This post is part of the I LOVE KL series which I’ve recently started and aims to showcase a tapestry of personal stories weaved in together with the love for our home city. I am also looking at collaborating with guest writers who loves their food as much as their city in the future. Email me if you would like to share your story at mailto:email@example.com
Calvin: How come old photographs are black & white? Didn’t they have color films back then?
Dad: Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs are in color. It’s just the world was black & white then.
When I was younger, the only comic I could relate to was Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes. I could empathize with the kid who’s imagination was bigger than his vocabulary (or even mine at that time). I know exactly how the world was a complicated place for a six year old stuck with a dad who often gives outrageous explanations when asked a straight question. My own dad (not Ah Pa) was no different. I’m not calling him a liar on my very first real mention of him on this blog, but dad had the tendency of making facts up when he didn’t know the answer. He’ll never admit that he doesn’t know, even when proven wrong. It’s probably hardwired in his head that its a sign of fragility if he admits it. Either that or I didn’t get his sense of humour.
Of course, I was gullible enough to belief everything he said back then. He is after all my dad, who’s lived much longer than I have.
6-year-old Me: Why is this place called Brickfields?
Dad: It’s the only place in the entire city where every building is built using bricks.
6-year-old Me: Then what’s the rest of the city made of?
Dad: Mud. It’s called Kuala Lumpur for a reason.
Honestly, I’ve learned a lot from my dad. I’ve learned how I need to sometimes take his words with a pinch of salt. I’ve learned how to open my eyes, observe things for myself and form my own conclusions, especially when he starts to share his own bizarre takes on things. I’ve also learned on my own accord that Brickfields has gotten its name from its brick-making days as the whole area was a clay pit and good quality bricks are made of clay. The area was established and developed by Yap Kwan Seng, the fifth and last Kapitan Cina of Kuala Lumpur, who foresaw an increase demand of bricks for the fast-growing city.
These days the only trade involving bricks are the ones made of ice. Huge frozen blocks are cut and separated by the hands of a solidarity figure under the sweltering heat. I don’t know how the guy do this on a day-to-day basis. My new Threadless t-shirt (ironically features a graphic of an Eskimo planting popsicles in his snowy yard) was soaking in sweat as I stood there watching him cut each of these bricks into 8 smaller ones and transferring them onto his motorcycle which he’ll then distributes to the eateries around the area. I now have so much more respect for ice in my teh ais (iced milk tea).
Dad often refers to Brickfields as “Little India“. He may not be wrong judging how this is an enclave containing a large community of Indian people, and in many aspects, larger than that of the city’s official Little India in Jalan Tengku Kelana. In fact, this neighbourhood houses one of KL’s foremost Ceylonese Tamil temples. The photogenic Sri Kandaswamy Kovil, sits between the closed end of the present Jalan Scott and the muddy Klang River. It was built in 1906 by the growing Sri Lankan Tamil community who left their homes in hopes of finding work on the new railways being built by the British. These devout Saivites believed that, “no one should live in a place that has no temple.”
With them, these migrants also brought along a myriad of Indian cuisines, of which is now Brickfield’s most alluring trait. One can find any sort of food from all parts of India right here. Being the most popular of which is the Banana Leaf Rice. If you’re up for that, there’s no better place to have it than at Vishal Food & Catering, which is located down the street from Sri Kandaswamy Kovil temple.
Vishal has been around for about 5-years now, prides itself in serving authentic Chettinad cuisine. This southern Indian cuisine is best describe as India’s spiciest yet most aromatic due to the variety of spices used in the preparation of mainly non-vegetarian dishes. However, Chettiars do not consume pork or beef. They started off as a little canteen with long rectangular tables that were lined up in rows along the length of the room with seats facing each other. Operating right above its current ground floor premises, they served lunch to the workers of their own printing factory. Nowadays, the mess hall is much bigger as they serve a larger clientele who makes a beeline for their wonderful food. Try to make it here early to avoid the crowd.
The one thing I like most about having banana leaf rice is the riot of colours that comes with it. First comes the green leaf, then *plop* comes the bright yellow and mushy vegetables, another *plop* and you’ll get a mountainous scoop of white rice. Wait a little while for the petite waiter to return with silver reflective buckets and watch carefully as he floods your rice with a shower of golden d’haal and amber curry. Top that all with a succulent and fragrant piece of bright red fried fish cutlet and some papadom. If that’s not a visual feast, I don’t know what is.
Also try to order some side dishes to accompany your meal. We managed to try some exotic Minced Shark Meat (now, don’t look at me like I killed it), which frankly could have been any other meat floss cooked with onions, turmeric and a variety of other spices. Heck, it could be an omelette and still taste the same to us. On the other end of the scale we were most impressed with the Dry Mutton Curry, their weekend specialty, which was absolutely gorgeous. Another thing they are good at is the Rasam – a sourish soup traditionally prepared with tamarind juice, lentils and vegetable. So, do grab one of them stainless steel cups when the waiters make their rounds with their silver platters.
Dad may not always know everything, but the things I know about Brickfields – especially on where to eat – were all from him. He has showed me where the best banana fritters are located and also where one can find great Chinese food in this unlikely area. He has also showed me one of the best Ais Kacang (local shaved ice dessert) stall in town, which serves the a mean Coconut ABC Special and Cendol right in front of the 7-Eleven. A perfect treat to cool your palate down after a fiery meal. I wonder if they get their ice from the iceman earlier. And thanks for the lessons, dad!
Ah Keong’s ABC Stall
(in front of 7-Eleven)
Jalan Padang Belia
Business Hours: Open from 10 am to 7 pm daily
Other post from the I LOVE KL series includes:
- Restaurant Hong Ngek, Jalan Tun HS Lee: How Could We Have Not Met?