The red lanterns above us sway in the slight breeze. Sweat trickles down our backs, and our faces are flushed in the heat. The air is redolent with the smell of barbecued meats. There are a variety of food stalls jostling for space on either side of the narrow street. Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur, is no different from Chinatowns all over the world.
The stall in front of us displays a variety of uncooked chunks on skewers ready to be picked and barbecued as per preference. “2.50 Ringgit”, the stall owner informs my husband, who is eyeing the satays with enthusiasm. My daughters shrink back, and I steer him away towards a poster of a restaurant claiming to serve the best Malay food in Chinatown.
Jalan Petaling, the adjacent street, is even more crowded. Stalls of fake scarves, bags, shoes and assorted sundries spill over into the streets. Louis Vuitton competes with Chanel, while Burberry muscles in on Mulberry. I am exhorted to buy with cries of “Lady…lady….pretty bag….” We weave our way through, side stepping other tourists who display more interest in the wares.My eyes are searching for the restaurant that will hopefully deliver on its promise. Espying it, we enter its cool environs and sit ourselves down in front of the fan, that swings lazily from side to side.
Alas! There is no satay on offer. Instead we choose Nasi Lemak for ourselves, and Nasi Goreng for the girls. The coconut flavoured rice arrives with its side of anchovies, cucumber and boiled egg, deep fried chicken and a hot chilli paste known as sambal. The girls make short work of their fried rice, while we savour the the exotic favours of the meal popularly referred to as Malaysia’s national dish.
The next day we once again set out on our search. The small shopping mall across from the LRT station has many local eateries, but no satay on its menus. This is proving to be Mission Impossible.
Later, we examine the menus of all the Malay sounding restaurants in Suria KLCC,the mall beneath the Petronas Towers, fruitlessly searching for the satay that has now elevated itself from a craving to an obsession. At one, we beckon a waiter over, and ask him where this elusive satay can be found. Something of our frustration conveys itself to him, and kindly, he signals to the centre. What I take to mean, ‘Middle One’, actually turns out to be ‘Madam Kwan’.
Impatiently we wait for our order to arrive. When it does, it more than ticks all the boxes. Six skewers of beef and chicken satay are accompanied by chopped cucumbers, onions and rice cake . There is a large bowl of peanut sauce, that we generously apply onto our satays. Each piece is steaming hot and succulent. We tuck into our satays with relish, and my husband declares them to be the best he’s ever tasted. Similarly replete, we nod in fervent complicity.
Appetite satiated, we wander out.