Thursday, June 23, 2011

Vishal's for Banana Leaf and a trip down memory lane

I have a real soft spot for banana leaf rice. Fluffy rice with a rainbow of curries, chutneys, fried meat and fish to choose from, all adorning a bright green banana leaf. Vishal's is famed for their version of this Southern Indian speciality and situated in Brickfields: a neighborhood in KL also known as Little India because of the high population of Indian residents and businesses. Malaysian Indians are largely from Southern India, brought by the British all that time ago to work on the rubber plantations which for a long time was a main export of Malaysia. Aside from banana leaf rice being absolutely delicious, I think my soft spot stems from having grown up around the Indian community here. My old high school is just round the corner from Vishal's and I haven't been back to these parts for ages.

Vishal's is in a row of old shophouses on Jalan Scott and nearby a large Hindu temple with multicoloured-diety brilliance. Shophouses like these in KL are a dying breed; many original features like mosaiced floors, round bakelite power switches, wooden window shutters and old style fans typical of the British rule are often usurped by newer fittings that can never compare.Whilst many original parts may no longer be there at least Vishal's has kept some.

As I walk in I have flashbacks of my old be-saried teachers getting us to line up and behave. I'm not sure how long Vishal's has been around for but I'm certain they'd have been here when I was in school (a good fifteen years ago, eek!). We wouldn't have been allowed to come this far from the school gates though!

From the moment we walked in a spectrum of colour and aroma coming from a steel counter in the corner seized our senses. A stunning pallete from popping turmeric yellow, bright vermillion to rich browns, each dish had its own personality. I wanted it all.

Once we'd grabbed our seats in side-by-side communal style and marked our banana leaves with steel cups, the buffet came to us out of little trays and pots. There was so much choice and though it may sound like a lazy generalisation, I believed it all to be excellent. I particularly liked the fried fish and chicken thigh which was garam masaled to perfection and the tangy and spicy curried squid. Out of the vegetables my favourite was the salad made from grated cucumber, carrot, shallots mixed with lime and yogurt. I would also go back any day just for the oily, garlicky aubergine chutney, stewed and slow cooked down to a chunky paste. And as for the biryani rice, take it from one that grew up on the stuff it was some of the very best.

I feel it mandatory for anyone that visits to try a cup of rasam and teh susu lembu. Rasam, a hot and sour soupy drink is made from tamarind, tomato, chilli and spices and this one had body, sending a gentle hum to my belly. For those of you that love teh tarik, Malaysian spiced thick "pulled" tea, teh susu lembu is the same but made from fresh cow's milk. The result is a thicker, frothier and nearly velvety tea.

I loved looking down the aisle to see diners sweep up their rice and curry into their mouths with their hands. Pure gusto and no ceremonies, just hearty eating. My guilty pleasure of enjoying a faint biryani wift on my fingertips even after washing my hands reflected the schoolgirl still within me.

Going to Vishal's and Brickfields was a small trip back in time for myself, and for all who come it's to experience a timeless eating style rooted in communal tradition. For our abundant selection of dishes with rice and drinks, it was RM38 between two. Thank you D for taking us back "home"!

Vishal Food & Catering
No. 15, Jalan Scott
Off Jalan Tun Sambanthan, 50470 KL
Tel: +603 2274 0502

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Sean said...

banana leaf rice brings back memories for me too, since it was an occasional treat for my friends and i while we were studying in penang in the late 1990s. i rarely have it anymore in kl though. i think my last encounter with BLR was with at nirwana in telawi, maybe three years ago, and i've never been to vishal's before =)

Hungry Female said...

Hi Sean! Then I think it's time to scratch your 3 year itch - if you do go let me know what you think:)

Su-Lin said...

I love love love BNR! Seriously, one of my favourite meals ever!

Hungry Female said...

It's truly magnificent! And I'd really like to know if it exists in London?!

boo_licious said...

Lovely pix of Vishals! You're making me crave for some good old BLR this weekend but alas I have to work.

Hungry Female said...

Hey Boo! Oh no! Perhaps there's a chance work may get done quicker than you think and you'll treat yourself!

J2Kfm said...

Beautiful shots there. Jumped here from Boo's links. Vishal has become Vishalatchi now?

Hungry Female said...

Hello "Motormouth":) There are actually two on Jalan Scott, the first is their catering arm and the one I went to is the canteen, Vishalatchi. So so good.

The lists on your blog are excellent! Will defo be looking up some places!

Lex (A Food Story) said...

This makes me want to travel to Malaysia even more! I've never seen anything like this, looks totally amazing!

Hungry Female said...

Lex - come to Malaysia already! And Kieran too!

Anonymous said...

Hi about the question regarding Vishal and Vishalatchi, I believe it is a case of family feud.

The original Vishal is the one located on a corner lot, which is now known as Vishalatchi. A few doors down is a new shop which has adopted the Vishal brand name and same sighboard.

Initially I thought that both shops had the same owners and the new one was just an expansion but as we entered the shop, I noticed a man in front of Vishalatchi furiously showing hand signs of disapproval and told us to go there to eat instead. We decided otherwise and stuck to our plan at eating at this new place instead, thinking it is the same. Upon enquiring with the new shop's owners, they claim it is the same shop and one is owned by the wife, the other the husband. To their credit, food was good ( better than the the over commercialised Nirwana). After finishing up we proceeded to Vishalatchi to satisfy our curiosity. The man who was doing hand signs kept saying that the other shop was 'tipu punya' and did not want to elaborate more. The shop owner and workers were clearly the original workers. I can't say for sure, but it all smells of family feud which is nothing new in the food business.


Hungry Female said...

Dear Anon - wow thank you for that detailed comment! Very useful information and lesson to learn when thinking of where to position your competitive business, whether it's family or not! HF x