Unit 1.16, The Pavilion Kuala Lumpur
168 Jalan Bukit Bintang
Kuala Lumpur 55100, Malaysia
+603 2118 8833 (main mall)
Observing people easing into a new cuisine that they are unfamiliar with is an interesting study in personality. Some will boldly leap into a hot dish without hesitation, seeking that thrilling, first time experience of new flavors and a jolt to their mundane eating experiences. Others will meekly play with their utensils and anxiously pick away at the foreign food on their plate, and look around as if hoping someone will bring them something they are much more comfortable eating. Do you fit one of these profiles?
Some restaurants are very good at helping neophytes to ethnic cuisine, by introducing menu items that are generally mild in nature and visually appealing. Usually this will comprise staple dishes that have been proven to be popular among Westerners, be it in the native country or in North America, with the intent to appeal to a wide audience. To help accomplish this, businesses will often tend to invest in a more refined dining environment (location, design, etc.). As such, simple dishes that one could find in more “local” spots or even on the street (though vendors, etc.), are often more expensive than they should be – or cost more than a native would find normally acceptable – with the debate of which is better in terms of quality, also wide open.
Madam Kwan’s to me, fits this description. Taking up locations in Kuala Lumpur within major shopping centres (Mid Valley Megamall, Suria KLCC, and The Pavilion), this operation has established their outlets where heavy foot traffic is guaranteed, as well where many foreigners are known to visit. With a spacious, clean interior, featuring tables on the open floor as well as some more secluded dining rooms for larger groups/parties, Madam Kwan’s offers what it calls “Truly Malaysian Cuisine”, featuring dishes such as Hainanese Chicken Rice, Nasi Lemak, Fish Head Curry, Laksa, and desserts such as Cendol, etc. It also tends to be a popular place for the locals, who are out and about, perhaps shopping in these centres, as they have always been boisterous whenever I’ve passed by or eaten in.
I thought this dish, the Nasi Bojari, is one of the most popular items on the menu, judging from scans of other tables on two occasions, and would be a safe bet for those new to Malaysian cuisine to try. It features a large lump of fragrant rice on a banana leaf, surrounded by a sampling of Beef Rendang, a fried chicken drumstick, Assam Prawns, slices of veg (cucumber, tomato), and half boiled egg. In terms of proportion, it is quite large (even for a hungry adult male). The spicy Assam Prawns are my favorite item on this plate, whereas the chicken thigh is not overly exciting (not bad though), and the Beef Rendang perhaps a tad dry for my liking, though its clearly soaked up the coconut milk and spices that is was cooked in. The price was about 20 Ringgits, which is a notable premium over the street hawker version of this same dish.
I am sure the more adventurous among us will cringe at the thought of places like Madam Kwan’s that are “selling out”. I’m among them for sure, with this place being a safety blanket whenever I am taking a finicky newbie to Malaysia out to try some “local” food. I suppose places like this do have value, if it helps appease a diner that I am stuck with for the night, and has a lot of dislikes when it comes to food, but when I still want to avoid the dreaded hotel restaurants. If I’m on my own, I’d rather hit some back alley or side street, getting my meal cooked up in the humid conditions of KL, by some middle aged man wearing an undershirt and sweating profusely while standing near the hot wok. Sound appetizing, perhaps not. But I guarantee the food does! And it will hit your wallet a lot softer than the pristine, air conditioned, modern designed restaurants of the city. Which generally means, more meals for me. 🙂