Bananas of the world: Unite!

A popular Malaysian experience, banana leaf is probably one of the most eco friendly cuisines on the planet.

1. No plates as all food is served on a banana leaf. Banana leafs are obviously biodegradable and abundant because they grow on the plants that produce our bananas.

2. Traditional banana leaf cuisine is vegetarian. You can top up by adding chicken or mutton or fish but no need as the original offerings are delicious and satisfying. As I always say I could totally be a vegetarian if I were Indian.

3. No utensils needed equals no washing up. Well you will need to wash your hands but spoons and forks are optional (as with most Malaysian cuisine). I generally use a spoon as I find it hard to ball up my rice with my fingers and it does appear to be a skill honed over years of experience.

Banana leaf cuisine, also known as Chettinad or Southern Indian cuisine, is a result of the Indian migration to Malaysia and Singapore. The original offering is vegetarian only and begins with a pile of rice being scooped onto your leaf. They then add some vegetables prepared in different ways. At our favorite establishment, Nirwana in Bangsar, Jalan Telawi 3 (across from Bangsar Village 2) they offer cucumber salad prepared with yogurt, curried dahl, steamed greens or steamed cabbage, fried bitter gourd (this is insanely delicious and worth the trip to Nirwana all on it’s own), and a trio of curry sauces to wet your rice. Our whole family loves it as the boys consume basket upon basket of papadam and their special fried rice (not available on weekends).

Your plate

Your plate

Nom Nom Yum Yum. Selfie? But first let me eat this rice.

Nom Nom Yum Yum. Selfie? But first let me eat this rice.

Left to right, Cucumbers, steamed greens, and fried bitter gourd

Left to right, Cucumbers, steamed greens, and fried bitter gourd

Ok so this time I added some chicken tikka masala. Protein for the wee one in my tummy. Far right is pickled chilis to add that just right touch of spiciness.

Confession time: Ok so this time I added some chicken tikka masala. Protein for the wee one in my tummy. Far right is pickled chilis to add that just-right-touch of spiciness.

Five Boys, Two Moms…

I know we’re a sight. You can see people doing the math in their heads. It’s not hard to count to five but there’s just something about numbers of small children greater than two that make one feel like they are standing in a herd. It’s probably also the disbelief. “No that can’t be right. Let me count again!”

7 people on their way to mamak. 2 female adults and 5 boys trekking the MOST hazardous 800 meters of Jalan Tun Razak. Honestly you would have thought we were journeying to Middle Earth. Pint-sized Hobbits aged 6, 4, 4, 3 and 2 meandered along as we traversed many an obstacle. We encountered an endless array of grates, a double two-lane highway crossing, sidewalks under construction, entrances to buildings, gas stations, and parking garages, etc.
Did I mention everyone is walking?

We don’t need strollers. We don’t need baby carriers. We’re concrete jungle warriors. A speeding lorry may garner about as much attention as a blink; a weaving sidewalk hogging motorbike a head nod. What would have taken a normal able bodied adult took us twice as long. Not because the stunted legs couldn’t power along but because some members of our crew had the sheer focus of an unchoreographed interpretive dance. Grates needed inspecting (there were no less than 15 of those). Chain links needed petting. Curbs begged to be jumped – with about as much warm up as bravado. But the dance, as frustrating as it was to the adults involved, was a riot for passing pedestrians to witness. People smiled and laughed. Some reached out to ruffle a small head of blonde hair. Others counted with outstretched index fingers (Wait! I lost count).

When we finally made it to our destination, NZ Curry House in the basement of the G Tower, the staring, awed smiles doubled as we were clearly the entertainment of the day for the otherwise bored office workers.

We persuaded our brood to behave by giving them this speech:

“Guys. You see all these people sitting around us. They are looking at us and they are saying, ‘that’s a lot of kids, a lot of active boys, and not a lot of adults. I wonder how they will behave?’ Let’s impress these people! Deal?” (Handshakes of affirmation all around.)

“Oh and you can have ice cream if you’re good.”

Ha! Even we’re human.

