A couple of months ago, we had planned to fly from Bangkok (Thailand) to Bangalore (India) – but the prices were way too expensive… so we checked for flights to Bangalore from Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia – home of cheapass airlines Air Asia), and they were something like a quarter of the price… so we took the decision to travel all the way down south to Malaysia instead. We were going to spend only 10 days there, and all I knew about this country was that it had great metal bands, killer fanzines, and that the official religion was Islam! That’s pretty much it!!
Research taught us that the country has in fact a population of 28 million people, including 54% Malay, 25% Chinese, 7.5% Indian and the rest being indigenous people and westerners, with the religions of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Shamanism. We read that the resulting mix makes a big melting pot of cultures and interesting food fusions – which we couldn’t wait to explore…
Our 8-hour train ride from Southern Thailand took us all the way to Butterworth, which is a city located in the Penang state of Malaysia. I had read that Penang holds the best street food of Malaysia, and that its capital, Georgetown, had a reputation of having the best stalls. We just had to take a ferry from Butterworth to reach Georgetown – and we were there, in food paradise!
Georgetown is very well known for its great culinary culture, but also for its calmness and the beauty of its streets and buildings. The historical centre has to be one of the nicest we have visited in South-East Asia – reminding us a bit of the city of Sucre, in Bolivia for its white colonial buildings (remains of the colonised by the British in 1786). In fact, the city has been classified Unesco world heritage since 2008. Everyone greeted us in English, giving us the hugest smiles we’ve seen (including street cleaners and city workers!!!) We were instantly taken in by its charm. Too bad we are only staying here for one full day!!
What we also enjoyed was how so many different cultures lived side by side in (what seems like) harmony. Here, you can walk in front of a mosque, a hindu temple and a Buddhist temple in 10 minutes. It’s just unreal! And the diversity of the food sold on the street was absolutely amazing. We had a food checklist and tried as many local dishes as we could.
I’m bursting… I’m bursting out!
Some people say that the only thing to do in Georgetown is walk and eat… but we found something much better. A old, rotting resting ground!!!! This 250-year-old protestant/catholic cemetery was absolutely creepy and we had fun exploring its 500+ tombs – some of which were broken and totally used up by the local vegetation…
The next day, we hopped on a 5-hour bus journey to reach the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.
“Have you eaten yet”?
I don’t know if it’s because of Hellbent for Cooking or what, but all of my metalhead friends in Kuala Lumpur kept on asking me that question. I guess it says alot about the local culture; people here live to eat. Minutes are counted between meals… it’s that important!
So, when we arrived to Kuala Lumpur, and I called my friend Iskandar (from the band ENVENOM), the first thing he asked me if we had eaten. We had, of course, but we were curious to know what he had in mind. It was Saturday night, and he took me on the Saturday night market called Lorong Tuanka Abdul Rahman. It’s a traditional Malay market that sells clothes, jewellery, fresh fruits and veggies and most importantly, hawker (street) food. I liked this market so much that I returned, a week later! The variety of food here was overwhelming, and I would have wanted to try everything!
I’m bursting… I’m bursting out!
And if that’s not enough, he then brought us record shopping (we also came back there with some friends, a week later hehe). Right next to the market is the Campbell Complex, a shopping center which has about 5 metal record shops on the 2nd floor. The stores were really cool and had some local CD’s, of totally obscure Malaysian rock and metal. Unfortunately, they also had quite a few bootlegs, and their vinyls were very expensive, but most stock was good!
Of course, after all this record shopping, we went eating again… haha! We ended up in an Mamak restaurant (Malaysian Indian), and had some Dal curry Roti Telur (pancake with egg, covered in lentil curry and served with chilli paste. Again, one of my favourite Malaysian meals! I ate this one quite a few times during the week.
The next day, we met up with Sen (ex-ANTACID vocalist, now in LOBOTOMY) and went out for some food (how surprising haha) and exploring. They took us to Restoran Sate Kajang, which is the most famous place to eat bbq’ed Satay skewers in Kuala Lumpur! They were absolutely wonderful, and you could dip them in a sweet and spicy peanut sauce. I stuffed my face with those babies. They were so good!
We then visited a mosque – (an Islamic place of worship). As a woman, they gave me a robe to hide my mini skirt, arms and hair. It was my first time in a mosque, and I found it very peaceful – although I found the architecture a bit too basic for my tastes. Perhaps it’s because it’s quite a recent one?
