and I took the seats nearest to us, just around the bend from the centre. The couple sat next to us, at one end of the ‘U’. The others, winners, bloggers, PR, were across. The middle was kept empty. I guess that’s where he’d be. Right in the middle. Of a U-shaped seating. Wouldn’t a round table be better for everyone? Oops! The place was not a Chinese restaurant.

The menu was handed out for us to choose our soup and main dish. Couldn’t see anything in the dim setting (just like Bobby’s restaurant in Hanoi?). We were not given a magnifying glass or reading light, so I had to use someone’s handphone to illuminate the tiny piece of paper. I have since downloaded a flashlight app onto my phone. Nifty!

As close as it gets

Bobby made an unassuming entrance and plonked down next to KL! Ooh! Goodie for her. She was close enough to notice that he has no wrinkles or pores! (She’s jealous of his complexion because they’re of the same age.)

Our usually hyper show host was a bit hmm… in the beginning. I put it down to jetlag (though he was up and about earlier hunting for roti canai) or having to repeat the same old stories in this publicity tour.

There was a screening of slides from his show. He talked a little about his experience filming it. Hiding his Arab heritage (his mother is Egyptian) from the Israeli immigration. The camel ruining his expensive linen shirt. Claiming the front seat of the jeep (this wasn’t part of the slideshow, it was just me being nosy).

After a few puffs of shisha (him, not us), dinner got off to a lukewarm start, like the mutton soup I was having (it would’ve been so much better heated up). I was like, what now? Did I come all the way here just to have cold soup?

Breaking the ice

I don’t remember if KL initiated a conversation with him, but I finally mustered enough courage to ask him something. I think it was about the eating culture in the Middle East. I had been to Syria and Jordan early 2010 and in late 2009, Morocco (okay, so this is technically in Africa).

Yeah… I miss those places, which led to my winning slogan: I can’t wait to watch Bobby Chinn’s journey through the Middle East because I want to relive my own journey through Morocco, Syria and Jordan through a different pair of eyes.

Back to my conversation starter. The waiters we came across in Morocco did not seem to understand our Asian concept of sharing dishes. You get one huge tajine and that’s yours and yours only. Order a dish and ask for a few small empty plates and the waiters get all confused. We gave up and dreamt of char koay teow, siew yok and nasi lemak as we OD-ed on tajine and couscous over three weeks.

Well, Bobby proved he was paying attention when he later shared his fish with me (since I didn’t get that Middle Eastern hospitality there), and with the others too. The fish wasn’t good. I told him Arabs don’t do seafood well. It’s either fried or grilled dry to the bone. No marinade or gravy.

I don’t remember what I had for my main dish. Lamb? The food did not make an impression. I’m not sure if it’s because it was really not up to standard or because I have eaten the real deal in its country of origin. I still yearn for the baklava from Syria, even though I don’t have a sweet tooth.

KL liked the french fries the best. I told her maybe it’s because they were real potatoes, not the reconstituted kind you get with your burger.

Summary, Bobby Chinn’s company was better than the food. He was attentive, kept the conversation going, obliging and not at all obnoxious.

By the night’s end, Bobby had grown on me (and KL too). I even told him too bad he had to be at the radio station the next morning. I would’ve taken him to the market in Chinatown. Yeah, right. I can’t even speak Cantonese. (That’s why I keep going back to the same fishmonger in my neighbourhood – she speaks English!)

Besides dinner with him, we also got his book, Vietnamese Food. He took the trouble to pen a personal message for everyone instead of a hurried signature. Even though he was itching to take off to Jalan Alor for the hawker food!

Yes, give me kaki lima (5-footway) over 5-star anytime. As an ad man wrote, ‘You can’t eat atmosphere.

I didn't realise the 20/10/2010 date until he signed the book. Yes, Bobby. I've been messing up my kitchen with 4 recipes so far. Fresh spring rolls, chicken noodle soup, Hanoi calamari salad and sweet & sour fish soup. Am getting the hang of Vietnamese cooking. Cám ơn!

Bobby the Sequel?

I was hoping this would be a lead-in to another story on another meeting with Bobby. I had entered a Nescafe Gold contest dangling a Grand Prize of a trip to Hanoi, to meet Bobby at his restaurant. Wouldn’t it be ‘funny’ to see him again? ‘Hey Bobby, it’s me, again!’

And maybe this time I’d tell him we share the same surname, minus the one ‘n’. So lame…

Just before I balik kampung to Penang for Christmas, I got a call from Discovery Channel Singapore informing me that I was shortlisted for the Grand Prize.

KL could not make it as my travel partner, so I told my Mum to be on standby. Yes, Bobby is safe enough tfor your parents to meet. Mum did not get ‘standby’ and went ahead to make her passport.

Alas, I only got a consolation prize. So Joelynn Chin does not get to meet Bobby Chinn again. Excuse me while I console myself with my Nescafe Gold milkshake : (

My consolation prize-winning Nescafe Gold milkshake. Sinful!

I could be flying to Hanoi today…

Note: I’ve tried four recipes from Bobby’s book. Check out my other blog http://justfollowtherecipe.wordpress.com/ in a couple of days or next week. I’ve been busy and procrastinating.  Have not updated it for yonks.

When a Croissant Saved My Day

I had tonight’s dinner at 10-ish, in front of the TV watching American Idol. I left the office at close to 8, didn’t have to wait long for the feeder bus, nor the LRT, and arrived at KL Sentral just in time to catch the KTM Komuter train.

Alas, my jubilation at the prospect of reaching home by 9 (it’s usually close to 1 1/2 hours) was thwarted by KTM’s erratic efficiency. Just one more station to home, we were told to disembark and wait for the following train which would arrive shortly. Two false alarms that headed for Rawang later, the train to Sentul finally showed up after tiring of playing hide and seek.

Reaching home so late, I contemplated having a juice of blended fruits for dinner. But I had to finish leftovers from my weekend experiment gone wrong – chicken with caramelised baby onions and honey and butternut squash soup. Both sounded promising but fell short of expectation.

I decided to make a sandwich with the croissant I bought earlier from Hock Lee’s Mini Market. I warmed it in the oven, lined it with lettuce and stuffed it with shredded chicken and onions that was more of a gooey texture than the caramelised crush the recipe reviewer promised.

It was my third time eating Hock Lee’s croissant. First time I was pleasantly surprised, second, I was delighted, third, I was sold! Hock Lee’s croissant is the best I’ved ever tasted for as long as I can remember.

Why am I waxing lyrical over a croissant? Like the humble half-boiled egg, this pastry is a simple food, yet difficult to get right. Most times, it’s either too dry and ‘bready’, or flaky and messy. Hock Lee’s has just the right balance of firmness and moistness. And it aces the true measure of the perfect croissant – that buttery taste that spreads over the tongue like a blanket on a chilly day. Mmm, mmm, mmm…  the croissant was the perfect ending to what could’ve been a crappy day. It even made my leftovers taste great!

Love Doesn’t Come in a Blue Box

It’s true what they say. Love is in the little things. What could be lovelier than dinner at a swanky restaurant? Little surprises in your snack box every day.

One of my bosses, Siew Tin, comes to work with a bag of goodies. In it are two to three containers of snacks prepared by her maid Riza. I think this is really sweet because Riza does that on her own initiative, not because her boss asked her to. So every day, Siew Tin gets a pleasant surprise to perk up her work day. Now that’s what I call a real gem. Diamonds are for Valentine’s Day but sweet gestures are good to have any day. 

Fruit and fruitcake.

 

Pau, orange and chocolate chip cookies.

Persimmon and Tim Tam.