I have a feast fit for a medieval king laid out in front of me. On a large sheet of banana leaf is a mount of lamb curry surrounded by scoops-ful of pickled beans, curried lentils and marinated stalks of vegetable, completed with a helping of steaming fragrant basmati rice.
Just one problem. There was no cutleries in sight.
“Dig in!” announced Charles, our young, good looking and super enthusiastic guide from Food Tours Malaysia. We immediately got to work.
They say it’s more fun to eat with your hands, however I struggled with the shovel motion as I copied my peers trying to get the rice into my mouth, only getting a few grains at a time, while still looking elegant and graceful like the others around me.
“Don’t you ever with your hands?” asked Nema next to me, who expertly rolled the contents on the banana leaf into a ball and elegantly slid the mixture into her mouth. Nema was from East Malaysia and had also wanted to experience a bit of her country’s capital from a culinary point of view.
“Not since kindergarten,” I replied, dropping a string of beans on my shirt. “And even then, I got in trouble for it!”
I enquire whether the food scene is different over at her home town of Sandakan in Sabah.
“Mmm…” She nodded enthusiastically, “you will find very different cuisines in different areas of Malaysia, but in Kuala Lumpur, you get a bit of everything!”
We did get a bit of everything. We have been following Charles through the food trails of Kuala Lumpur, snaking between narrow alley ways, past the bustling but and getting our hands dirty with sweet, sticky Indian donuts, thick fragrant curry sauces and simple but delicious Chinese noodles. The tour introduced us to the backstreet culture from Little India Brickfields where bright pastel coloured pillars and piles of stringed up Marigolds lined the streets to the crowded, rowdy and chaotic scene at Petaling Street of Chinatown.
Amid the differences, the centre of everyone’s activities seem to be around food, and in a city where multi-culturalism is the heart and soul of its nationality, a food tour was the perfect way to reach into the true authentic lives of the locals.
We end our day with a sunset cocktail on the roof at Helipad, a hip establishment representative of modern Malaysia. I asked Charles what it is like being a food tour guide.
“It’s hard work!” He faked a grimace, then brightened his face up with a broad smile. “Honestly though, I get paid to walk around one of the best cities in Asia eating delicious food all day, I can genuinely say I love my job.”