Rediscover the birthplace of KL, a bustling community of shops, stalls and restaurants. KL was conceived here, the place that harbours the very essence of our city, where cultures, colours and creeds coexist. This guide includes places from around the areas of Petaling Street, Jalan Tun HS Lee, Jalan Sultan, Masjid Jamek, Lebuh Ampang and Jalan Masjid India.
Best restaurants in old KL
Soong Kee Beef Noodles
Soong Kee is easy to find – spot the tinted glass door and you’ll find crowds crammed together behind the entrance. The slurping sound is unmistakable; Soong Kee’s beef noodles are indeed, exceptionally toothsome. The fresh beef tripes and tenderloin meat undergirds the soup, which turns out flavourful and refreshing. Beef balls are meaty and firm but it’s the juicy minced pork that leaves an impression. It coats every width of our noodles, and releases a sautéed fragrance every time we spoon it into our mouths. After 67 years in business and helmed by two generations, Soong Kee still lives up to its standards.
Burmese sisters Coral Theint and Xiang Xiang have been operating this second-floor business for seven years. Specialities include fried pork with pickled mustard greens, Shan chicken noodle soup, hot and spicy fish curry, preserved duck egg salad and fried chicken with sour fruit.
Best kopitiams and hawkers in old KL
Come time for a kopi break, skip the tourist traps and head to a smaller site nestled on the crowded corner of Jalan Sultan: Yong Bee. Plus points for cultural diversity under one roof: It’s a Chinese kopitiam with a Malay nasi lemak stall which opens in the morning, before an Indian stall takes over from 11.45am, serving home-cooked Indian food until late afternoon.
Hon Kee Porridge Petaling Street
The best way to witness the sights and sounds of buzzing Petaling Street is with a hearty bowl of frog leg porridge at Hon Kee. Having been around since 1959, the cramped roadside hawker stall serves the juicy frog legs in a thick ginger spring onion gravy separately, which you scoop into their silky smooth porridge.
Kim Lian Kee
For more than 80 years, KLites have sought comfort in the city’s best hokkien mee at Kim Lian Kee – how can any noodle stall rival the birthplace of this hawker staple? You may have dined at its outlets across the city (including Lot 10 Hutong) but only this original stall at Petaling Street opens until wee hours in the morning. A slurp of these thick noodles – coated with dark soy sauce, glistening in lard, and imbued with charcoal-fire wok hei – is all you need to sate that midnight hankering.
Madras Lane asam laksa
Madras Lane, the dark, dank walkway that cuts through the middle of Chinatown’s wet market, boasts two stalls selling asam laksa. I eat there regularly but have yet to sample the version dished up by the middle stall. Why? Because I can never nudge myself past the divine hot, sour, and fishy fugue rising from a furiously boiling pot at the end stall. Not for me, grass-is-always-greener promiscuity. I’ve found a good salve for my asam laksa cravings and I’m sticking to it. Now, I know just what you’re wondering. No, this asam laksa isn’t as good as what you’ll find in Penang. But we’re not in Penang, are we? Let’s face it, every time we eat a KL version of a Penang hawker dish we know we’re settling for second- (or third- or fourth-) best. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do just to get through. Arrive at this when they open at 8:30am and your request for an order will be met with a sharp rebuke: ‘Not ready!’ The second generation running this forty-plus-year-old business takes his asam soup seriously. Better to wait till late morning anyway; by then the fire-red potage has had time to reduce and thicken, its heat and tartness mellowing and melding in the process. A serving includes the usual garnishes (fresh mint leaves, shredded cucumber and pineapple, sliced shallot) as well as two meaty canned sardine fillets, added right before broth is poured over. Blasphemy! some may cry, but the oily, profoundly piscine sardine marries wonderfully with the soup’s f
Onn Loke Kopitiam
Hotel Loke Ann and its dearly missed kopitiam has been gone for about three years but Uncle Lee who ran the kopitiam is back in business. The kopitiam is now located in Petaling Street near the Madras Lane wet market. If you have a hard time finding it, look for bright blue walls and you've arrived. Tables here are limited, and by limited we mean five. The roti bakar is toasted in a mini oven and slathered with just the right amount of butter and homemade kaya.