After visiting the mosque, we met up with even more friends – Ratna and Fizan. Ratna is half Indonesian, and she brought us to a fabulous Indonesian restaurant close to her workplace. I was expecting something quite small since we had already eaten meat skewers, but they actually filled the whole table up with dishes! I couldn’t believe my eyes!
The food was very nice – just enough spicy and very exotic tasting… but my favourite thing of them all was an avocado juice! They mix avocado with condensed milk and add some chocolate syrup. I never had avocado as something sweet, but it was to die for, seriously! I couldn’t say a word, it was just so, so sososososososo good! You guys have to try it out!
The next day, we went to an Islamic art museum, which is located right in the centre of town. I was always interested in Islamic art – especially calligraphy, and it was really cool to see some in real life! Although they had Islamic art from all over the world, they mostly focused on Asian Islamic stuff. Really fascinating. I totally recommend this museum, it was really well done! Here are some glimpses of it:
We also saw some cool weapons, including a magical kris dagger, which is used both as a talisman and a weapon. It had some cool engravings on it!
So, again, we had some yummy food after the museum. This time we had a thing called “claypot”… which is a burning hot pot filled with rice, meat and veggies!
And for dessert, one of my favourite Malay foods… CENDOL! Cendol is a weird dessert consisting of shaved ice, which you cover with coconut milk, palm sugar syrup, mung bean noodles, red beans, and other stuff like sweet corn, lychee, and even mango! It’s really really good. I had like 5 in a week!
In the evening, we met up with even more friends – guys from LOBOTOMY, and we went to their rehearsal. They play some kickass speed/nwobhm, and did the songs from their demo as well as a few covers (Metalucifer, Heavy Load, etc…) These guys are really great, and they are actually playing in Japan next month, at the “True Thrash Fest”, along with RAZOR, JURASSIC JADE and ABIGAIL. Support!!!
We went for a few “drinks” (usually, this implies eating and drinking juice hehe). Iwan ordered a weird thing called “syrup”, which actually looks like really cheap shampoo and tastes like bepto bismol! Not bad! It’s pink syrup mixed with condensed milk.
A few days later, we went to visit one of the only tourist attractions near Kuala Lumpur, the 400-million year-old Batu Caves, one of the most popular Hindu shrine outside of India. It is dedicated to Lord Murugan, and features a statue of him right at the entrance. You need to climb 272 steps in order to reach the shrine… which was actually not very hard.
The caves have a small colony of monkeys, who hang out around people. They get territorial when you approach them too close, but they were actually quite entertaining!
Coming down, we saw a killer sunset and a beautiful view of Kuala Lumpur in the very distance. The caves were really cool, and I think it was quite a good introduction to our next destination (India!)
The day before we left Malaysia, we got invited to Fizan’s brother’s wedding… and of course, we accepted! They lent us some traditional Malay clothes – which were quite comfortable (mine was made out of silk!)
The traditional Malay wedding consists usually of two ceremonies – the first one is the exchange of rings and vows, and the second one is basically the wedding party and feast. The married couple becomes “king and queen” for the day. They wear crowns, are seated on royal seats and are offered royal food… it was really cool to see!
We then took part of the wedding feast… we were assigned a special table, and we had some sort of never-ending buffet in the middle. The food was very good, especially the beef rendang! We again, ate until we burst hahaha
We were brought in the family house, and shown the wedding bed. Apparently, it happens that sneaky aunts listen during the night… hahaha
We were then invited to have some tea, sweets and hang out with the bride and groom’s mothers! Everyone took photos of us, we really felt like we were guests of honor or something!
After that, we returned to Kuala Lumpur and as it was Chinese New Year eve, we went in the China town and had a few beers with some friends. It was really fun, although it’s really too bad that our stay in Malaysia was so brief…
The next day, everyone drove us to the airport and gave us a warm goodbye before our flight departed for India. Malaysia was truly a kickass experience, and we would definitely love to come back and explore other cities (and metal scenes!!!)
We are currently in Bangalore, at a friend’s place, and getting ready to play a gig with Cauchemar (backed-up by an Indian line-up of Bevar Sea/Dying Embrace members!!!) and we will open for none other than Japanese black metal ABIGAIL!!!! It will be one hell of a good time, we can’t wait!
This post is dedicated to late RIOT guitarist Mark Reale, who passed away from cancer on January 25th 2012.