Travel Diary Part 3 – Kampung Baru and Brickfields, KL

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Kampung Baru (or Bharu) (translation – New Village)

Day 1

“Kampung Baru” just means New Village in Malay, and I actually spent most of my childhood years in a Kampung Baru (Kg Baru Bukit Temiang, ie. Temiang Hill New Village) in my hometown in Seremban. Mostly though, people think of Kampung Baru Kuala Lumpur, an area smack in the middle of Malaysia’s capital, which is famous for its Malay food in a slower-paced, village setting.

Even before I ever set foot in Kampung Baru KL, I’d heard about its famous Nasi Lemak, Malaysia’s national dish if there was one. I’d only been to Kampung Baru twice in the past, and only for probably a grand total of 90 minutes. Each time, I’d missed out on trying Nasi Lemak from its best known outlet – Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa. I expected to be taken there this time around, but no – People Express Travel’s tour designer, Diana, had done her research and was keen for me to try this other place – CT Nasi Lemak – based on reviews she’d heard and read about it.

We head out there for dinner after checking in and meeting my friendly hosts at Bagasta, Kak Intan and Pak Teh. I’m instantly struck by the fact the restaurant is filled exclusively with locals – always a good sign. There’s food laid out in trays in one section, and in another, there’s a production line of nasi lemak bungkus (wrapped nasi lemak) being prepared.

Baby Noah is exhausted by this stage and shows it. Our driver, Tony, offers to take him off my hands while I check out the offerings. I’m stunned that Noah happily lets himself be carried by Tony – he usually starts crying. I find out later that Tony has this special effect on children and doubles as de-facto baby minder for guests on tour. I’d also found out during our drive from the airport that Tony is a fellow Hakka, so for the next six days we speak Hakka to each other.

I may be Malaysian but even I don’t always know how things work at local eateries, so I’m glad to have my tour guide Mr. Shaukani to advise – turns out you grab a tray and grab a pack of nasi lemak (pyramid-shaped banana leaf parcels), then head to the buffet section and help yourself to whatever selection of dishes you want to eat your nasi lemak with.

I have to say some of the offerings are somewhat exotic – offal satay, chicken’s feet curry, etc. I grab a stick of lung satay (I know, right? I didn’t end up finishing it) but mostly play safe with my other selections – fried chicken, curries, rendang, etc. Someone comes round for our drinks orders – local stuff like kopi, teh, milo, etc. plus soft drinks – I ask for a cold teh tarik (pulled tea). As soon as it arrives Noah knocks it over – he’s going through a “swiping everything within arm’s reach” stage – and it spills all over my newly-acquired plate of food. I awkwardly go back for a second serve of exactly the same dishes even before I’ve eaten my first. I’m hoping the server gets a sense of deja vu rather than think I’m an extremely fast and hungry diner.

I’ve written about eating at food courts (well, maybe I haven’t) in Malaysia, and how much I enjoy the experience and how I wish we had these kinds of offerings in Australian food courts. Eating at Kampung Baru however, takes things to a new level – the flavours are heightened, the portions are generous, and the prices much, much cheaper. What a great start to my People Express Travel itinerary.

Next up, we go watch a Live musical performance – MUD, The Story of KL – and I’m stunned at the world-class production quality. There’s an audience participation component to the show but as Noah is sound asleep in my arms (we’ve both been up for probably 20 hours by this stage), the performers don’t attempt to coerce me to join them on stage. Thank you, baby Noah.

I head off to a business meeting in another part of town at the end of the show, and get back to my room past midnight.

Tony (driver), Kak Intan of Bagasta, moi and Mr. Shaukani (tour guide)
Dinner at Nasi Lemak CT Garden
Nasi Lemak parcels at CT Garden
Offal satays at CT Garden
Selection of delicious dishes at the CT Garden buffet spread
MUD Musical poster
Photo op with cast of MUD

Day 2

Breakfast at Bagasta is a selection of Malay kuihs bought from the streets of Kampung Baru – everything tastes better than the next. My favourite – kuih badak – a sweet potato dumpling filled with a spicy minced dried shrimp filling. I struggle to nail this kuih in my own kitchen, mainly because the sweet potato-based dough always seems to be too sticky to handle – which probably goes some way towards explaining why I gorge it down like it’s going out of style.

Then it’s off to Chow Kit Wet Market a short stroll from Bagasta (although come to think of it we might have been driven there by Tony, our designated People Express driver). This is where the locals buy their food items, and it’s divided into distinct sections – fresh (even live) seafood, vegetables, spices etc. Shaukani tells me a previous group of Australian school kids found the smells in the fish section quite confronting – typical teenagers, I reply, rolling my eyes. Sure, you find nicely packaged and filleted fish in supermarkets just like you do in Australia, but this is the real thing – this is how my mom shopped for food back in my day – with daily visits to the wet market.

I especially find the vegetable section fascinating, and it’s largely because there are so many things there I don’t recognise. I don’t feel so bad when I realise even Malaysian born-and-bred tour guide extraordinaire Mr. Shaukani isn’t familiar with some of them.

Shaukani belongs to the generation of Malaysians who went through school back in the days when English was the medium of instruction (ie. even before my time) – and he effortlessly bounces between two languages – English and Malay. Seeming to anticipate my questions, Shaukani doesn’t hesitate to ask the stall keepers about the whats and hows of all these herbs and vegetables – and I gotta say they are some of the friendliest stall keepers I’ve met anywhere.