Best Indian restaurants in old KL
Restoran Bunga Raya Indah
One of the best banana leaf experiences in the city hides within a dim first-floor lot along Lebuh Ampang. In 1962, the operation moved from Malacca to KL and has been a favourite of blue-collar workers in the area. They come in large groups and sit on long communal tables for (cheap) double helpings of rice and meat, a culture that’s still apparent these days. This mess concept here goes hand in hand with the Chettinad-style food promoted by owner SS Bharathi Rajah and his team. Not for the faint-hearted, the kudal (goat intestine) and mutton head curries are something of a legend in these parts, but if you’d prefer something tamer, the dry chicken varuval and thick, aromatic crab curry are just as outstanding. Be wary of the lime pickle; it packs a fiery, sour punch that’ll hit you in the gut if you’re not equipped with a glass of chilled mooru (spiced buttermilk) on the side.
Prasad Chetty Nadu Mess
The stairway leading up to what could be KL’s best banana leaf restaurant is an ominous one. There are signs of abandoned life all around; large pieces of unclaimed cardboard are strewn on the cement ground below the stairway, and the paint on the walls are the garish neon hues of a parrot. One floor up, there is more hope. The 15-year-old restaurant comes to view and it’s right out of a set-up in Tamil Nadu – ’80s Tamil hits from a suspended TV, whirring fans and very little elbow room. If you’re opting for a thick curry like crab or chicken, we suggest par-boiled rice over white (ask for puzhungal arisi if the waiter doesn’t understand you). Sides-wise, the stir-fried eggplant is cooked to a creamy mush, the chunky crab curry is the kind you can drink, the dry chicken varuval is unapologetically burnt and crisp on the skin, the mango pickle is lip-puckeringly sour and the mutton kuzhambu comes in a pale ochre shade – the way they have it in Chennai. It’s all like a dream until you step out into the searing chaos of impatient drivers along Lebuh Ampang.
There’s a reason the area around Lebuh Ampang seems like a foreign country to me, and that’s because I have never walked through it. But a recent involuntary trip resulted in the happy discovery of a Chettinad restaurant I would otherwise never have stumbled across, located on the first floor of a series of Indian retail stores and eateries, each one apparently as anonymously homogenous as the last. It’s obvious however that a lot of care was invested in the décor of Betel Leaf, and the gurgling water features and powerful air conditioning are particularly efficacious in salving frayed nerves and reducing the madness of the road outside. The desire to please extends to the menu, where a mammoth variety of Chettinad cuisine from north and south India means that ordering can become a hazardous task, especially if you’re hungry and indecisive. Because dishes are all cooked a la minute, don’t expect your food to appear at the table two seconds after you’ve ordered. The adroitly named chicken lollypop is juicy in a way that only meticulously marinated meat can be. Because coconut milk isn’t prodigiously employed, the focus remains on the spices instead, and that serves to yield flavours that are intensely aromatic and dangerously more-ish. Instead of the bog standard butter chicken masala, try instead the rabbit masala for a leaner, cleaner option. The rabbits – together with goats and fish – are bred on proprietor C Mohan’s farm in Mantin, as are the vegetables that a
Kulwant Singh named his business after his father, Santa, and his signature chapattis have grown into the stuff of legends over the last 14 years. Tables spill out onto the sidewalk, and Kulwant reveals that the largest order anyone’s ever placed was for RM500 worth of chapatti. And the largest dine-in order? ‘Here, people eat six to seven also can,’ he beams, although the slightly charred chapattis that they churn out sometimes seriously threaten the permanence of this record. Awards Food Awards 2013 Kulwant Singh of Restoran Santa was named Food Personality of the Year in the Time Out KL Food Awards 2013. Our food awards are 100% voted for by the people of KL. This way, we guarantee that popularity and consistent performance are rewarded.
