Food for a Quid: Steamed Cockles in Kuala Lumpur

Chinese-Malaysian steamed cockles in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.What does a British pound buy you, foodwise? In most parts of the world, a lot. In fact, even in Western Europe you can feed yourself on junk food for under a quid.

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)
Flavour: 8.5/10
Presentation: 5/10

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Comments: 7

  1. Terry at Overnight New York November 5, 2012 at 7:58 pm Reply

    Great idea for a series! (And packaging aside, what a bargain.)

    • Theodora November 5, 2012 at 8:16 pm Reply

      Thanks, Terry! You can actually eat for rather less than a pound in Kuala Lumpur (fresh-made roti with a small dish of dhal costs 1 ringgit), but I thought this was pretty special for a pound… And, god, yes, the packaging’s an ecological disaster. Why they can’t use banana leaf like they used to, I will NEVER know.

  2. Wandering Educators November 5, 2012 at 9:52 pm Reply

    Oh, YUM. I love this series idea – brilliant!

    • Theodora November 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm Reply

      Thank you! The next one is coming to you from Nepal…

  3. Micki November 6, 2012 at 7:20 pm Reply

    Fantastic idea! We’re always looking for affordable, delicious food on the road, and this definitely fits the bill. I do love the sound of the roti and side of dhal, though!

    • Theodora November 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm Reply

      Roti and dhal is an absolute staple in Malaysia. Typically, one roti and a side of either dhal or gravy costs about 1 ringgit (foreigner price) — which is 30 cents, essentially…

  4. […] Read more about order food in Malaysia from here. […]

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