Chinatown Revisited

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.


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15 Responses to Chinatown Revisited

  1. Pink Jeans says:

    So sad…I also heard that corner coffee shop that sells authentic thick kopi has become a Starbucks…happened several years ago, not sure if the Starbucks has become something else yet. And the noodle stall that never closes? Wantan mee in the day time and hokkien mee at night, the road outside lined by fruit vendors…nostalgia!

  2. asme says:

    Can’t recall any Starbucks in the area.

    Koon Kee was the famous wantan mee where in the old days, you have to wait at least 10 minutes for a seat. Alas things are not so bright today. They are still around but their days are numbered. So is the Hokkien Mee.

    What’s gone is the best porridge stall in KL which lies between the Hokkien Mee stall and Koon Kee.

    It is sad but the important thing is that we enjoyed the good old times while it lasted.

  3. Gina says:

    I think the last time I went there was some 2 years ago. I was there having breakfast with Datin – the dim sum. It was good.

  4. asme says:

    The famous one would be Kam Lun Tai.

    There are now branch Kam Lun Tai restaurants in other areas of KL but it is nothing like going to the original place.

  5. Yit Peng says:

    I just found out that ‘shu’ means ‘ubi’ in cantonese, ‘chong’ means factory and of course ‘kai’ is street. It started 120 years ago when there was a factory on the street which produces ‘ shu fun’ or tapioca flour ….or flour of some sort.

  6. shorthorse says:

    Yes, you are right YP. In Mandarin it is ci2 chang3 jie4 i.e. tapioca flour manufacturing street! I love the assam laksa & yong tou foo there too. As for the corner coffee shop that is long gone they used to serve old fashioned coconut ice cream & to die for prawn noodles. Miss it so much!

  7. shorthorse says:

    …oh and the backlane to Petaling Street used to have a really really good Duck Rice shop. The salted veggie soup boiled from the duck bones was absolutely divine. Alas the shop is no more…sigh.

  8. asme says:

    Yes. Yit Peng, you are right. The good olds days, streets are ‘nick’ named after the businesses which are predominant in the streets just like Hanoi.

    SH – What I miss most about the old Chinatown the Rex Cinema. Remember the days when you can have a good meal before and after a good show.

  9. shorthorse says:

    Oh yes, totally…REX cinema…forgot all abt that.. It was such a different movie experience then wasn’t it? So much character…

  10. Yit Peng says:

    my ‘date’ for REX cinema those school days was May.


  11. Pink Jeans says:

    Yah, man…REX Cinema…didn’t we feel so grown up and cool going there to watch movies (REX had a higher cool factor than Pavilion, I think).

  12. Pingback: The good ol’ days of theatre going …. « Short Horse Tales

  13. asme says:

    My favourite cinema then was Cathay. Possibly because it was close to Sg Wang and is a more ideal venue for dates.

  14. Joanne Chin says:

    Porridge stall gone? If I remember correctly, it is called Hong Kee Porridge. It’s gone?! What’s left in Chinatown then….

  15. asme says:

    Plenty of foreigh workers and tourists, that is what’s left in Petaling Street.

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