Best cafés in old KL
While it’s easy to mourn the gentrification of Petaling Street and the proliferation of ‘hipster’ cafés in Old KL, we’re glad to see Chocha Foodstore setting up shop in the abandoned Mah Lian Hotel. Meaning ‘sit and drink tea’ in the Hakka dialect, Chocha is a space where you can do just that – sit down with friends over a pot of specialty tea or two. It’s also a tribute of sorts to the Malaysian yum cha culture. Located a couple of doors away from Merchant’s Lane and PS150, Chocha Foodstore is one of the most visually stunning cafés we’ve seen this year: classic pastel tiles galore which vary from room to room, a sun-drenched central courtyard lined with potted herbs, clusters of vintage glass lamps dangling over a long wooden tables in a corner. Architect and owner Shin Chang of MentahMatter Design (the second floor of the building houses the office and a co-working area) has transformed the space while keeping the structure (raw concrete walls and all) intact. Fun fact: the colourful tiles and grilles at Chocha are all original fittings from Mah Lian Hotel. According to Shin Chang, they hope this project of theirs will set an example and help in the effort to stop unnecessary demolition of old buildings in KL. Hear, hear. As a tribute to Chinatown, the two-page menu (by Shin Chang’s partners Penny Ng and Youn Chang) is dedicated to Malaysian-inspired dishes with local ingredients. There’s kerabu mango slaw, there’s cincalok fried chicken, there’s charred eggplant belad
The long stretch that is Petaling Street can get real touristy at times, so if you need to take cover, walk a bit further down the road and head to Merchant’s Lane. Joining The Front Door and Einstein Café, Merchant’s Lane is a cool addition to the Chinatown café scene. This calm little hideaway is located above an old shop next to the Advance Tertiary College building. No main signage is up yet for now but don’t worry, there’s a small sign leading up to the place that’s not too hard to find. Fun fact: Before it was abandoned more than five years ago, the space was a brothel. Inside, the café uses a teal and pink colour scheme on their counter and display cases – a nice pop of colour from everything else in the shop that sports a rustic look. However, it’s the outdoor area that really shines with the building’s original design. Co-owner Kenneth Tan explains that they’ve tried conserving the outdoor components as well, like the window and railings, but some things couldn’t be preserved due to old age. Most of the furniture are custom-made, including some of the benches which were fashioned out of old wooden staircases. Kenneth and another partner were previously with Butter + Beans, but having their own café was always in the pipeline. The menu will see some changes in the coming months, but items so far include breakfast and Asian-inspired comfort food. For example, the aglio olio is served with an option of prawns or chicken rendang; and the Cantonese-style Hongkie Beef St
Walk into the Petaling Street Art House (first floor) on Jalan Sultan and you’ll find a café next to it with a name more appropriate for an Italian coffeehouse. To be fair, there are many things to ‘love’ about Coffee Amo. The owners – Kong and Chung – have made no effort to hide the building’s age, other than sprucing the space up with recycled furniture, several bookshelves and a fresh coat of paint. The café doesn’t serve hot food but you’ll be easily sated with the hand-brewed coffee (Panama Geisha and Jamaican Blue Mountain) and Nutella moist chocolate cake.
