Angel Ng, bartender and co-founder of bar PS150, shows us around the neighborhood’s back alleys and five-foot ways
Chinatown in the Malaysian capital has all the quirks and conveniences Chinatowns around the world are known for: cheap eats, flea markets and backpacker hostels. But recently, edgy cafés, bars and artist collectives have sprouted and taken up residence in the timeworn colonial-era shophouses that characterize KL’s Chinatown. PS150, a popular speakeasy-style cocktail bar, is one of these new inhabitants. Its co-founder and bartender, Angel Ng, who has lived most of her life in Singapore but now calls KL home, walks us through the neighborhood’s back alleys and five-foot ways to show us how past and present cultures have intertwined.
10AM: Have a Malaysian breakfast at Lai Foong
Traditional kopitiams (coffee shops), distinguished by their aged tiles and wood-and-marble tables, reflect the city’s old-world charms. They’re also some of the best places to enjoy the quintessential Malaysian breakfast — half-boiled eggs, kaya (jam made of coconut milk, eggs and pandan leaves) toast and kopi with condensed milk. “This always brings me back to my childhood,” says Angel. Still hungry? Try the signature clam noodle soup. 138 Jln Tun H S Lee
11AM: See Taoist rituals at Sin Sze Si Ya Temple
Chinatown is a cultural melting pot and home to Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples. For a taste of history, step into the city’s oldest Taoist temple, Sin Sze Si Ya. It was founded in 1864 by Yap Ah Loy, a Chinese community leader who helped develop KL into a center for commerce. Wooden panels painted with prayers and deities make the temple absolutely atmospheric. You can also have your fortune told here. “A few of its caretakers are Punjabis who speak Cantonese. And that’s what Malaysia’s all about — multiculturalism,” says Angel. 113A Jln Tun H S Lee
1PM: Go on a food hunt at Petaling Street Market
Petaling Street, the landing point of many Chinese settlers during the tin rush of the 1800s, has always been synonymous with Chinatown. The street is flanked by rickety stalls selling bric-a-brac, but duck behind them and you’ll find some of the best eats in town. Dig into Hokkien mee, a dish of thick noodles stir-fried in dark soya sauce with lard, prawn and pieces of pork, at Kim Lian Kee or feast on a bowl of wonton mee at Koon Kee. Keep exploring and turn off at Madras Lane for assam laksa (noodles in sour tamarind soup). Jln Petaling
3PM: Buy ceramic souvenirs at Yat Hang Trading
With a humble storefront, the 100-year-old Yat Hang Trading shop is easy to overlook. Venture in to find ceramic tableware, similar to what’s used at traditional Chinese eateries. “I chanced upon this place and got snack bowls for PS150 from here,” says Angel. For those with cash to splurge, Yat Hang has a collection of decades-old, hand-painted ceramics for sale. 169 Jln Tun H S Lee
5PM: Coffee break at Jao Tim
The Art Deco-inspired Jao Tim (Cantonese for “hotel”) is a café and event space that occupies a shophouse built in 1910. With a high, sloped ceiling letting in natural light and swing tunes from the early 20th century playing softly in the background, the café evokes the mood of a dance hall. “It doesn’t feel like Chinatown in here,” says Angel. “It feels like another place in another time.” 61 Jln Sultan
9PM: Soak in the art and ambience at Shuang Xi
Neon lights, plants in a bathtub and cushions strewn all over the floor make up part of the beautiful mess that’s Shuang Xi. The eclectic venue is the work space of an artist collective by day and a cocktail bar by night. There’s also a tattoo studio — co-founder Priscilla Tan, known sometimes by her “Fatty Bom Bom” tattoo series, operates Gimmick Tattoo Studio (available by appointment only). She jokes that the series was inspired by her own post-marriage weight gain. “That suits me right now,” says Angel, who asks to have a cherubic woman — albeit one as a she-devil wielding a cocktail shaker — inked on her wrist. “It’s kind of what I am — I’ve always been a little rebellious.” Shuang Xi also hosts art markets and movie nights. 177 Jln Tun H S Lee
This article first appeared in the August 2018 issue of Smile magazine.