P.S. – The live entertainment continued as the smallest among us proceeded to spin in a circle while eating an ice cream cone. This obviously left him staggering like an inebriated miniature hobo as cackling from our neighboring table could be heard. The moms were not much better! I look at my fellow mom and exclaim, “Seriously sometimes I feel like we own little drunk monkeys.”

Take it to the streets!

After living nearly five years in Malaysia Steve and I have safely concluded that the closer you get to the streets, the better the food gets. You can be fancy and opt for a highfaluting hotel restaurant experience and walk out with that “Meh” feeling and feeling like your pockets were assaulted, or you can rub elbows with rodents and other fine critters of the gutter and walk away highly satisfied having fed three people for all of 15RM (about $4.50). Tonight’s dinner was no exception.

My homeschooling friends (I.e. nearly Sister Wives) wanted to take me out for my birthday but allowed me to pick the location. Keeping it classy, the way I always like to do, I opted for one of my favorite haunts, the parking lot of the Honda dealership on Jalan Imbi (Jalan is Malay for road). At night the empty parking lot turns into a ramshackle hawker center where culinary smells mix with the exhaust of diesel-fueled generators. It’s pretty awesome.

Julie was no stranger to this mini culinary festival but Heidi hadn’t yet been (though she is no novice adventure eater). The tables are plastic folding tables that can barely sustain the weight of a napkin and the seating is plastic as well, but the Char Kuey Tow (Penang style fried noodles) here is delightful. My usual guy wasn’t there tonight but since we walked the distance from our apartment to Imbi, I wasn’t going to go away hungry. I settled for his competitor. In my opinion there are three foods that even when bad aren’t THAT bad: char kuey teow, nasi lemak and pizza. This char kuey tow was yum and I finally tried veggie yong tau foo at Julie’s urging. Yong tau food is veggies stuffed with a fish and pork cake and served with a side of sweet soya and chili sauce. Honestly, you really can’t go wrong with that either.

See below for some pics of our culinary adventure…Street style.

The people gotta eat!

The people gotta eat!

The char kuey tow. Katie, Cindy, Mo and Jess, you know what I'm talking about here!

The char kuey tow. Katie, Cindy, Mo and Jess, you know what I’m talking about here!

How could I ever leave this place? My tastebuds no longer do boring!

How could I ever leave this place? My tastebuds no longer do boring!

Chili pepper and eggplant yong tau foo.

Chili pepper and eggplant yong tau foo.

Best takeaway beverage container in the history of ever! Plus you just strap the string around your wrist and you can basically do anything with your beverage. Like drive a motorbike!

Best takeaway beverage container in the history of ever! Plus you just strap the string around your wrist and you can basically do anything with your beverage. Like drive a motorbike!

Fresh juice of any kind.

Fresh juice of any kind.

Still working for a living. Melts my heart.

Still working for a living. Melts my heart.

I wasn't kidding. It's a parking lot. For the Honda dealership.

I wasn’t kidding. It’s a parking lot. For the Honda dealership.

The competition's kuey teow

The competition’s kuey teow

Refreshing fresh young coconut

Refreshing fresh young coconut

Where do you get your food?

Whenever I go home the number one question people ask when they’ve just met me and find out I live overseas is, “What are the supermarkets like? Or do you shop in open air markets?”

Here goes a photo editorial of one of my favorite supermarkets. I’m die hard loyal to my people at Hock Choon. They were one of the first supermarkets I visited in KL. The staff is a bunch of delightful Nepalese guys who run the stocking and cash registers and a crew of grumpy Chinese aunties who manage the mart. I like them because they consistently stock the same stuff (a frustrating reality of imported products in Asia). But my absolute favorite bit is that they allow you to pay your pork purchases at the front register and not in some cordoned off cubby hole that hails back to the leprous “Adult” video section of your creepy local video rental place.

Pasaraya Hock Choon

The glorious…The wondrous…The Chooner (my friend Kyla nicknamed it that…It stuck!)

The entrance to the Chooner.

The entrance to the Chooner.

The teeny tiny Hock Choon shopping cart. I often end up using two. And my ever useful reusable shopping bags..."Ayam not a plastic bag!" Hilarious (Ayam is Bahasa Malay for chicken. Please tell me you get it?)

