Jalan Alor may be the mecca of KL street food but Pudu’s Wai Sek Kai is a TV producer’s dream. Hawkers ply their business under the glare of street lights while patrons work their chopsticks furiously away, digging into Tai Bu Mee (Hakka noodles), pork intestine porridge, fried radish cakes and seriously addictive fried chicken. All this takes place against a backdrop of decades-old Pudu flats and shophouses – it’s a raucous scene that looks straight out of an Anthony Bourdain food documentary. A single measly plate of grilled fish will easily cost you RM50 on Jalan Alor. In Pudu? That would buy you ten satisfying, tasty bowls.
Inevitably, one of KL’s most charming streets is gradually submitting to gentrification, a cause for concern for residents and old-time business owners. As you sigh in resignation, you might as well drown your worry at Barlai, a bar that shares the same lot with Ng Seksan’s Sekeping Sin Chew Kee.
On June 21 2010, amid much controversy and public outcry, the 115-year-old Pudu Jail, which ceased operations in 1996, was demolished to make way for redevelopment (word is that a KLCC-like shopping behemoth is in the pipeline). The relics of one of KL’s oldest and most iconic structures – the main prison gate and a portion of the exterior wall that once housed the world’s longest mural – remain nostalgic favourites among shutterbugs and wistful locals.
Ever wondered how your grandparents went about getting perms, shaves and haircuts back in the day? Probably somewhere like Lee Ying Hair Dressing Salon, the go-to place for a retro hair salon experience. Kitted out with antique barber chairs and a vintage towel steriliser as ancient as the shop itself, this twee, old-fashioned establishment has been a Pudu stalwart since 1955.
The tailors here are true sewing virtuosos, known for accommodating odd requests (eg sewing buttons to socks) and for preserving the intricate pleating on the most delicate of fabrics. Kedai Sister’s loyal clientele consists of housewives, grandmothers and even young ladies, whose parents have patronised the tailoring service here for more than 30 years. The affordable price of their bespoke dresses is definitely hard to beat.
Shopowner Mr Cheong used to be a contractor but the country’s economic crisis cost him his job, landing him an opportunity to pick up skills as a bag repairer instead. What used to be a means of survival has turned into a profession for Mr Cheong, who has been fixing broken bag straps, scratched leather goods and luggage bag handles for more than 17 years.
KL’s largest wet market is not for the fainthearted. Slippery aisles, narrow walkways, blaring cries from vendors, a distinct market reek and a mad rush of shoppers are just some of the reasons it has a special place in Pudu. Whether you’re looking for recently slaughtered chickens, potent shrimp paste or freshly made tofu, this market is a robust celebration of everything and anything Malaysian.
The shop’s worn interior may have lost its lustre but this family-run business still attracts homeowners from the neighbourhood since its inception in 1957. Piled to the ceilings are over a dozen kinds of ropes, wires, paints and tapes, while the shelves are lined with every household item imaginable: light bulbs, scissors, pliers, measuring equipment and a lot more. Thean Fah is still the go-to place for everything hardware – the owners have certainly mastered the nuts and bolts of running a business well.
Across the bustling Pudu Market is Komplex Elektronik Ace, a dreary building that, despite its moniker, only houses a couple of shops that specialise in electronic goods. Instead, senior folk often visit the makeshift foot massage stations outside its entrance to recover and unwind after a gruelling morning at the nearby wet market. Be warned though: The semi-deserted complex has gained a seedy reputation over the years.
Outside Komplex Elektronik Ace, Jalan Pasar Baru, Pudu.
Look beyond the infinitely popular (albeit a tad overrated) unnamed nighttime charcoal-fried Hokkien noodles stall on this lonely strip behind Jalan Pudu and you’ll find a quaint neighbourhood filled with old tenement buildings as well as a few hidden structures. The Jalan Sarawak cul-desac leads to a spooky old abandoned building that’s bound to attract avid ghost hunters; you’ll also find Surau An-Nur Penjara Pudu, the 51-year-old mosque that survived the demolition of Pudu Jail.
Along Jalan Sarawak, Pudu.
