Kuala Lumpar Food Safari

Malaysia Mural

Malaysia Mural

“Today is about a group of friends eating and sharing stories,” said Carlson from Urban Adventures upon greeting us at Bangsar Station LRT to begin our 4-hour walking tour amongst the best local street food Kuala Lumpur has to offer. In fact, Carlson would argue he took us to the “best of the best” and it is the only true walking tour in KL. I wouldn’t argue my day spent in the River City exploring the stimulating flavors of this Chinese, Indian and Malay melting pot was a highlight.

We began by walking through the residential Indian-influenced community of Brickfields and were told the history of the area while stopping to look at a traditional Brickfield home, a 75 year-old Muslim cemetery and Garland Alley, where fresh, fragrant jasmine from the Cameron Highlands is used for temples and offerings. Just the ladies from our small group of 7 were given a beautiful, colorful bracelet to wear.

Tarani Food Corner, our first official food stop and hands down my favorite of the day is small and family owned. The wife serves while the husband is the chef. We sat amongst the locals while rotating fans spraying mist provided a welcoming escape from the humidity. On banana leafs we ate with our right hand, mixing rice, spicy chicken masala, tangy mango pickles, lentil curry, and cabbage while using our thumb to spoon it into our mouths. We then finished it of with resam, a traditional Indian digestive. I left feeling overwhelmingly full unaware that was only our first dish out of 6 for the day.

Immediately following we stopped at a roadside vadai stall, which offered a variety of vegetarian fried treats. Most popular were lentil donuts, curry puffs with potato masala and of course, the undeniably awesome fried banana fritters. The donuts made from rice flour contain chili curry leaves, which are eaten to prevent grey hairs.

Vadai shop

Vadai shop

Continuing along we transitioned to the commercial side of what is known as Little India 2. We learned that this community, popular with Hindu’s, is rather new. It’s only been on the radar from 2007 and is often overshadowed by the original Little India, which is more Muslim dominant. However, our next treat was super sickly sweet. Gulap Jamun is a sticky syrup dessert ball. I was so full; I couldn’t even finish the bite size indulgence.

Gulap Jamun

Gulap Jamun

While walking through the equivalent of the ‘red light district’ we were told to look out for “special people,” although Carlson wouldn’t immediately tell us what to spot. Pimps lined the streets, each sitting on a chair protecting their open door, but they were not the special people he was referring to.

We stopped on a busy street corner where locals lined up to get a serve of cendol, the cool shaved ice dessert. An older woman served the shaved ice with coconut milk and plum sugar topped off with green rice jelly that looked like worms making the super sweet, yet refreshing treat popular with adults and children. The man then took his machete and in a few swift moves opened a coconut shell turning it into a revitalizing drink served out of a plastic bag. While our group relaxed consuming the celebrated 52-year-old cendol recipe we finally identified the special people Carlson was referring to.

The blind and disabled from all over Malaysia come to Brickfields for jobs. The Urut Tradisional PB Blind Massage, owned by Paralympic athletes, provides training and job opportunities within the local community and the most common is blind massage. It’s pretty awesome when you think about it.

Just across the road were the “best banana fritters in all of KL.” For 35 years the father and son team have been dishing out the famed “secret recipe” at this popular roadside stand. In fact, Carlson tells us they are doing so well that they both own 5-series BMW’s. Not too bad for a simple banana business.

At that point we fortunately had a quick break to use the clean bathrooms in KL Sentral before hopping the LRT to Pasar Seni LRT Station for our next and final stop, Chinatown. We spent a few minutes admiring a 125-year-old Taoist warrior temple and patted the lions out front for good luck before navigating the stalls of knock off bags, jewelry and watches in Jalan Petaling Market.

Taoist warrior temple

Taoist warrior temple

Over our final meal, which I had barely enough room left in me for, Carlson shared some of his personal stories. When he’s not helping his uncle with the business part time he studies law. But certain aspects of the food tour have taken its toll. He went from 68K to 122K in just four months and has since refrained from dining with his guests. That is until this last stop.