Leaf & Co
By a congested corner of Jalan Sultan (opposite distinguished tailors Kwong Fook Wing) lies the newest café this side of KL – Leaf & Co. Formerly a mess hall built by Kwong Yik Bank’s co-founder Cheong Yoke Choy, the century-old colonial-era heritage building is now a boutique hostel (by the name of Mingle) and café, co-founded by engineer Ng Sin Leong. With Ng’s experience in restoring and refurbishing old buildings, it’s evident that attention and care was paid to this particular building as well – old wooden beams are reinforced, pieces of original furniture from the building’s early days are scattered around, and the terrazzo tiles are cleaned and spruced up. In the café, an air well in the centre lets in light for the small garden of potted herbs. At the back, a rooftop bar is still under construction. The straightforward menu at Leaf & Co mostly consists of variations of chicken dishes (buttermilk fried chicken with sambal terasi, crispy chicken wings, ayam masak merah, crispy chicken chop with spaghetti and so on) as well as salads, pastas, sandwiches and beef stew. For desserts, a range of mille crêpes sits in the cooler. As for coffee, there’s the usual selection, but with the addition of interesting adaptations like rose latte and coconut latte; the Americano here comes in old-school kopitiam cups, a clever reference to its location in the heart of old KL. Check it out for the interesting architecture, but bear in mind that the kitchen needs a bit of time to find i
Best drink shops in old KL
Premier Wuyi Da Hong Pao
No exploration of Petaling Street is complete without a stop at this tea house. This little tea shop along Jalan Sultan (opposite the iconic Pak Tai photo studio) is full of shelves lined with packets of tea (all carefully sourced by proprietor Chan Yeow Wah), an impressive array of delicate gai-wan (china cups with covers used to brew tea) and teapot sets, tea paraphernalia – perfect for the tea enthusiast. Even if you’re a beginner to the art of tea, the affable Chan is quick to invite you to sit down for a chat and a cup or two. The clue’s in the name: Premier Wuyi Da Hong Pao specialises in the Da Hong Pao tea. A type of premium oolong rock tea from the UNESCO-protected Wuyi Mountains (‘Da Hong Pao’ means big red robe – this tea has a legend that involves the Emperor, a Chinese scholar rising through the ranks of ancient Imperial China, a monk, and a red robe), this tea is a strong oolong that’s suitable for all occasions. Chan also stocks organic flower and herbal teas.
Wu Zhong Tin
Way before tisanes were brewed in fancy tea houses, KLites have been downing cups of leung sui at mobile herbal tea stalls. Known to alleviate most illnesses (from sore throat to colds), herbal tea is the unsung hero of KL. Have a cup of chilled ginseng chrysanthemum tea or a medicinal brew at this tea stall off Jalan Sultan.
Petaling Street air mata kucing
You bagging a bargain at Chinatown calls for a delicious drink – and make it cheap, cold and cooling. Seek shelter in the shade of the decades-old air mata kucing stall; order a cup of the longan, luo hon guo and winter melon drink, boiled and sweetened with rock sugar; and sip, savour and repeat.
Best attractions in old KL
Sin Sze Si Ya temple
If there’s one place that witnessed the birth and growth of our city, Sin Sze Si Ya Temple is it. Its entrance is engraved with an acknowledgement that Kapitan Yap Ah Loy had founded the temple in 1864, and it’s dedicated to patron deities Sin Sze Ya and Si Sze Ya. Don’t be mistaken, these deities are actually real personalities – Sheng Meng Li (Kapitan Cina of Sungai Ujong) and Chung Lai (Yap Ah Loy’s loyal lieutenant) respectively. Look closer and you’ll also find Yap Ah Loy’s shrine sitting among the gods. This oldest Taoist temple in KL is swarmed with people during Chinese New Year or before major exams when students ask for good luck from the God of Academia, Wenchang Dijun. In fact, you’ll get good fortune if you circle under the main altar three times. Ask about your future through kao chim (fortune-telling sticks), and let Madam Wong decipher it for you at just RM1. She’s one of the few remaining female temple caretakers in KL who can still interpret the prophecy (chim). As featured in Time Out KL's 101 things to do in KL
Sri Maha Mariamman Temple
Built in 1873, this building was originally constructed by Thamboosamy Pillai as a private shrine for his family. Visitors, who are required to remove their shoes at the main entrance, are greeted by the tallest structure in the temple, the gopuram (tower), which is a 23-metre high five-tier pyramidshaped gate tower that symbolises the threshold between the spiritual and material world. The temple vault also holds the tallest Hindu silver chariot in Malaysia while the temple’s decorative features include intricate carvings of Hindu deities as well as Italian and Spanish tiles. Opened to the public in the late 1920s, the temple is the oldest Hindu temple in the city. Sri Maha Mariamman Temple is located in the Chinatown area and surrounded by various Chinese establishments, which reflects a space where different ethnic groups can coexist in harmony.
