My Asia: My Kuala Lumpur with Adrianna Tan of Pen to Pixel

I am so delighted to welcome Adrianna Tan, writer, traveller, and businesswoman to notabilia! We met over Twitter, of course, and I had the pleasure of sharing a plate of bhel puri and pav bhaji with her at one of our favorite Singapore restaurants the other night.

In her own words: “You may know me as Popagandhi.com or skinnylatte. I am a young Singaporean who currently lives between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

“I graduated from Singapore Management University in 2008 with a degree in political science. I am now, for lack of a better word, an entrepreneur. I really hate that word. I am also, and I also dislike this phrase, ‘location independent.’ Nomadic upstart is a better description, but you won’t find that in my LinkedIn profile.

“I run Pen to Pixel, a studio that makes Facebook and iPhone games and apps. In a previous life, I was a writer. I still continue to write, but selectively so.

“I drink too much coffee for my own good.”

Her latest blog, AdriannaTan.com, is her new home for all writing about business, tech, entrepreneurship, the tech business, and the startups she’s trying to run.

Over to Adrianna…

Must-eats

I find it very difficult to select just a handful of places to eat at as there are far too many. If I had to choose ones based on proximity to the city centre (since KL is very hard to get around in, even with public transport), they would be these:

Sate Zainah Ismail. People have their own favourites, but this is my favourite satay in KL. No need to go way out to Kajang (erstwhile “satay capital”) for satay. Also wins points for having friendly owners and being walking distance from Damai LRT.

Sabar Restaurant. Excellent Yemeni restaurant. Having spent some time in the Gulf and the Levant, I really miss good Middle Eastern restaurants. I find the ones in Singapore, even those on Arab Street and the high-end Lebanese places, to be unsatisfying. This is my favourite Middle Eastern restaurant in KL (and there are tons, since there are lots of Middle Eastern students here). It’s very cheap and very good. Try the lamb mandy or kabsah. The dips and starters, such as the fasoolya, come with regular pita-style bread or homemade mountain bread.

Shin Kee Beef Noodles. Beef noodles as you’ve never had them. Right in the heart of the city, on the edge of Chinatown (across Pasar Seni), Shin Kee specializes in dry noodles with an incredible try-it-to-believe-it beef mince sauce. Order the dry beef noodles with yellow noodles or kway teow and a side of clear beef soup with all the beef parts you want (beef slices, beef balls, tripe, or everything) to go with it. It’s my perfect KL meal. (Closed Wednesdays.)

When I want a great cup of honest-to-goodness teh tarik, I head into town. It’s a bit hard to get to or find, but somewhere by a river in town, there is a great little place called Mansion Tea Stall/Restoran Noor that has good tea. It also does this thing called roti banjir (flooded bread) which is essentially roti swimming in tasty fish curry with soft-boiled eggs poured onto it.

When all else fails, Wong Ah Wah is a good city option. You can’t go wrong with the famous chicken wings and the Chinese stir-fry dishes are not bad either.

If you’re in KL and you haven’t had a Ramly burger, you have not been to KL properly. No better place to get it than at Om Burger, which is outside a 7-Eleven—all the good Ramly stalls are outside 7-Elevens, strangely enough—in an area right next to the International School Kuala Lumpur in Ampang.

For South Indian food, I like Chat Masala (vegetarian) and Vishal’s (Chettinad food) in Brickfields, one of the  “little Indias” in KL. I like the vegetarian mutton biryani at Chat Masala. The banana leaf at Vishal’s is good. (Choose the biryani or white rice and add any of the many varieties of fried fish, crab, rasam. Try everything there, really.)

I want to sneak in two places that are going to be pretty much impossible to get to without a car. The first one is 45 min to 1 hour away by car, but anybody who loves bak kut teh has to go to Klang, which is famous pretty much for its pork, bak kut teh, and crabs. If you’re as crazy about bak kut teh (pork ribs soup) as I am, you will appreciate the vast nothing-ness of this place; it has zero tourist value. Try Seng Huat Bak Kut Teh (known to locals as “the bak kut teh under the bridge”) and Teluk Pulai (Pottery) Bak Kut Teh. If you speak Hokkien, ask anybody in town. Bak kut teh is religion here, which is also why I love it so much.

The second place is Restoran Siu Siu. It’s not as hard to get to as Klang, as it’s just a little outside the city, but you will have to cab it there and call for a cab when you’re done. It feels a world away, located in what’s pretty much a secondary forest. The food’s great, too, especially the salted egg yolk crab and claypot crab rice.

Lastly—and I may be accused of bias here since my friends run this place—get The Last Polka‘s lovely ice cream at Marmalade at Bangsar Village II or any of the fine outlets listed here. The seasonal durian and the new salted gula melaka ice cream are both must-try flavours, as is the Guinness and Nutella.

Must-shops

You could do the mall thing and go to Pavilion, 1Utama, the Curve, etc., but as I detest shopping I never do that sort of thing. I find my retail therapy in other ways.

I like Czip Lee and Czip Lee Plus in Bangsar for the awesome stationery shop that it is. The latter is a newer shop that also sells all kinds of notebooks and accessories. Nearby, Silverfish Books stocks Malaysian books in all languages; its English selection is excellent and you can buy books from local writers across many topics.

Just for laughs, I think the Ramly Halal Mart/megastore is quite funny. There are five shops around the Klang Valley, mostly in inaccessible areas, but you can get anything you need to set up a Ramly burger cart here: burger patties, giant tanks of mayo, caps, umbrellas, carts even.

If you’re into bicycles, check out Grafa Design.

Many travellers who are into ethnic crafts will find the shops at Pasar Seni (Central Market) quite interesting.

Must-dos

The Islamic Arts Museum is cool. I find it to be one of the better museums in KL; the rest are sort of falling apart.

Go on a DIY historic walking tour around Chinatown, the Pudu, and the old railway station areas; it will give you a good introduction to the old charms of the city. There are some good walking tour books available for those who want more insights into the city’s history and architecture.

If you have time and money, you must definitely attend a cooking class/retreat at Rohani Jelani’s wonderful Bayan Indah, where you can stay at her beautiful guesthouse and learn how to cook. There are many different themes and lessons available and it’s a great experience to be outside the crazy city, nestled in greenery, being fed, and tasked with making good food.

Must-arts

KL’s performance scene is quite active. Use StageKL as a guide to shows.

The local stand-up comedy, when it happens, is raucous and funny. Expect jokes and political commentary to be delivered in more than four local languages and dialects. You can expect these shows to be held at PJ Live Arts or Publika.

In terms of art, the usual suspects for shows are Annexe, Weiling Gallery, and Valentine Willy Fine Art.

A great place to drink and listen to good music in town is No Black Tie, a swanky place with good musicians pretty much every night.

o o o o o

Need directions? Adrianna provided notabilia with a map of her must-eats.

Know a creative person who wants to share his or her must-stop spots with my readers? Please email all suggestions to me with the subject line ‘My Asia.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Adrianna Tan.)

5 responses

  1. I visited Singapore and Kuala Lumpur on a back-to-back trip and found it very easy to distinguish the two cities, but so hard to pick a favorite. Great insights Adrianna! You’ve made me want to re-visit.