Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia

On the road with Patrick Stuart

Our resident food and wine writer Patrick Stuart is currently on a whistlestop business trip around Asia taking in six countries in less than three weeks. Patrick’s usual recipe of the week is being replaced by posts on the food and cooking of these exotic lands

The last few days of my Asia trip found me back in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and, on my final night, I was joined by two friends who live in KL for a street food nosh up on the city’s famous Jalan Alor.

Located just a few hundred metres from the glistening shopping malls of Bukit Bintang, the contrast is something of an assault on the senses. Makeshift hawker stalls and restaurants spill out onto the road and the first to grab our attention are the durian vendors; they say it smells like hell and tastes like heaven but more of that later.

Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s official foodie street
Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s official foodie street

We moved on to my friend Charlie’s favourite spot where the speciality is stingray, grilled and doused in a spicy sambal.

The neighbouring restaurants and vendors all seem to work together and the done thing is to order a few dishes from each, washed down with plenty of Tiger Beer.

We ate pepper crab, prawns wrapped in the finest noodles and deep fried, spicy snails, some steamed vegetables, honey glazed chicken wings and the star dish, that delicious grilled stingray.

The fact that after so many trips to Asia over the years I had still never dared to try durian was playing on mind. I had read chef Anthony Bourdain’s original description of it, which went something like “wrap a wheel of stilton in the arms of a dead man, bury him for a few months then dig him up, the smell will be something like durian”.

But Bourdain later learned to love this fruit which is banned on public transport, in hotel rooms and on airlines all over Asia.

Pepper crab
Pepper crab

We shared a whole fruit between the three of us (two sections each) and once I got past the initial repulsion of the odour and put my taste buds into stinky cheese mode, it was not entirely unpleasant. In fact, I found the aftertaste quite agreeable. But what my friends had not warned me of were the after-effects, especially after drinking beer.

The flesh of the durian seems to fester and somehow ferments in the stomach, with results that mean this is a treat best enjoyed when sleeping alone!

Durian – they say it smells like hell and tastes like heaven
Durian – they say it smells like hell and tastes like heaven