Formerly a wet market, Central Market has undergone extensive refurbishments. It has been designated a Heritage Building and is now a Centre for Malaysian Culture, Arts and Handicrafts. A hub for local artists and a perfect place to experience and bring home a bit of Malaysia. Buskers, martial artists and dancers perform by the street outside the market every weekend and the Annexe Gallery located within the precinct acts as a hub for all local contemporary art-related activities (with its efforts garnering a feature in The Wall Street Journal). As featured in Time Out KL's 101 things to do in KL
One of Malaysia’s most historic landmarks, Dataran Merdeka (Merdeka Square) has a special place in the country’s history. Situated in front of the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad Building, it was here where the independence of Malaysia from the British was announced on Aug 31, 1957. Since then, Dataran Merdeka has been a popular venue for the annual Merdeka Parade (National Day Parade) and various celebrations, most notably KL's New Year's Eve celebration. You can’t miss the huge 100 metre flag pole flying the Jalur Gemilang, the tallest freestanding pole in the world.
Illusion 3D Art Museum
If you've been avoiding Central Market for its touristy air, you might be tempted to give the blue hub another chance by becoming barber to Tunku Abdul Rahman, or seeing Barack Obama scowl on the loo – all made possible through 3D art. Said to be the first of its kind in the city, the Illusion 3D Art Museum has 36 3D paintings in three halls. Each piece references pop culture and scenes unique to Malaysia. So that means you can mimic rubber tapping, wait for an old cobbler to fix your shoes, battle Darth Vader (sadly, sans light saber) or tug a cheeky Mona Lisa’s foot. Pasted next to the 3D art are visual guides on how and where to pose, so you can get your perspective and adjustments just right. Useful stickers on the floor also show where the photographer should stand. While some of the pieces have real-life props (think bicycles, sewing machines, microphones), the augmented reality section in collaboration with the National Geographic Society has scenes where you can scratch the belly of a seal or persuade a few velociraptors to come up to you. Cameras aren't allowed in this section as it interferes with the projector, but you can purchase a photo after you exit the room. Regular ticket price is RM33 for adults and RM15 for students, senior citizens and children aged eight to 12 years old. If you pay a visit before December 31, there's a 30 percent discount. There's no limit to how long you can stay so feel free to stick around until you finally get that shot of you po
Best things to do in old KL
Raksasa Print Studio
Raksasa Studio is an independent print and art studio that focuses on silk screening. On weekends they have workshops, fabric printing classes, as well as Bring Your Own Shirt (BYOS), an event where you can bring your own shirt, they print their design on it, and you pay what you want.
Located on the fourth floor of an inconspicuous shoplot along Jalan Panggong, Findars is a hidden gem that has truly stood the test of time. Although it predominantly plays host to an eclectic catalogue of avant-garde art exhibitions and indie film screenings, this charming café-space has also been a regular stomping ground for experimental musicians since its days in Wangsa Maju and Central Market (when it first opened its doors in 2008). So expect anything from an improv jam session to audio visual displays when you drop by this quirky performance venue.
White washed walls and bare cement floors dominate the simplistic interior of this self-managed alternative gallery that champions innovative artists who challenge the mainstream culture in their experimental pieces and performances. Lostgens’ began in early 2004 by a collective of artists as a private project to host the indie arts scene but later evolved into a public platform. Exhibitions see contemporary artworks adorn the modest, minimally furnished space while talks and workshops conducted here are casual events that will have you seated on the ground or in mismatched chairs around the speaker.
Salun Gaya Rambut STYLO
You know what they say: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Just look at STYLO – it survived two fires in the last 40 years and a car (and most recently, a bus too) crashing into its premises. Established in 1937 by PA Thangayah, this famous institution on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lok was taken over by his son T Madhirajan in 1960. Now, Madhirajan’s son, Mathenan – a graduate of the New York Film Academy – runs STYLO as well as nine other barbershops in the Klang Valley. Sit on one of the Takara barber chairs and let the guys at STYLO fashion you a classic side sweep – just like Becks.
