On my first day in Kuala Lumpur, I decided to shun the all-you-can-eat breakfast at my hotel and instead head to Imbi Market. Well known to the locals, it opens at 4am to provide shoppers with their fresh produce, before people settle down at a more acceptable hour to have breakfast cooked for them by various street vendors.
The left hand side of the market is sheltered by crude tarpaulin and old newspapers, with plastic tables and chairs in the middle. It was 30 degrees by 9.45am and a few electric fans were doing very little to alleviate the humidity, so I headed to the place with the longest queue as I was bloody boiling and didn’t really know where to begin.
The gloriously named Ah Fook Chee Cheong Fun had one guy at the helm, flanked by two sous chefs prepping vegetables. I followed the lead of the people in front who loaded a plate with a variety of items from the stall and then handed it to the guy in charge. He threw them in a pan, chucked over a sauce, sprinkled sesame seeds on the top and handed it over.
Having no idea what I was eating, it was a game of trial and error. There was definitely aubergine which was soft and salty and a nice accompaniment to the spicy chilli sauce that covered everything. There were strips of a savoury crispy spinach pancake and I recognised the chewy fish balls from eating Chinese hotpot recently in London. Not being used to this sort of breakfast, I didn’t clear my plate but that is no reflection on the taste. It was truly delicious, but I needed something to help it go down.
Everyone around me was supping on a mug of the same thing so I followed suit and gesticulated to the extremely lovely OAP that seemed to be ruling the roost. I realised that it was Hainan Tea; a Malaysian favourite of iced coffee and tea combined. Having missed out on my morning caffeine but also sweating like crazy, this was so welcome. Sweet with a touch of bitterness and a milky aftertaste – I finished the whole thing while taking in some people watching.
To the right hand side of the market is stall upon stall selling groceries; some familiar, some very much not. Fresh fruit and veg of the brightest colours, along with huge varieties of garlic and ginger. Vats of nuts and seeds as well as heaps of dried fish, all sold by the gram. I even spotted some jars of Marmite within bottles of sauces and tinned goods.
I love these communal areas where food is the focal point. Fresh food isn’t just in existence for overcharging locals or ripping off tourists; it’s affordable, accessible and most importantly, tastes great. I’m so pleased that Imbi Market was able to give me a true taste of Malaysia so soon into my trip.