Potatoes, Mercato & Chinatown…
Since we got back from Thailand, things once again have settled into a slightly less-interesting ‘day-in, day-out’ routine, aside from a couple of interesting things like a festival we were at last week, planning our next trip in early December to (what looks like) the absolute tack-filled Genting Highlands – imagine a theme park and associated resort delicately perched atop a few-thousand foot high mountain peak, largely accessible only by cable car – and of course, the odd day out of Kuala Lumpur, or rather, seeing more of it. Last weekend, to celebrate Anna’s graduation that she’s obviously missing, we took ourselves off to the local German bierhaus (yep, there is one) and bought some expensive German food…that despite the price, was simply delicious. But of course, there’s only one way to finish off an evening of such epic proportions – with a trip to ‘Malone’s’ Irish bar for an overpriced pint, that finished off one of our best (and most delicious) nights here. Meanwhile, we got Friday off last week due to another cultural holiday, so needless to say, we took the liberty to make ourselves useful; the last few weeks, we’ve been shopping at a discount store not far from our house, but ever since Anna discovered a cockroach or two sampling some of the fruit, followed by a swarm of dead, refrigerated flies clinging tightly (despite being lifeless) to the packs of meat, we’ve been I suppose, more ‘embracing’ of the other local supermarkets. So the other day we packed ourselves off to the local ‘Mercato’ for a sneaky peek.
Now, when I was only in KL a couple of days and knew no better about the price of goods, I went into the Mercato myself and after getting over how much like Superquinn it is, I bought some bananas that I have no doubt were the most expensive bananas ever sold in Kuala Lumpur. Especially in a country where the climate would seem far more permissible for growing bananas locally in the first place, compared to Ireland. Anyway, we returned the other day for a look, especially since they seem to specialise much more in ‘fresh’ (anything, not necessarily fruit, or vegetables, or meat) than anywhere else.
As a sidenote, since I left the island of Ireland in late August, I have only once had potatoes – and they weren’t very much to my liking in terms of what potatoes are supposed to taste like back home – and as I say, the Mercato seemed to specialise in fresh, I’m sure you can see where this is going. As we continued round the aisles, the first thing I found that agreed with me (or my stomach, at least) was a whole roasted chicken sitting out begging to be taken home and devoured. Then Anna picked up a pack of frozen vegetables. And then there they were – bag upon bag of potatoes, some looking so muddy they could literally have been picked out of some field in Wexford, shoved in a bag and tossed into this supermarket in Malaysia. I couldn’t resist; we ended up buying a bag of them, taking them home, and I laboriously (and to be honest, lovingly) tended to them in the searing heat of our kitchen (which lacks air conditioning, so any heat such as cooking only adds to the temperature, making cooking quite often an excruciating exercise in how much misery one person can take), threw them on the plate, added as much of the chicken as I could that I hadn’t already eaten while cooking, some vegetables and proceeded to our TV room. The meal was probably the same cost roughly as the cost of us eating out, but for the sheer joy of eating something that was absolutely delicious and didn’t require sitting in a food court for a change of pace, every cent (or ‘sen’ of it, as the case may be) was more than worth it. And we still have at least half the bag of spuds left over, so I feel another roast chicken being carried out of Mercato with my pleasure at some point in the week.
Buoyed by the success of my recent culinary finds, we decided after the morning’s swim this morning then to go and try our luck with Kuala Lumpur’s very own Chinatown. In fact, we’ve passed it twice – the first time was when I was feeling a little the worse for wear after a night out, and we stopped in a McDonald’s very nearby for some food. The second time was after we’d come back from Thailand and our taxi driver very generously turned the journey into a mini-tour and drove us right through Chinatown, and in many ways that decided it that we’d have to go back and visit it properly during daylight hours, and not always be seeing it at 2am speeding past. So we packed our stuff, braced ourselves for the worst (or rather I did) and headed down past Swiss Garden on our way past that empty development – that’s seemingly been empty for donkey’s years – and on into Chinatown, conveniently passing the same McDonald’s mentioned earlier on the way. Now, my experiences with Chinatown’s so far haven’t always been exceedingly pleasant. The first time I was ever in a Chinatown of any sort was in Hong Kong, where it was packed, loud, and distinctly unpleasant. I did however during the experience manage to find time to haggle over a particularly tacky belt that came with an LED-sign embedded in the buckle, through which you could display messages such as ‘All Hail Andy Mac’ that would then scroll across your belt as you entered a nightclub, with everyone thinking you were THE MAN (in my mind at least anyway). In actual fact, most people I know back home who were privileged enough to see this belt, generally sneered and derided it as being one of the most awful things they’d ever seen someone pay money for. After that, I was in Chinatown in a couple of other Asian cities, along with markets in Beijing itself, all of which didn’t really do much for me – packed, tacky, and irritating.
So up we walked and there, for everyone to see, was the first sign of sheer tack – a giant LCD screen displaying some random news and facts from Kuala Lumpur. Chinatown here comes largely focused around a street called ‘Petaling Street’. Needless to say there’s various offshoots from it here and there, but for the most part it’s a lengthy street along which various traders peddle their wares. And at first, all was good, but as we progressed, the street got narrower and narrower, the stalls packed increasingly closer together and the street traders seemingly jumping up in numbers with each passing stall. As Anna commented, far from being an exhilarating experience, intimidating was more the word most people would probably use. More and more people selling sunglasses, handbags, watches, sunglasses, more sunglasses, more sunglasses – what the hell? And at one point I got held up by some ‘Westerners’ who probably considered they’d got the deal of the year and were toting a couple of brand new ‘designer’ suitcases behind them, holding everyone up in both directions as we struggled to get through the street faster than these particular visitors could manage, stopping periodically to wipe their brows of sweat.
So, will we back? Probably not – but I am glad I finally got to see the place after seeing it late at night all this time. And in hindsight, given the difficulty I’d later go on to have trying to get a lift in a shopping centre, Chinatown was a dream in comparison.