We head out of Kampung Baru to pay a visit to Brickfields, aka Little India. The humidity is stifling, so I’m glad for the air-conditioned transport from one spot to the next. We check out some shops, grill the flower garland stall lady about the price of her creations (they’re not cheap, and reflect the work that goes into making them), take some photos of a shrine, then it’s lunch. If there’s any doubt about Shaukani being a foodie – this next place, which is his suggestion, completely eliminates it.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, as they say – and when in Little India, the done thing is to go for a banana leaf curry meal. Again, I’m told of the “touristy” option for this, and again, Diana and Shaukani recommend a different place.

Chettinad food – I’ve never heard of it, let alone try it. Shaukani took an American couple here once – and they told him at the end of their travel that it was the best meal they had in Malaysia. This place called Visaalatchi’s does banana leaf curry, but with a Chettinad (a particular Indian immigrant group) take on it. It’s tucked away from Brickfield’s main strip, but it’s hugely popular with locals. We get there well before peak hour and again, I’m glad I have Shaukani and Diana to guide me on how the “system” works.

Like the last place, there’s a buffet spread, but it’s not self-serve. (Tony doesn’t realise this and helps himself to some food – so I don’t feel so bad about my own ignorance.) We grab a table, and right away we’re swamped by these table servers porting shiny silver pots. They place banana leaves in front of each of us, and proceed to find out what type of rice we want – I opt for briyani. I expect to get biryani rice only, but it actually comes with some chicken buried in it as well. Then they start offering sides and accompaniments – and with Diana’s lead I go for a few pieces of fried chilli – unique to Chettinad cuisine, I’m told – among other choices. Then it’s the mains and before we know it, we have a massive assortment of colourful Chettinad dishes on our banana leaves.

The owner comes over to say hello, and proudly shows me a book on the history of Chettinad settlement in all the different states. I can’t believe I’ve lived this long without ever knowing the nuances of the Indian community in Malaysia.

Shaukani tells me the protocol at the end of the meal is to fold your banana leaf in half – towards you if you’ve enjoyed your meal, and away from you if you haven’t. I can’t say I’ve savoured banana leaf curry much in my lifetime, but I do love it when I do, and this is easily the best I’ve ever eaten.

We head back to Kampung Baru for a walkabout and to pick up some food that we can eat on the Bagasta rooftop with its million-dollar views. I notice the preponderance of Kelantanese stalls in the area, and we end up buying both Kelantanese meals and Kelantanese snacks and sweets. Tuna fish and egg curry – it looks pretty unassuming, but my goodness is it good. Then there’s Sontam, a Thai-influenced Kelantanese salad – ours is a mix of shredded mango and papaya – similar to Thai papaya salad, but much more flavoursome thanks to the generous use of dried shrimp.

We find out through Kak Intan that some of the kuihs have pretty cheeky and unusual names – (translated) – duck poo, soaking rhinoceros, crocodile tongue – you get the idea. Another feature of Kelantanese kuihs? They’re sweeter than most kuihs from other parts of Malaysia – sometimes A LOT sweeter.

Kak Intan and Pak Teh set up the rooftop for us; Aspaliza, my good friend comes along to hang out and help eat some of the food. We do some scheduled filming – usually in a Hangout-on-Air all I need is a laptop and webcam, but because we’re recording a video, I have to grab any available help I can to hold the digital camera, connect the Rode microphone, get the lighting set up etc.

Pak Teh, Bagasta’s all-round handyman, will have to do, I figure, so I ask if he doesn’t mind holding the camera – just press the red button, I tell him. Pak Teh scans the inventory, gets everything set up and starts filming like a seasoned pro. I look on in amazement, thinking, wow, this guy has a hidden talent; then I find out both he and Kak Intan in fact used to work in TV production. I’m embarrassed and relieved at the same time.

Filming wraps up, Aspaliza and I head out for (yet another) meal – I know, I know – but we’d been meaning to go to Fatty Crab Restaurant since my last trip – plus I can always diet when I get back to Sydney.


Click here to watch on YouTube (opens new window) –

Selection of kuihs for breakfast courtesy of Kak Intan at Bagasta. My favourite is kuih badak, in the middle.
My People Express transport
Friendly shopkeeper at Chow Kit Wet Market
Bags of taucheo (bean sauce) at Chow Kit Wet Market
Herbs and vegetables at Chow Kit Wet Market
Shrine in Brickfields, aka Little India
Arcade filled with flower garland stalls in Brickfields
Baby Noah chillin' at Visaalatchi’s Chettinad restaurant in Brickfields
My extravagant Chettinad banana leaf meal
Banana leaf meal completed; leaf folded towards me to indicate it was delicious.
On the hunt for food in Kampung Baru for our Bagasta rooftop session
Sontam stall in Kampung Baru. We ordered a mix of mango and papaya for ours.
Selection of Kelantanese sweets and snacks for our Bagasta rooftop meal
Kari Ikan Tongkol - Kelantanese tuna fish curry. Probably my favourite Kelantanese dish at Kampung Baru.
Bubur Lambuk - a famous porridge from the streets of Kampung Baru
Colourful Kelantanese sweet
Sontam - Kelantanese-Thai salad
Pak Teh reveals his extraordinary filming skills at Bagasta's rooftop
Delicious crab at Fatty Crab with Aspaliza
Butter Prawns at Fatty Crab

Tour guide – Mr. Shaukani Abbas (two-time winner of Tourism Malaysia’s Tour Guide of the Year Award) Some photos in this series are courtesy of Mr. Shaukani.

Tour Designer – S. Diana Nasution

Tour Company – People Express Travel, KL

Tour Package – 6D/5N Culture, Heritage and Nature Delight

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