The uncle manning this hideout has been sharpening knives and scissors since Pudu’s heyday, and it shows in his unwavering confidence around a sharpening machine. His clients include Pudu market’s vendors, nearby tailors and loyal neighbourhood aunties, all of whom come to his shabby outpost with their share of blunt apparatus.
Down the road from Restoran MSS Maju, off Jalan Pudu, Pudu (012 255 0090). Daily, 8.30am–3.30pm.
If you’re looking for the unlikely companion of a pet fish, Pudu’s market area is one to consider for cheap aquarium fishes. They may not be maintained in particularly luxurious conditions (ie plastic buckets and tubs), but filters, lamps and fish food are sold on the side for your fishie’s bright future. The market’s eccentricity is further contributed by other, more unusual pets on sale, such as scorpions and terrapins.
Pudu isn’t merely famed for its myriad hawker stalls and sweeping nostalgia – along Jalan Pasar on what locals dub ‘Electronic Street’, a row of gadget shops take centre stage, blaring cacophonous music and offering affordable deals on everything from amplifiers to rice cookers. The area resembles a rowdier, street-level Plaza Low Yat. Bargain hunters who prefer a more sheltered shopping experience can head to the nearby Kompleks E-Mart (which used to be the old Star Cinema) and Market Hall.
Along Jalan Pasar, Pudu.
Go on a meditative stroll inside this 135-year-old temple dedicated to Lord Zhong Wan, who was a respected doctor during his lifetime. This doctor of Huizhou descent was known for treating the sick and helping the poor, and the community established a temple in honour of his good deeds. The temple’s architecture and ornaments are simple – almost cartoonish – because the Pudu community in the olden days was too poor to hire skilled craftsmen. Enlist the expertise of the temple’s fortune teller, who’ll beckon you in to meet your future.
A visit to Sung Poh joss stick shop will see effigy maker Mr Thong huddling over piles of shaved bamboo sticks and a huge pot of glue every morning. The 50 year old twists and tweaks every stick by rote, churning out colourful papier-mâché horses for praying purposes, and supplying them to temples across the city. ‘It’s a dying craft,’ admits Mr Thong. His mother runs a feng shui and face-reading service next door – she’s a well-sought-after master face reader, and can easily tell your past life and future with just a quick glance at your features. If you want to keep your secrets safe, look away.
There are few things that can remind one of childhood quite so well as buying biscuits and sweets by the kilo from copper biscuit tins. This shop along Jalan Yew retains the charming tradition with offerings like love letters, lemon creams and coconut milk cookies. Who needs fancy cafés when you can stock up on teatime bites for well under RM5?
This generic, grey-walled shop is one you’d walk right past until you hear the gentle chirping of baby birds. Fluffy yellow chicks are kept in cages for sale, and it’s difficult to resist leaving the shop without cupping one in your hands. Pet kibble and other chick-related needs are also stocked here.
The Wah Sun aluminium and glass shop merely serves as a starting point to marvel at the tong lau-like architecture along this quaint street. Reminiscent of the early 20th-century tenement buildings in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai and Sham Shui Po districts, these old-world four-storey shophouses were built according to a height limit, owing to Pudu’s close proximity to the old Sungai Besi airport back in the day.
with printing needs, whether those needs involve publications, business cards, wedding invitations or one-off print-and-binds. The printers too, range in size and type: From whirring Gutenberg-style machines to cutting-edge laser printers, the sights and sounds are as varied as the choice of shops available.
Glory Typeset Service, 16 Jalan Lengkongan Brunei, Pudu (03 2141 2586/www.inkjetglory.com).
SK Creative Concept, 12 Lorong Brunei, Pudu (03 2145 9549).
Celebrating over 80 years of rich cultural history, this legendary troupe remains one of the most prominent names in Malaysian lion dance and martial arts. Housed in an ageing three-storey tenement building that shares the old-world charm of the surrounding neighbourhood, the association’s once-100-strong membership has been steadily dropping over the years, but revered instructor Yip Fook Choy continues to welcome interested students to take up Wing Chun (yes, of Bruce Lee and Ip Man fame) in his weekly classes.