Eat Your Way Around the World

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This post was written by Sarah Rees

Whatever Cuisine you Seek, you will Surely Find your Flavour Down One of the City’s Most Gastronomically-Versatile Food Locations. Sarah Rees Takes a Walk Down Changkat Bukit Bintang.

There must be a few places in the world where a stroll down a single street can take you through so many different countries. Germany, Cuba, India, Thailand – you could be forgiven for forgetting just where in the world you are as your nose picks up the smells of some of the globe’s best cuisine during a stroll down the thoroughfare brothel-lined backwater to the ultimate evening out in just 50 years.

Changkat Bukit Bintang is quite unique. As a curious back road in the shadow of the malls and the crowds of nearby Bukit Bintang, Changkat may have the monopoly on nightlife, and, more importantly, food. The sheer variety of foods and flavours that can be purchased down the relatively short street is remarkable, and nothing could more conclusively prove the high standard than the hordes of people that can be seen walking, driving, eating and drinking down at Changkat every night of the week. It is something of an exclusive night out – more wine dinners and fine tapas than the mee goreng that can be eaten down nearby Jalan Alor – but one that caters for almost any taste and offers the diner a fantastic smorgasbord o global cuisine.

Less Savoury Beginnings
It has been a long journey for Changkat, and long-term residents of the capital will remember the days when the area around Bukit Bintang was run down. Despite the building of city’s first hotel the Federal Hotel in 1958 – a hotel created to house visiting dignitaries during the Independence Day celebrations – the area continued to attract questionable persons and brothels were plentiful along the murky backstreets.

By the late 1980s, things were set to change. Corporate magnate Tan Sri Yeoh Tiong Lay decided the city needed a new retail cluster to cater for the wealth trickling into the capital, and a project that started with Bintang Walk has, in 20 years, transformed the area into the shopping paradise that stands today. The street of Changkat may have escaped the retail claws, but as more wealthy people flocked to this part of town, food and drink outlets were required to cater for their various tastes and give them an escape after a heavy day of shopping.

Changkat’s modest shophouses have, for the most part, remained intact, but nothing of the simple life of Changkat remains today. What used to be a backwater is now a magnet for work-weary people looking to party away the week, and though many are drawn there for the drinks and the music, there is much to be said for the overwhelming and impressive food on offer. It is no exaggeration to say one has a world of choice, thanks to various foreigners who have brought their food to the shores of Malaysia.

Taste of the World
Japanese-born Yoko Niwa took up her premises in Changkat eight years ago and her self-named restaurant sits in a 1940s shophouse on the middle of this bustling street. “I liked this area when I first came to the city,” explains Yoko, “and I decided I just had to do something here.” That ‘something’ turned out to be a restaurant offering an intriguing mixture of traditional and fusion Japanese food, where the extensive and frequently changing menu features such creative dishes as the Mentaiko Pizza and Beef Banana Leaf Yaki. “What do I recommend?” she says with a smile, “well that depends on what you are drinking!”

For something entirely different, a short stroll leads to one of those ubiquitous features of streets the world over: the Irish pub. Finnegan’s has the bold claim of being the first Irish pub in Malaysia, and though the outlet on Changkat may be one of the most recent, it retains the Irish charm and addictively-merry ambiance that draws people to Irish pubs all over the globe. “We sell a good range of traditional pub grub,” explains Brit-born Bill Addington, the chain’s managing director, “and my favourite is the cottage pie, although the Pork Knuckle is extremely popular.” A morning should surely always begin with The Ulster Fry-Up – a traditional, heart attack-inducing breakfast – while a lot of punters are attracted to this venue for the choice of unique ciders that are imported from the UK.

You can continue the European theme at El Cerdo, where people flock to worship the pig in its many forms. Despite the Spanish name, this outlet has a menu featuring various European dishes – Italian pastas, Austrian schnitzel, German Crispy Knuckle – but any pork lover should head straight to the mighty order of 1/2 of a Roasted Suckling Piglet. This is not only delicious but a bit of a party piece, and comes out to your table on a wooden board where waiters proceed to smash a plate and then cut the meat with the broken shards as testament to the tenderness of your dinner.


No trip to Changkat is complete without a visit to the legendary Havanas, which has been a feature of this street for as long as anyone can remember. This Cuban bar is renowned for its nightlife, but foodies would do well to arrive early and have a taste of the Louisiana-inspired menu.  The menu offers an unusual mixture of food – Creole, Cuban and Cajun cuisine all make an appearance – but most diners find themselves drawn to the more unusual dishes: alligator anyone?

Bringing the globetrotting a tad closer to home is Baan 26, where Thai hospitality coupled with authentic Thai flavours combine to create a delightful evening, while Pinchos tapas bar boasts the traditional flavours of Spain. For another European cuisine, France can be tasted in a trip to Flam’s for traditional French Pizza or a cosy supper at Le Bouchon where such delights as Gratin of Asparagus with Champagne Sabayon and Black Truffles from Périgord can be nibbled on as you sip wine from the region.

It is easy to see why people eat dinner so late on Changkat – it takes a long time to deliberate on which country you would like to spend your evening in! In the spirit of cultural combination, there are even various eateries that offer a bit of everything on what can only be termed ‘international’ menus. For fine dining, nothing beats the surprising flavours at Frangipani, while Kitchen+Bar will delight with its modern European-Asian food.

It seems almost ironic that a place that was once remarkable for its close proximity to the location of the race riots in 1969 is now a multi-cultural feeding ground where people of all races and colours come together to eat their way around the world. Changkat may be a nightmare to drive to, but the international food on offer is just heavenly and one of the major perks of living in a multi-national playground.

Source: The Expat April 2012 Issue

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