A taste of Malaysia

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The KL wet markets are amazing with an  abundance of tropical fruits, herbs and vegetables.  I buy myself a sizeable bag of mangosteen, learn how to succesfully open them and then trawl through the 30 degree morning peeling off snow white petals of delicate tropical sweetness.

Tray after tray of prawns, baby octopus and other exotic seafood are interspersed with trays of chickens – all basking unrefrigerated in the 30 degree heat.   With this in mind I think I would prefer the chickens that are hauled from cages and decapitated to order.


We have only been in KL a few hours but in light of the fact that we only have 24 hours at our disposal we are out to maximise our exposure. 
So after leaving the sites and often challenging smells of the markets we head to an indoor market, packed high with fake watches, handbags and metres of luxury silks.  I buy a couple of watches for $3 each while Louise manages to tick off her entire Christmas gift list and meets us laden with packages.

Mangosteen and street stall curry puffs are our lunch and after a quick turn around at the hotel we hit the shopping malls, opting for the local stores first.  Clothes are unbelievably cheap although sizes are designed for those with more petite frames than this kiwi chick.   Instead I buy a very sophisticated remote control helicopter for Freddie from the many toys being demonstrated in the walkways.

Late afternoon the Chefs at the Westin (where we are staying) are giving us a hands on cooking class.  I am so looking forward to this as after visiting the markets and seeing the fresh produce it is a complete treat to be able to cook with it.  Malaysia is interesting in its food history with a local cuisine of Nyonya  – a blend of Chinese and Malay style cooking that originated over 400 years ago with marriages between Chinese and Malays.   Nyonya cooking varies within Malaysia with Penang Nyonya having a more Thai influence than further south.  Nyonya cooking features a unique blend of ingredients such as prawn paste, lime, tamarind, fragrant spices and often leaves for wrapping.  It lacks the heat and salty components of Thai.
Our King’ Kitchen Klub cooking class is composed of 3 Nyonya dishes  including Otak-Otak, a fragrant fish cake wrapped and cooked in a banana leaf.   By the end of the class I am reminded of my need to grow betel leaves for serving canapés and banana palms for wrapping and steaming parcels.

Early evening I literally cross the road from the Westin to Pavillion for a spot of international shopping.  Pavillion is enormous and much of it  is for the well heeled with famous designer labels and hefty price tags although there are also the London style chain stores and even a few NZ stores. 

Evening drinks at the very stylish rooftop pool bar – Luna Bar are a must.  The crowd is cool, the cocktails and bar snacks perfect and the view of the twin towers and out across KL city are outstanding.  I guess the large pool  that centres the bar is safe as with expensive drinks we are unlikely to be losing our balance.

The next morning armed with the running map card from hotel reception I go for jog to see the towers by daylight and watch the city come to life.  Traffic congestion is an issue and I am relieved once in the peace of the botanical gardens at the foot of the towers.  There is a smart path for walkers/joggers and definitely a park that is completely safe.

From KL it is a quick flight around Malaysia and also to southern Thailand,  we are less than an hour to  Penang  and make our way to popular Batu Ferringhi Beach and the Hard Rock Hotel. We arrive to a postcard perfect day at Penang and while the sea is on our doorstep most swimmers  seem to use the pools of the resorts – we have the added luxury of water access direct from our rooms.  The Hard Rock Penang is styled with the memorabilia made famous by Hard Rock’s around the globe.  The food has something for everyone with a pizzeria, Hard Rock Café often American styled food or you can head into Stars diner and enjoy more local fare such as satays, nasi goreng and laksa.  Definitely a great place for families and my kids would love it.

Our days in Penang are spent exploring the city of Georgetown where centuries of Indian, Chinese and Malay culture combined with remnants of British colonialism make this an absorbing place to visit.

A morning in little India is followed by a delicious lunch of curries served on banana leaf.  I find out too late  that Indian custom is to top up whatever you have eaten and I find myself adjusting buttons as we leave.    The entire meal with Tiger beer was a mere $10NZ – a reflection on the affordibility of Penang.

My big food highlight has to be Hot Wok where Kelvin chef/owner presents Nyonya food at its best.  The fried chicken in green mango salad is a flavour sensation and the tamarind prawns have already been recreated in my own kitchen.  Sago the nursery pudding of our childhood, came to life with palm sugar and pandanus leaves although I have find it just as lovely with vanilla and palm sugar.

Guerney Plaza at Penang offers great shopping –  probably similar to a Westfield shopping centre here but cheaper.

Despite your view on handbag copies and pirated DVDS  the night time hawkers Markets in both KL and Penang are well worth a visit.  DVD’s sell at around $1.50 – although the most recent releases could potentially be filmed from within the cinema…..
Handbags, wallets and watches all with their French insignia are varied in quality.  Some are probably leather whereas others feel like a brush with a naked flame could lead to instant disaster.

Our week, like all holidays, goes by too quickly but it has been great and incredibly affordable.

Malaysia Airlines fly direct from Auckland to KL and stepping off a flight at 9pm (1am NZ time) local time in Kuala Lumpur after leaving Auckland at 2pm is probably as good as you can ever get.



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