In between the glitzy high rises, grid tied roads and criss-crossing flyovers of Kuala Lumpur there is a different world in the leafy lanes of Kampong Bharu (Kampung Baru) oozing old world charm. Kampong Bharu (new village), Kuala Lumpur was founded in 1890 to accommodate the rising number of Malay farmers. Over the years this became home to generations of Malays who strive hard to retain their traditional lifestyle in the face of modern transformation.
When I was looking for a street walk in Kuala Lumpur, I came across the Kampong Bharu Walk conducted for free by KL Tourism Bureau. Since they operate on days that did not suit my schedule, I decided to venture on my own.
I took a train to Kampung Baru LRT station. Kampong Bharu is also spelled as Kampung Baru. As I stepped out of the station, Petronas Towers and the other high rises filled the skyline on the right but there were promises of an oasis on the left. After walking through some narrow streets lined with local shops, I was on Jalan Raja Muda Musa. A beautiful old style wooden Malay house with a green lawn in front was soothing to the eye. Infact there were quite a few similar houses with colored glass windows on the road. It was not about affordability but about culture as was evident by the posh sedans parked on the sides.
A little ahead as I turned into Jalan Raja Alang, I stopped by Bagasta a boutique Malay style Guest House. The steak house below was a reminder of the amalgamation of the east and west that modern Malaysia is all about.
The street ahead is full of eateries on either side and most of them offering traditional Malay food. I passed by the nearly 100 year old Masjid Jamek which hosts large number of people during prayers. The blue tiled mosaic on the gate had a distinct Mughal touch to it. I could catch a glimpse of Petronas Towers as I walked along. I dare not look up again, I was loving this old world charm in modern Kuala Lumpur. Men and women moved around in traditional wear and the bright streaked batik or the big and small checks were all proudly worn.
I kept walking ahead and entered a local store selling herbal beauty products. While the malls in Kuala Lumpur are stacked up with branded product from world over, this one was stocked up on the local brands that are preferred by the residents.
It started drizzling at this point and I had to hurriedly enter Gurudwara Tatt Khalsa. I plonked myself on a bench under the shade while it poured away. This is the biggest Sikh Temple – Gurudwara in entire South East Asia and was built sometime in 1922.
As the rains receded, I walked towards the Street Bazaar. The shops were being set up and it was time for brisk business. Rows of Fish (Ikan) and Chicken (Ayam) were all ready to be taken home. Local Pokok Chilly, fermented bamboo shoots, large stinky beans apart from the regular vegetables were hanging in store fronts. It all reminded me of my shopping trips back home in Bangalore, the aroma of fresh vegetables, wet mud and the hush and the slush was all a reminder of home.
Kampung Baru Street Food
After the long walk, it was time to gorge on street food. I started off with Durian for all of 15 RM from the road side. The slippery gooey cousin of my favourite jackfruit was sweet but had an overpowering smell. Durian is a national obsession in Malaysia
Next up was the street cart where an old gentleman was making Appam Baliks with amazing dexterity in 4 pans simultaneously. Compared to Appams back home in India, these were crispier, had corn and pea nut powder and ground jaggery instead of spicy hot powders. It was yum and at the fast pace his stuff was being sold out to local residents, I knew he was the master in his art.
I walked into a Malay restaurant and ordered Ikan, rather nodded to have what the smiling lady at the counter suggested I should. The mackarel came wrapped in a banana leaf which had to be unfolded gently. The coconut, lemon grass and chilly paste that was used to marinate the fish before steaming in the banana leaf had an amazing flavour. As I polished off the fish, I remembered the many afternoons when my grand mother bribed me with “Fish Paturi” a bengali delicacy cooked in the same manner so that I completed her errand.
Just when I thought, I have had enough and it is time to move on, I spotted the outlet with Putu being made in bamboo tubes. Putu is also an Indian delicacy from Kerala where rice and grated coconut are rolled together with some sugar or jaggery inside and steamed in tubes. In Malaysia Putu’s flavored with Pandan leaves are much loved. I tried one and packed a few for the next day.
On my way back, stopped by at this pretty Malay House on stone pillars. Surrounded by towering high rises in the backyard, Rumah Limas built in 1931 stood its ground. Though it has been renovated over the years the unique roof plan with red roof was maintained. It was nearly 3 hours since I had stepped into Kampung Baru. It was time to go back into modern Kuala Lumpur and indulge in some serious window shopping in Bukit Bintang.
- Kampong Bharu Walk is conducted by KL Tourism Bureau every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday between 4.30pm and 7pm. Check http://visitkl.gov.my for details.
- Incase you are not able to make it on those days, download the map from the website and venture on your own. Plan for about 2-3 hours
- Wear comfortable walking shoes, carry a raincoat or an umbrella, wear light cottons and be ready to dive into local Malay culture
- It is a foodie’s paradise and best place to taste local Malay food so be prepared.