There is a Chinatown in most cities in the world and Kuala Lumpur is no exception. It was a place which was familiar to all who grew up in the capital city.
Petaling Street, the Malaysian Chinatown was always known for its great food and bargain buys. It was a kaleidoscope of colours and a meeting point for the locals, where the Chinese, the Malays, the Indians and Punjabis gathered. It was also a place where the Mat Salleh (Caucasian) tourists dared to venture out to experience the local lifestyle.
With fond memories of Petaling Street or Chee Cheong Kai as the locals call it, May & I ventured out to check out the place last weekend. Our main aim was to savour our favorite Assam Laksa stall which was located right in the middle of Petaling Street at the mouth of Madras Lane. Knowing that the area was notorious for its lack of parking spaces, we decided to park at Jalan Raja Chulan and take a short walk there. As we headed towards Petaling Street, we decided to walk the lane behind Kota Raya where we were faced an ocean of people. There were people everywhere. But they were all foreigners. There were Bangladeshis, Indonesians, Vietnameses, Filipinos, Indians, Nepalis and Myanmaris. There were hundreds of them and I just couldn’t find any locals.
When we finally got to Petaling Street, it was different. The locals are gone. It was no longer where the locals go to for bargains. At least 90% of the crowd were tourists. The outstation tourists form the bulk of the visitors, followed by tourists from mainland China, Hong Kong, Thais, Middle Easterns, Indonesians and lastly the Caucasians. The crowd was there, the colours and the lights were there. But it was different. It was definitely not the Chinatown, I knew.
What most shocking was that at least 50% of the vendors were foreigners? You will find Bangladehis trying to promote the fake Rolex watches and Indonesians haggling with the tourists over the price of a Calvin Klein T-Shirt. It was a cultural shock for us. Chinatown? What Chinatown? It was nothing more than a tourist trap now. There foreigners and outstation visitors far outnumbered the locals.
We could not find our favourite Assam Laksa stall. It was closed. But to our relief, some of the old establishments were still there.
The best Longan in town still ply their trade at the corner of the crossroad. It tasted just as good and they are definitely the best Longan in town and I would also rate them as one of the best in Malaysia.
Across the street the famous Hokkein Mee are working their mean stuff. Arguably the best in town, the best time to savour the delicious black stuff is midnight after the crowd has gone. You could really relax and enjoy the noodles with tea.
Along the street, Sei Ngan Chai (four eyed boy) still sell his famous roast ducks but he has a full head of white hair and he is probably pushing sixties.
(Uncle Sei Ngan in the background)
Two stalls away is our regular pancake seller. He makes the best thick peanut pancake in two. We naturally bought four pieces for ourselves and we were not dissappointed. The taste was exactly as it was 20 years ago. Unfortunately the next generation would rather sell doughnuts in a Starbucks than to be caught selling pancakes in Chinatown. I guess it is only a matter of time before Uncle Duck Man and Uncle Pancake Man bid their farewell and take their recipes with them.
Sadly, Chinatown isn’t a real Chinatown anymore. Petaling Street is no longer the place I knew but I will still go back there periodically as long as I can still get my Longan, my Hokkien mee, my roast duck and my pancake there.