One of the best known streets in Malaysia is appropriately one dedicated to the joys of eating. Mention Jalan Alor to the locals and you can hear their gastric juices begin to gurgle. For visitors, Jalan Alor in downtown Kuala Lumpur offers a smorgasbord of Malaysian street food in one centralised location.
Conveniently located and parallel with the main thoroughfare of Jalan Bukit Bintang, Jalan Alor is easy to find – follow the crowds and look for the street tucked away behind the monorail station, opposite Lot 10.
While Jalan Alor is predominantly dominated by various Chinese cuisines, it’s also possible to get a few Malay, Indian and even some eclectic Western dishes here.
There has always been a somewhat seedy side to Jalan Alor. Once part of the red light district, customers used to go there to satisfy a different kind of appetite. Now it’s hawkers rather than hookers that lure eager punters onto the streets of Jalan Alor and it is easy to ignore its dubious history while slurping down a bowl of flavoursome laksa or sinking your teeth into the custard-like flesh of some aromatic durian.
In the evenings and into the wee hours of the morning, Jalan Alor moves into overdrive so expect the street to be crowded. Avoid trying to drive down this street as pedestrians and cars jostle for every inch of space that other users will afford them, with cars often double parking and effectively blocking traffic. While the lunchtime crowd is busy, many stall food operators don’t set up until late afternoon or around twilight. Charcoal fires are stoked, vegetables sliced, meat skewered, collapsible tables erected and plastic stools pushed into place. It’s all done at a frenzied pace by families that have performed the same ritual, day in and day out for decades.
ACCOMMODATING ALL TASTES
While there is accommodation along the street it mainly caters to backpackers and budget travellers but well-heeled guests from the international hotels along Jalan Bukit Bintang also crave the food here – it’s that good and cheap.
From the street level, it looks as if stall food dominates but at the back of most stalls there are restaurants offering a more permanent and sheltered location. Restaurant Dragon View is located on the corner at the top end of Jalan Alor and is popular with diners as it is open around the clock. Dishes offered here include various barbecued meats and the popular local dish of bak kuh teh or herbal pork bone soup. For first timers who may find the streets a little too adventurous, Restaurant Dragon View offers a slightly calmer atmosphere and a regular restaurant setting.
In between the hawker stalls fruit sellers and merchants hawking rip-off products jostle for some retail space.
Where should one start eating? The simple answers are anywhere or start at one end, move to the other and then return back to where you started for the places you inevitably missed. Along this street you’ll find steamboat, satay sellers, meat floss being barbecued, ikan bakar fish wrapped in banana leaves being barbecued, frog porridge, geometrically-arranged chicken wings being grilled over glowing charcoal and char siew (barbecued pork) being neatly sliced onto plastic plates.
Drink sellers do a roaring trade squeezing a variety of fresh fruits into juice, “pulling” Malaysia’s iconic teh tarik or keeping up the flow of Tiger and Carlsberg beer to sweating foreign visitors reveling in this newly found Asian dining utopia.
A SHINING STAR
The short-sighted city fathers attempted to change the name to Jalan Kejora which means Venus in the local lingo. Regulars simply shook their heads in disbelief and the more energetic actually vandalised the new street signs. Should you ask any taxi driver to take you to Kejora, you’ll get nowhere. Alor it is and Alor it will always be.
For those looking for the real Asia, that clichéd bustling street, noisy and energetic, vibrant and pulsating, busy and hectic with flashing lights and hawkers constantly trying to get you to sample their one and only dish, then look no further than Jalan Alor.
Source: The Expat March 2011
This article has been edited for Expatgomalaysia.com
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