Jalan Alor, a famed street noted for its numerous outdoor restaurants serving Malaysian and Chinese food and its carnival atmosphere, is located in the so-called Golden Triangle in the Bukit Bintang district of Kuala Lumpur. Nothing could quite prepare us for the experience of Jalan Alor particularly after New Zealand; by comparison, New Zealand seemed staid and painted in muted tones, while Malaysia was all vibrant colors, sounds and smells.
During the day, Jalan Alor looks almost like any other streets in bustling Kuala Lumpur. But at night it comes alive with wall-to-wall people and a sensory extravaganza of sights, sounds, tastes and smells.
Restaurants line both sides of the long street with tables and plastic chairs spilling out into the roadway. Intermixed with the restaurants are shops selling souvenirs and vendors with carts selling fruits and vegetables. Chinese lanterns in various colors are strung across the street and above restaurants, the glow from the lanterns mixing with the bright colors of restaurant signs. At many of the restaurants, at the busiest night hours all the tables are filled, and an endless stream of waiters carry platters of fish, mounds of rice, and other unrecognizable foods to tables while patrons drink Tiger beer.
As you walk down the street, restaurant hawkers accost you trying to coax you to eat at their restaurant.
“Sir, please have a look.”
“Right this way, sir,” gesturing toward a table.
The restaurant owners flip through their menus in front of you showing page after page of tantalizing, exotic foods.
There is so much to see. You walk down the street looking this way and that way, gazing up, down, everywhere—something is going on everywhere you look.
Sizzling skewers of meat are being cooked over open coals, the aroma of the meat mixing with the heady smell of charcoal smoke. Fresh fish, cuts of meat, exotic fruits and vegetables are laid out in elaborate displays that look like they came off a magazine page or an Anthony Bourdain food network show.
A cacophony of sounds assaults you: the clanging and scrape of food being turned in countless woks, people talking, music, and cars slowly honking their way down the center of the street despite its being filled with throngs of people.
Our first night there—we ate there several times—I had Banana Leaf Grilled Stingray and Rebecca had the Clay Pot Kung Po Frog with Dried Chilis. Delicious.
Like most Asian food, there is no dearth of spices. At first, some of the spices seem overwhelmingly strong, but after a few days, you get used to them, like them and expect them. To be fair, to some after awhile American food might seem decidedly bland and insipid.
The meals are served on plastic plates. Later, as an aside, walking in an alley behind Jalan Alor, we saw dishes being washed—I’m being generous—in plastic tubs of water on the ground, and workers sitting in the alleyway cutting meat and dicing vegetables on wooden cutting boards amidst piles of uncollected trash.
But for now Jalan Alor is in full swing. You eat while staring out at all that is going on around you.
And as the night goes on, things seem to become more strange reaching a crescendo. The crowds grow until you are almost pushing your way down the center of the street. A disabled man in a wheelchair makes his way alongside the tables stopping and singing into a hand-held microphone. An emaciated man wearing only a pair of shorts crawls up the street. He is bent over walking on three limbs. He moves slowly like a spider. His hips have some sort of dyplasia and one spindly, spider-like leg is bent up, over and around his back. His hair is spiked up into a high Mohawk and painted with livid colors of blue and red. He crawls up to the tables reaching only about knee-level, and stops and sings while staring at you with languid eyes. People press ringgits, the Malaysian currency, into his cup.
Other vendors wander amidst the diners trying to sell items: jewelry, tiny chess sets, and other trinkets.
The continuous festival that is Jalan Alor goes on long into the night and is truly an experience one will never forget.
All photos by the author.