The teeny tiny Hock Choon shopping cart. I often end up using two. And my ever useful reusable shopping bags…”Ayam not a plastic bag!” Hilarious (Ayam is Bahasa Malay for chicken. Please tell me you get it?)

That will be another post in and of itself. No really. There are some interesting shops up there!

That will be another post in and of itself. No really. There ARE some interesting shops up there!

The widest of the aisles. This is certainly the only aisle that fits to carts side by side. From here on out the customers are forced to play Frogger.

The widest of the aisles. This is certainly the only aisle that fits two carts side by side. From here on out the customers are forced to play Frogger.

British much?

British much?

American much?

American much?

They don't need refrigeration because the outer protective layer is not stripped off in a chemical wash like is done in the U.S. America...Stop washing your eggs!

They don’t need refrigeration because the outer protective layer is not stripped off in a chemical wash like is done in the U.S. America…Stop washing your eggs!

But if you want that refrigerated egg thing you're welcome to rely on the Korean technology of the Safe Egg. I'm assuming they are "pasteurized" as they do in the U.S.

But if you want that refrigerated egg thing you’re welcome to rely on the Korean technology of the Safe Egg. I’m assuming they are “pasteurized” as they do in the U.S.

Some high tech shelving systems are employed here. I think it's charming.

Some high tech shelving systems are employed here. I think it’s charming.

Queso, fromage, cheese!

Queso, fromage, cheese!

I haven't yet tried it but I hear it's yummy!

I haven’t yet tried it but I hear it’s yummy!

Can I get you a drink? Or some ice cream?

Can I get you a drink? Or some ice cream?

Frozen veggies and frozen halal meats.

Frozen veggies and frozen halal meats.

You have been warned. This is not for you if you don't get down with swine!

You have been warned. This is not for you if you don’t get down with swine!

The pork section...And you can special request from Mr. Wong the butcher pretty much any cut of meat you desire.

The pork section…And you can special request from Mr. Wong the butcher pretty much any cut of meat you desire.

Japanese and Korean goods to be found here.

Japanese and Korean goods to be found here.

Have fun getting your cart down this aisle. And don't you dare have a toddler in that thing. An avalanche awaits you otherwise.

Have fun getting your cart down this aisle. And don’t you dare have a toddler in that thing. An avalanche awaits you otherwise.

My Nepalese dudes. They are so sweet! They unpack your cart, bag your groceries, and take them to your car. My boy on the right has been my favorite since we arrived 4.5 years ago. He has a nephew and was married to his 18 year old bride (he's 23) during his last home leave. She is not here with him so Skype and Facebook will have to do for now.

My Nepalese dudes. They are so sweet! They unpack your cart, bag your groceries, and take them to your car. My boy on the right has been my favorite since we arrived 4.5 years ago. He has a nephew and was married to his 18 year old bride (he’s 23) during his last home leave. She is not here with him so Skype and Facebook will have to do for now.

Oh wait! I forgot to mention. I don’t buy my produce at Hock Choon. When we arrived in KL Hock Choon was a family owned business (now owned by Jaya Grocer) and they didn’t have a produce section. Instead you went to the other family business next door. See that! People once did work together to make a living. Well, even though Hock Choon is now well stocked with produce, I still take my business next door. They still have some of the freshest produce at J &Y so I will keep my business there!

Fruits

Fruits

It's a compact fresh little place!

It’s a compact fresh little place!

Either local or imported, strawberries are Enzo's favorite fruit!

Either local or imported, strawberries are Enzo’s favorite fruit!

These little nuances are what I love about non-commercial establishments. When's the last time you saw raisins on the vine. That's right. Never!

These little nuances are what I love about non-commercial establishments. When’s the last time you saw raisins on the vine. That’s right. Never!

Here starts the vegetable section.

Here starts the vegetable section.

Nice to have this option if you really want it.

Nice to have this option if you really want it.

Potatoes and onions and garlic galore.

Potatoes and onions and garlic galore.

And since you're tired from all the shopping, don't bother cooking what you bought. Take a little nasi lemak love packet to go! (Nasi lemak is the national rice dish)

And since you’re tired from all the shopping, don’t bother cooking what you bought. Take a little nasi lemak love packet to go! (Nasi lemak is the national rice dish)