Best bars in old KL
The Berlin KL
To be a hidden bar (note: not a speakeasy), you need to be a well-kept secret with no ostentatious indication of your whereabouts. Roll in The Berlin KL, the coolest and edgiest hidden bar in KL today. Located in Chinatown, The Berlin KL would be easy to miss if it weren’t for its plain red door. Push to open and you’ll be greeted with a bright neon red sign that reads ‘Ich Bin Ein Berliner’. Berlin is known as one of the largest party cities in Europe, and the trio behind this establishment wanted to bring a part of that to the folks in KL. This dark bar is also lit up with another red neon sign of the city’s name just above the bar, which showcases the hefty liquor collection. In line with the theme, the walls are covered in graffiti tags along with photos of Berlin’s past. Also keeping things very European, The Berlin KL has a ‘back alley’ that doubles as the smoking area, but you can always sit inside to stay closer to the music; DJs spin every weekend with music ranging from urban, hip hop, R&B and more. If you plan on drinking, take your pick from the four signature cocktails, all named after famous landmarks in Berlin: The Brandenburg, JFK, Lustgarten and The Berlin Wall. Lustgarten – a famous park in Berlin – is the bestseller; a mild and fruity drink with a punch of sourness from the freshly squeezed lime. It’s pretty too, with its garnishes of fresh and edible flowers. Pair the cocktails with bar snacks (available until 10pm) such as hot dogs and bite-sized sirloin
Best shops in old KL
Yan Kee Records & Recording
Chinese classics, warm and waltzing, still pour out from the shop today – much as they did in the ’50s, when Yan Kee first opened. Alongside its more obscure opera offerings, you’ll find classics, jazz and pop releases – both CD and vinyl – by popular recording artistes.
The Basket Shop
The Basket Shop is as good as its name – aptly, it peddles baskets, boxes, hampers, trays and other basket-related products, especially those of the hand-woven variety. That’s not all though. The space also has a small selection of furniture such as bamboo blinds, chest boxes, wooden lamps, and chairs and stools for RM75. It’s well worth the visit for its nostalgic, Malaysiana home decor items, gifts and toys – like gasing and wayang kulit puppets. Come for the curios: think batik photo frames, bird cages, bamboo bowls, paper lanterns and silk and straw bags.
Of course, there are the classics – Barbie dolls, Lego and Ultraman figurines – but this emporium and toy exporter and importer truly has it all. It peddles everything: beauty and kitchen playsets, toy guns, building blocks, plush toys, puzzles, sport games and riding wheels for newborns, toddlers and tweens. Best of all is the store’s extensive selection of toy vehicles – think Tamiya and other radio-controlled models, which include F1 racing cars, planes, superbikes and even national car models like the Myvi, Kelisa and Waja.
Kwong Fook Wing
The 101-year-old shop on Jalan Sultan exudes an air of sagacity – a sense of tradition that cannot be easily dismissed as owner Datuk Khong Kim Lyew cuts and sews in an intimate room surrounded by portraits of his ancestors’ past clientele: British officers, cabinet ministers and royalty. The third-generation proprietor has yet to find a successor – and we’ll mourn the shop’s disappearance when the time comes – but Datuk Khong will press on for as long as an appreciation for tailored suits persists.
Chop Sang Kee
You can do up an entire Zen-looking home with just rattan furniture from this 85-year-old shop. Chop Sang Kee has existed since KL’s pre-war days where craftshops and clog makers abound, but don’t let this decrepit shop put you off. Look close enough and you’ll sniff great items out. Everything in the shop – trays, baskets and even bird cages – is woven from scratch. You won’t find mod pieces here but the owner cares for your spine – the beautiful rattan chairs, with their old-school design, sturdy frame and comfy backrest, will give you a better sitting posture for as long as they last.
If your mum is not a fan of Topshop, there’s always Lin Ho. This iconic KL department store has three floors of womenswear and shoes. There are some cheongsams and dresses with pretty nifty cutting, but most of the styles seem to be from the ’70s. Also, look out for their sales where white sneakers sometimes go for RM1 per pair.
