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Thursday June 19, 2008

The best nasi briyani in town

A READER by the name of “Mister Joshua” had tipped me off about the nasi briyani at Lorong Bandar 13 in Kuala Lumpur's city centre.

At first, it did not strike me that the area in question was mentioned in my first walkabout at Medan Pasar. And, I must give credit to the guy for his persistence.

He emailed me a couple of times, insisting that the best nasi briyani in the city could be found at the said location and wanted to meet up to discuss more about food.

Wide variety: There are at least 15 different dishes served at the Nasi Briyani Special stall.

I declined because it is my policy not to entertain requests as such, and after some correspondence with the reader, I agreed that, to be fair, I would check out the place for lunch.

For starters, Lorong Bandar 13 is located off Lebuh Pasar Besar. This is the heart of Kuala Lumpur's financial district and the most distinguishable institutions that you will find here are the moneychangers.

And, it will not be difficult to locate the nasi briyani stalls because they are located off Lebuh Pudu. The first thing you will notice is a fruit stall and then you will quickly recognise the makan places that are neatly lined up in a row.

Cheap and tasty: Nasi Briyani Special's offering at RM4.50 per plate.

There are at least a dozen food stalls in this narrow lane that leads to Central Market. I found it amazing that three nasi briyani stalls were squeezed into one location.

First, there is warung Tajudin – Nasi Briyani Special & Fried Chicken – that offers catering services at the entrance of the lane. This is followed by gerai Beriyani Popular Southern Fried Chicken and gerai Hasan Nasi Beriyani.

Now, speaking of choices, there are plenty. But, which is the top makan stall here? This, I soon found out, was Tajudin's stall, hands-down.

I made my way to the man's stall after passing through a labyrinth of stalls from the rear entrance of Lorong Bandar 13 opposite Central Market's McDonald's.

Here, I was greeted by a couple of Malay women who offered their nasi campur. “Makan? Sila duduk, encik ...,” (Do you want to eat? Please have a seat ...,) ushered one of them.

I politely declined and made my way to the mid-section of the lane, where I found a Chinese grocery shop. When I started snapping away with my pocket camera, a man who was not far away frowned at me.

Discreetly, I put my camera back into my pocket and proceeded to the stalls at the lane entrance. It did not take long for me to find Tajudin's stall.

An Indonesian stall helper asked: “Nasi briyani? Makan ke? Bungkus?” (Briyani Rice? Eat in or takeaway?) She handed me a plate of rice as I stood in the queue.

Kalau nak cepat, ambil ayam kat sini,” (It's faster if you take your dishes here,) she suggested.

It was a wise choice because I was running short of makan funds.

At the end of the month before the pay cheque arrives, cheap eats are always a lifesaver. So, I chomped down my meal without much hesitation.

Next to me was a guy reading his newspaper – he was going through the StarMetro pages. He paused for a second, turned and started staring at me.

At first, I was too engrossed in my nasi briyani and the hot gravy got me sweating in buckets. But the silence was broken when the guy next to me started to engage in small talk.

“Err, hello mister, are you that food fellah in Star ah?” he asked.

I paused for a moment and responded: “Ah, looks like me, sounds like me, but it's not me....”

He shook his head and insisted to his co-worker that the caricature in the newspaper was, indeed, the guy having nasi briyani beside him.

After I had got him all confused, I apologised and introduced myself. The guy broke into laughter and said: “See, I knew it!”

With that brief introduction, I became an acquaintance of K.T. Wong, who works in a bank in Medan Pasar.

Wong, who is in his mid-40s, said he had been eating around the area since he started working at the age of 23 and found Tajudin's nasi briyani to be one of the best around.

“So, how about the rest?” I asked.

Aiya, no fight lah!” said Wong.

For RM4.50 a plate, I was impressed by the simplicity of the meal.

Literally no-frills and, as I saw it, people were eating at the side tables and benches like an assembly line. There was hardly any time for the patrons here to socialise as the crowd swelled during lunch hour.

Wong and I shared some Mongolian jokes as well as notes on some makan places to try out around the central business district. I told the bank employee that I literally ate for a living and would love to check out the places that he suggested.

The nasi briyani stalls at Lorong Bandar 13 came as a surprise to me because I had hardly noticed them. To get to this location, jump into an LRT and get off at Pasar Seni, which is about a 10-minute walk.

If you are coming from Petaling Jaya, I would suggest parking at Mid Valley Megamall that will cost you only RM1, and sharing a cab to Central Market, which is roughly about RM5.

Buses on your return trip to Mid Valley are aplenty and highly recommended is a trip on Metrobus number 99 for which the fare is RM1.50 for a single trip.

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