It was a fairly popular place in the heart of the action, likely considering it’s one of the few in Chinatown with air-conditioning. Then again, it’s also been around for over 60 years and known for its hokkain noodles, which of course we got. We then tried a huge range of dishes, from the pow (pork bun) to fried egg yoke noodles, penang char keuh teow served on a banana leaf and it was super yum to spicy Chinese laksa and low si fun, or what locals call rat tail noodles. It didn’t seem to stop. On the side we drank lime juice with sweet plums and cold Chinese tea.

Even more, Carlson was so encouraging, happy to order more and more and let us try whatever ticked our fancy. Our bellies were so full that  we wished the gang safe travels and fortunately were in walking distance to our accommodation. Unfortunately, despite being close by, we didn’t manage to beat the daily afternoon rain shower.

I would totally recommend this tour to anyone visiting KL. Carlson was friendly, affable and interesting. The tour was contained to a small group and personalized to our needs. They clearly have a daily spending budget so if you want a bottle of water or an extra serve of anything throughout the day it’s catered for.

Despite our bellies being maxed out we had a reservation that evening for fine dining at Fuego, part of Trioka Sky Dining. A bit heftier on the wallet than our budget courses that afternoon, Fuego is an open air restaurant on the 23rd floor specializing in South American cuisine. Yes, the food, service and drinks were all standout but the best part was the view, situated just across from the iconic Petronas Towers. The 6:30 seating is ideal for catching the magnificent towers by day, at sunset and dusk. I would totally eat there again and again.

There is a moral to this food driven story. If you are hungry, go to KL. You won’t be disappointed.

Twelve Apostles

Adventuring the Great Ocean Road

“Iconic Australia,” they say. “Car stopping scenery,” they’ve boasted. “Breathtaking natural wonders,” I read.

And it’s all true. The 243-kilometer stretch of road along Victoria’s Southeast coast is certainly to be admired. Even better, as a first timer I learned that what I like to lazily refer to as the GOR (Great Ocean Road) is the world’s longest war memorial; built from 1919 to 1932 in remembrance of those who died in WWI by it’s own returning soldiers.

Just like them we had a plan. Luckily though we averaged more than 3 kilometers a month. Leaving early on a Saturday morning we took the highway coupled with some back roads and traveled inland for about 4 hours directly to Warrnambool, the largest city along the Road just near its start. From there, we slowly made our way along the coast back toward Melbourne while seeing what was on offer.

Great Ocean Roadtrip

Great Ocean Roadtrip

And as far as Warrnambool is concerned I’ll tell you what’s on offer. Kermond’s Hamburgers is its biggest claim to fame and rightfully so! This old-school joint, still serving thick malted milkshakes in white aprons, was packed to the rafters. They keep the menu simple: burger, fried onions and bun. Customize it with normal stuff: tomatoes, lettuce, cheese or Aussie add-ons i.e. fried egg, beetroot, mayo. “Every bite of that vinegar jalapeno was like heaven in my mouth,” my Aussie travel companion slash foodie Nidya, slurred with her last bite.

We left excited to officially start our GOR journey but were quickly disappointed once we entered Allansford Cheese World. With a name such as Cheese World they set pretty high expectations. I mean, we practically did a 180 to get there as one would assume according to their advertising that there would be a monumental amount of cheese coupled with delicate wine tasting. What we experienced though was a service station, fast-food restaurant, Yellowtail retailer and tourist shop rolled into one. In the back, in the small room labeled Cheese, we were resurrected by delectable aged cheddars and somehow walked away with a varietal of 5 hefty wedges to consume over the weekend.

