Night hawking in Jalan Alor

Streets of Jalan Alor. Photograph by Matthew Dyson (c)2013

Night hawking in Jalan Alor

On LOCATION in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia | June 2013

By Matthew Dyson – UK


The taxi clock flashed 11pm, Kuala Lampur time. My gut was still in Reading demanding dinner. Surely I was too late for anything other than mini bar booze and snacks?


“Get yourself to Jalan Alor“, said the driver, pulling outside the hotel ” have a beer and a meal at 4am. Satay, noodles, whatever you want. The best Chinese food in Malaysia.”


An hour later I was sweating, wading through the thick heat, huge hotels and malls towered above me. The neon blue of Times Square was no use. I didn’t want a new pair of shoes or an indoor roller coaster. They don’t come with peanut sauce. I cut through a walkway full of karaoke bars and an international who’s who of chain restaurants. I lied to the waiter outside the American Bar and Grill. I told him I’d be back after Jalan Alor and he said I was close.


Before I hit it I could smell it. Charcoal burning, diesel fumes, the drains, strange fruits, incense, popping spices and a mile of bodies jostling and spilling into Sunday morning. It was an endless stretch of road filled with hawker stalls and plastic furniture. Somehow people and cars mixed, oblivious, snaking through the tiny gap between the shacks and diners. The whole thing was lit by Chinese lanterns, bright orange above our heads.


It was pointless picking out a stall. I’d never find it again. So I sat at the brightest yellow plastic table I could find and ordered a Tiger Beer. The menu had everything from noodles to fried frogs. And all manner of exotic seafood. I wasn’t ready for the deep fried sting ray. He’d have to wait. I got my chicken satay and marveled as it both soothed and alerted me with delicate flavour and mini atom bombs of chilli. I mauled the side dish of fresh chillies and drank out of the bottle as my frosted glass melted into a puddle on the tablecloth.


It had only cost a couple of pounds but I realized that I would happily go bankrupt spending years working my way along this road. I liked it here. Whatever madness was occurring I felt in on the joke. Every table told a story. Two Aussie backpackers were intensely talking over an enormous wok of noodles.  Six generations of Chinese men and women were neatly working their way through an entire menu in one sitting. And right in front of me four old men were sharing a bottle of some lethal looking spirit and house favourites. One got up, half staggering to play with the waiters and strutted to and fro like a Malaysian Mick Jagger.


I spotted a forlorn crab trapped in a steel case. He raised a sad claw tapping the glass to his equally defeated friend in the next cell. Who knows what adventures these dignified beasts had at sea but their tale would end in boiling water, in the heart of this crazy road. I saw his cousin served with fragrant rice and knew that he was doomed.


I caught a waft of the stir fry across the road and felt nothing but admiration for the chef who was simultaneously tattooing a man, knelt by his stall. A monkey hurtled by on the back of a motorbike, eyeballing my peanuts. And I sat back and laughed.


I ordered another beer and raised a glass to a man, silhouetted in orange light, watching from his balcony as his room fan span like helicopter blades. Big business was peering over the shoulder of his apartment. It was going to be a long day at work but I suppose he had no choice but to join in. He must have given up on sleep years ago. It was either that or leap onto the hot plates. But why bother? He was in food heaven already.

(Editor-in-Chief, Dawn Garcia: Matthew is the UK Correspondent on assignment in Malaysia for both play and inspiration. Matt and Natalia – Hope you returned to indulge in Sebastian!! Better you than someone who doesn’t know the poor hard shell’s plight…)