Kwong Yik Seng
There’s no shortage of olde Chinese charm in this crockery shop stocked with flower-crested porcelain, oriental ceramics and Yuan dynasty-inspired plates. Buddha statues sit regally on top of the cabinets while the rear of the shop is packed with decorative chinaware that recalls family hand-me-downs. Every (fragile) item is placed cheek by jowl, and some along narrow walkways, but the shopowner of this 69-year-old institution on Jalan Tun HS Lee never forgets where he puts everything. There’s a pot in the shape of a goldfish lurking somewhere in that heap of pottery, if you’re planning on making an impression at reunion dinner.
Lee Wah Florist
One of the oldest names in the business, Lee Wah has been plying the flower trade on Jalan Tun HS Lee for decades. The store itself is not glamorous – buckets and buckets of cut flowers line a cement floor, and service is efficient but not overly friendly. You can buy your flowers here wholesale or just a few stems, and half the joy of shopping is watching the many and varied customers popping in and out of the shop to grab what they need. It’s as unpretentious as it gets. Plus, when Chinese New Year rolls around, this is one of the best places to source supplies.
Best bookshops in old KL
The KL Commercial Press
This small bookstore on Jalan Sultan is one of the last booksellers in the area. Patrons have been flocking here for over 60 years for Mandarin books, translated tomes, calligraphy tools, hand-drawn postcards and illustrated travel books. Don’t miss the extensive children’s section, as well as the English titles published in Malaysia and Singapore.
It’s one of KL’s longest-running secondhand book stores, and packed to the brim with literary gems, comics and LPs. You’ll have to scrabble a bit (books are arranged loosely by genre), but it’s worth putting in the hours as books start from a couple of ringgit each. When you’re hungry, nip round the corner for beef noodles at Soong Kee's.
Best food shops in old KL
Walking into this 1942 institution is like getting sucked into a time warp. There’s a sense of drowsiness that envelops this non-descript shop, and oftentimes, you’re the only customer enclosed by stacks of biscuit tins and jars. Owner Peter Boo sits on a plastic chair, watching over the lull of the shop like a hawk, answering any of your questions with as much excitement as a guard at Buckingham Palace. Like clockwork, he retreats to the back of the shop around 2pm everyday for a nap, leaving a friendly Indonesian lady to momentarily take charge. If not for Peter, we’re regulars of this shop for the sheer variety of the biscuits on offer – the kind that you used to buy from the pasar malam as a kid. There are lemon creams, (startlingly tender) butter cookies, chocolate sandwiches, sugar-crusted crackers, coconut melts and those colourful icing-topped drop cookies that once dominated our childhood. The small space fits more than a hundred kinds of biscuits astonishingly well, most of which are sourced from factories around the country. Biscuits are weighed and priced accordingly, but a kilo of biscuits won’t cost you upwards of RM10, which is surely the wisest option when having friends over for tea.
Imbi Market's Bunn Choon now has a second outlet on Petaling Street, which means you can get the fresh-out-of-the-oven egg tarts with the flaky pastry and creamy egg filling when you're in Chinatown. Owner Wong Kok Tong and his wife still man the shop, and their trusty classic egg tarts and charcoal black sesame versions are still available.
Best medicine halls in old KL
Petaling Street institution Tuck Heng moved into its current comfortable air-conditioned premises a couple years ago. Stock up on goji berries and cordyceps as Tuck Heng carries a wide range of tonics, healthcare products as well as dried seafood. Plus, the friendly staff are always willing to answer your herb-related queries.
The many yok choi pou (Chinese medicine hall) on Petaling Street have been refurbished to keep up with the onslaught of modernised pharmacies like Eu Yan Sang. The 70-year old Kien Fatt remains the best medicine hall in that area as there are still sinseh (physicians) administering treatments in the backroom ’til today. Your health can be swiftly diagnosed through a pulse check and the sinseh will write you a prescription. He’ll then rummage through jars of cordyceps, wolfberries, dang gui and atroctylodes to whip up a health booster to replenish chi, combat colds or improve stamina. The tiny drawers behind the counter resemble private vaults, which store away precious tonics like century-old ginseng, bird’s nest and of course, pearl dust.
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