Cheese World

Cheese World

We traveled on and just as we began to smell the salty sea air and the coast came into view the sky turned overcast and it began to drizzle. We pulled off at the first few scenic lookouts to get some early snaps in a foggy view of the cerulean ocean contrasted against amazing limestone formations. I was starting to panic that my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snap the much anticipated – the whole reason we drove for hours and hours – this is not really happening I’m sure it will clear up any second – no really, is it seriously raining – iconic rock formations would be ruined by fowl weather.

Finally we reached the holy grail of Port Campbell, home to the famed Twelve Apostles (now actually ten) and “heart of the Great Ocean Road”. The tourist buses lined the parking lot and the selfie sticks were endless. I was thankful that I canceled the tour I booked six months ago and was here on my terms, or at least in a small group of intimate friends thanks to Wes’ amazing patience and driving skills.

But we were fast about it while still taking it all in. My head unknowingly blocked endless selfies and my hair whipped against my face causing a uni-brow in nearly every picture. Just as we were about to depart and began walking away the clouds cleared and the sun shimmered causing the right light on the striking water. It was stunning. Camera out, I finally got my shots. We could conclusively rest for the evening.

In Apollo Bay, our 4-bed lofted studio at Coastal Motel offered the right mix of comfort and location just across from the beach and walking distance to all of the charming restaurants and shops in town. Even better, we had a heap of cheese to consume along with boutique wine and beers we brought with us. In fact, the week prior I had just won a case of 14% (ABV) Jumping the Shark (Hungarian oak barrel-aged saffron’d imperial red ale aka intense) from Melbourne craft brewers Moon Dog and needed a team to consume them with. The Fonz couldn’t have done it alone either.

Sunday morning we were back on the road heading inland to explore Great Otway National Park and the Otway Fly Treetop Adventures. Word to the wise, the winding, twisting, I-was-near-vomiting curves of the road to get there are to be cautioned about. But for real, my window was rolled down and my head was hanging out like a fatigued dog. $25 is a steep fare to walk on steel structures at the top of some trees and better value if you opted for their zip lining tours albeit for a much heftier price. We proudly boasted that between four of us we had zip lined in South Africa, Peru, and Laos so gave that a pass. But at 25 meters above the ground, the lush rainforest and distinct natural fauna made for a unique walk and we had no regrets for the experience, despite us nauseatingly needing to snake back the way we came once in the car.

Further along the coast sat the most amazing pub in the small town of Wye River. Wye Beach Hotel is more than just a charismatic beachfront bar and restaurant. Its exquisite food, coupled with an unexpected local beer selection and epicurean wine list was remarkable. For a true quiet holiday off the grid I’d recommend staying at one of the small hillside lodges. We closed our evening off with a curry back at local yet upmarket Apollo Bay Hotel before our final stretch home the following day.

Some of the best and curviest parts of the drive are around the quintessential beach town of Lorne. Shopping, restaurants, bars and beach – this popular spot with Melbournians was very busy on the sunny Monday. Luckily we were able to snag a table for breakfast at Lorne Beach Pavilion overlooking the beautiful sea to the sweet sound of children running and crying everywhere. Full on avocado smash, we parked ourselves at the edge of the sand and took in a few rays before continuing on and passing under the famed Great Ocean Road sign.

Now here’s the best part of coming home. We missed out, or actually intentionally avoided the popular seaside towns of Anglesea, Torquay, Jan Juc and others on our way back to the city in order to side track to the Bellarine Peninsula just outside of Geelong.

Terindah Estate and Jack Rabbit Vineyard share both a driveway and the coastline offering picturesque backdrops of vine against sea to sip against yet are two separate wineries. Applause to Will at Terindah for an exquisite presentation of their wines and scoring us a seat in the fully booked out restaurant to taste beautiful kangaroo, dory and lamb. Terindah was an all around standout! Their Chardonnay soft and buttery, Pinot Gris and Sauv Blanc surprisingly untraditional and their Shiraz/Viognier and Pinot Noir no brainers. I bought them all and want to come back again and again and again. So I will…

Terindah Estate Group Shot

Terindah Estate Group Shot