Food Court and Hawker Centres in Malaysia
Posted January 14, 2012on:
No matter where you are in Malaysia, there’s one thing you’ll notice about the people; Malaysians are fiercely passionate about what they eat and they eat all the time! From glitzy Bukit Bintang to the residential suburbs like Petaling Jaya to the kampung (village) areas, there is no shortage of food options. Restaurants, both Asian and Western themed, are quite prevalent in Kuala Lumpur nowadays but the food culture in Malaysia has humble beginnings.
In the olden days, when Malaysia was starting to become a melting pot, there were street hawkers selling their specialties to the locals trying to make a living. Not many people can afford to rent a shop in those days, you see. As time progresses, many individual hawkers were consolidated into hawker centres, enabling the locals to have a wider selection under one roof. But it still retains its unique characteristic, the fact that hawker stalls make what they know best, which happens to be their specialties. Food courts are kind of like hawkers centres. In fact, many times, Malaysians use that interchangeably. But to me, food courts are mostly air-conditioned and housed inside a shopping mall of some sort whereas hawker centres are open-air complexes.
In comparison to food courts in North America in malls, train stations, and airports, which tend to comprise outlets opened by major fast food chains, Malaysian hawker centres are made up of tens of individual proprietors who make their own specialties. They may sell similar food items in different food courts but the taste can vary quite a bit. So it’s not uncommon for Malaysians to travel a distance to their favourite food stalls to get their fix even though they could get some around the corner where they live.
Another great thing about hawker centres is that many hawkers really care about what they make. In North America which are accustomed to mass produced fast food, you could notice a sense of renaissance in the food culture with the emergence of organic and artisanal food. When people sell handmade artisanal products, north Americans go gaga. Many hawker food is as artisanal as you can get because many pride themselves with making their specialties from scratch with fresh ingredients. And they always have their special way of making their food, whether it’s the combination of spices or the cooking methods, that gives them a slight edge over their competitors.
Take SS2’s Wai Sek Kai (Hungry Street) hawker centre in Petaling Jaya for example; there are two rows of food stalls in the hawker centre, all selling their specialties from grilled seafood to mixed rice to beverages. Menu? What menu? You just go to the food stall and ask them what they are selling, order, take a seat anywhere in the hawker centre, and they’ll come find you. Pay them when you get your food and enjoy. There is no wait staff or napkins (tissue), so don’t expect exquisite service. What you can expect though is plenty of choices for great food for prices between RM2 – RM10.
I could hardly make up my mind after walking back and forth for 10 minutes. I had a fantastic plate of yau yee ong choy (blanched brown squid, kangkung, tangy sweet sauce, crushed peanuts, and a squirt of calamansi lime) while my partner had sotong bakar or grilled spicy white squid with green beans, and okra/lady’s fnger.
For drinks, there’s nothing better than a glass of fresh sugar cane juice but I settled for a bowl of deep sea coconut and longan. This type of Chinese style drink/dessert is called tong sui, which literally mean sugar water. They are boiled with the ingredients, water and sugar for a few hours and then serve in a bowl either hot or cold, depending one’s preference. Some people swear by its ability to cool down the “heat” in the body but for me, it’s a refreshing drink on a hot sunny day.
What great way to end the day by having a bowl of ice kacang (shaved ice, syrups, jellies, cendol, cincau, cream of corn, and red beans, peanuts) at the first stall. It’s sweet, creamy, and delicious and the uncle who’s selling this, packed the bowl real good with shaved ice. If we had to choose a national dessert, this is it! My partner didn’t care for the stuff at the bottom of the bowl as much but I think the entire combination is heavenly sweet.
With a strong tradition in street food, I was surprised to learn that the food court at Lot 10 shopping centre, called Lot 10 Hutong was established to celebrate the best of hawker food in the Kuala Lumpur area. These hawkers, which are scattered around the city, are famous and have a huge followings but now have stalls in this food court so that Malaysians can enjoy the best of the best in one location. Have I mentioned Malaysians travel far and wide to eat the best food in town? =)
I couldn’t resist a good bowl of mixed pork porridge or chee chap chuk (porridge with pork meat, liver and fried crunchy intestine garnish) served with a side of yau char kwai, which are fried crullers. Sounds gross I know but the intestines give texture and incredible flavour to the whole dish. My partner had the fish porridge while my cousin had a dish of crispy duck and BBQ pork with rice. However, my favourite would have to be the Kim Lian Kee’s KL style Hokkien Mee, which is to die for! It’s noodles in black sauce and tons of crunchy fried pork fat. As with any Malaysian dish, it’s served with a side of special chilli sauce; and in this case, belacan sambal and calamansi lime. It’s was crazy delicious!
If you’re in Malaysia next time, don’t miss out on the hawker stalls. They may not look upscale but in them lies their passion for food and years of tradition for the select few.
Lot 10 Hutong
Lot 10 Shopping Centre,
50 Jalan Sultan Ismail,
50250 Kuala Lumpur.
Tel: +603-2782 3840
Fax: +603-2145 9544
SS2 Wai Sek Kai Hawker Centre
Centre Court (bounded by Jalan SS2/60, 61, 62, 63)