Parking problems in downtown Kota Bharu, Malaysia. According to locals, this year the river was particularly high.
As a casual photographer, there are not to be many moments when I rue the decision not to carry around a full-sized tripod, despite the highest ISO setting on my camera being 400. But this was one of those moments.
Kampung Baru’s (poorly lit) Sunday Market runs from around 6pm on Saturday night until the very early hours of Sunday morning, with street food in the foreground and those illuminated bamboo shoot-like Petronas Towers looming large behind. Kampung Baru itself is a fascinating slice of urban Kuala Lumpur at any time of day, as it is resolutely gripping onto the style of village life that tends to be erased in the mall-ification of Asian urban centers; which is why it was established in the first place. Listed in 1900 by the British as a Malay Agricultural Settlement, Kampung Baru was protected to attract rural Malays into Kuala Lumpur by mirroring the rural surrounds.
Location: Kampung Baru is behind the Kampung Baru LRT station.
I know very little about tea, apart from what you learn by osmosis from your Anglo-Australian grandparents. I can make a decent cup of black tea but tend to regard it as a sort of beverage bycatch; something that fits well alongside pho or yum cha or fruitcake. I have no idea how it is grown, processed or traded in large quantities. I was in Tanah Rata in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands and this emboldened me to find out.
The general image of smiling, passive locals hand-picking tea that is planted by unscrupulous tea advertisers the world over is as wrong as it is Orientalist. Most of the tea in the Cameron Highlands is semi-mechanically harvested. Two people standing each side of the row of tea drag the above device across the new shoots, which slices and blows the fresh tea into a bag. Less accessible bushes on the mountain peaks and the depths of the ravines are still harvested by hand, but this represents an absolute minority of the total tea produced. In lowland plantations, a modified combine harvester drives over the top of the rows. The tea is allowed to resprout fresh tips that are then reharvested about every three weeks.
Once picked, the leaves are withered, crushed, torn and curled by machine then set aside to oxidise. The oxidation process is called “fermentation” for purely historical reasons as nothing ferments. The tea, now turned from green to black from oxidation, is dried, sorted, tasted and packed.
What does the visit of Chinese emissary Zhou Daguan to Angkor Wat in 1297, Khmer Rouge kidnappings and the recent landgrabbing of Okhna Ly Yong Phat in rural Sre Ambel, Cambodia have in common?
Cambodian pepper: which is how I tenuously link them all together in this month’s Chile Pepper magazine (US). With photos from Austin Bush it promises the best collaboration since Snoop Dogg recorded “Ain’t Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” with Dr Dre.
One of the great mysteries of eating in Penang is the economics of the hawker center. A group of vendors cluster around a kedai kopi, a cafe serving drinks and work almost independently of the cafe. Some pay rent, others are owned by the cafe, some seem to have agglomerated at a single point in an organic manner like a coral reef of wok burners accumulating on a restaurant atoll. The cafe often provides electricity and an awning to make monsoonal downpours tolerable for the vendors. Each cluster of vendors seems to be in competition, but there is value in assuring that the competing stalls all perform good business, thus attracting overflowing customers to your stall. The proper etiquette seems to be to order at the vendor at the front, then at least buy a single drink from the roaming waiter so that the kedai kopi owner gets their piece of the action.
Two hawker centres loom large. The Lorong Selamat center (above), with its reputation for serving the best char kway teow in Penang (and by inference, the world) and the ramshackle collection of hawkers on Swatow Lane (for ABC Special and Ice Kacang), just off Jalan Burma.
I’m apprehensive about the approach to anything as hyped and as personal as this char kway teow (above). I tend to place more value on the nubs of deep-fried pork fat, prawns and cockles that go into the dish (and the smoky wok hei flavour), than I value the core element: noodles. The noodles here are creamy and soak up charcoal smoke aplenty, a real lardy highlight. The only valid criticism is price. At RM7.50, the dish is roughly double the price of the average plate of char kway teow on Penang, a point that locals tend to debate and then eat on Lorong Selamat anyhow. It is too good not to eat there and the price serves as a talking point rather than deterrent.
We finished with a plate of lor bak, marinated lean pork wrapped in bean curd skin then deep-fried, served with a starchy bowl of broth thickened with egg and another bowl of chilli sauce. In this case, it was plated on top of an array of other deep fried delights and a local sausage.
After much tinkering over the New Year break, maps are go! See where I eat from space, as provided by Google. I’ll be updating posts with map coordinates where possible.