In this series, I’m going to be finding food you can buy for as close to a British pound as it’s possible to get. And to make it more difficult, food for a quid can’t be pure junk food — it has to be something you can eat sitting down in a restaurant, however basic.
For the inaugural issue? I tried steamed cockles from one of the Chinese Malaysian places that line Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Bintang, a web of backstreets liberally laced with Chinese Malaysian joints, Indian Malaysian curry houses, and even one Turkish ice cream spot.
Malaysia’s cultural diversity makes it a great place for foodie holidays, with influences imported from India and China, as well as from across the region that used to be called the Malay archipelago.
Patterns of immigration into Malaysia means that Malaysian Chinese food is much more influenced by Southern Chinese and Hong Kong cooking styles than what you’d think of as mainland Chinese cuisine (though, if you know anything about Sichuan food, you’ll know that mainland Chinese cooking is about as varied as it comes).
While European culinary orthodoxy is to cook cockles until their shells open and then discard those that don’t, these you have to open with your fingers, revealing the juicy, tender meat that’s been slowly steamed in a sauce with flavours of mushroom and oyster — umami to the max.
Presentation, as you can tell from the plastic table and polystyrene box, ain’t up to much. But the cockles do come with two dipping sauces, neatly arranged in the polystyrene lid. One’s a fiery chilli-led blend thickened with enough pureed garlic to keep the vampires away for years, the other a sweet chilli sauce with notes of mango. Also in the box? Toothpicks with which to dunk the cockles in the sauce, and tissues to clean your hands.
Cost: 5 Malaysian ringgit (£1.02)