Take a dragon’s-view tour of New Zealand

Disney's 2016 reimagining of its classic 1997 movie Pete's Dragon was filmed entirely in New Zeal;and.

Disney’s 2016 reimagining of its classic 1997 movie Pete’s Dragon was filmed entirely in New Zealand.

This article appeared in the Escape travel supplement of News Corp Australia newspapers and websites in September 2016.

Editor’s note:
When you are born and raised in New Zealand, the great beauty of its natural environment doesn’t really register with you.You see places and appreciate them of course, but never in the awestruck, lost-for-words way of visitors from overseas. We take the loveliness of our country for granted, and many of us are guilty of seeing more of the rest of the world than our homeland.

In August, a press tour by Tourism New Zealand gave me the opportunity of seeing my own land as if through the eyes of someone from far away. Standing amidst the adjective-defying scenery of the Dart Valley in Mount Aspiring National Park, I experienced the beauty of New Zealand in a way that brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. No wonder film companies from around the world flock to make movies here.

By John Corbett
Attention all parents of young families: Disney’s charming reimagining of its classic 1977 movie, Pete’s Dragon (now showing) is set to unleash a wave of pester-power. Along with requests for the (very cute) soft toy, your Google-savvy littlies will soon campaign to visit the real-life places where Elliott, the endearingly aerodynamically-challenged dragon, swoops and flies.

There is good news on three fronts. Firstly, Pete’s Dragon was shot entirely in New Zealand, so it’s just across the Ditch. Secondly, the four official New Zealand movie locations (Rotorua, Wellington, Queenstown and Tapanui) are all in or close to main centres and thirdly, they’re surrounded by other family-friendly attractions. Here, from north to south, is a look at them.

“DEEP IN THE FOREST THERE DRAGONS WILL BE”

Rotorua's new Redwoods Treewalk attraction is already a smash hit.

Rotorua’s new Redwoods Treewalk attraction is already a smash hit.

In Pete’s Dragon, New Zealand stands in effortlessly for the US Pacific Northwest, right down to the vast and mysterious redwood forests that are the home of Elliott and his orphaned ten-year-old friend, Pete.

Cue the Redwoods Treewalk in Rotorua, a major tourism centre 230-kilometres southeast of Auckland and just 45 minutes from the wildly popular Hobbiton movie-set village in The Lord of the Rings. Many of the forest scenes in Pete’s Dragon were shot around Rotorua and the Treewalk vividly evokes the timeless green world in which Elliott can make himself invisible at will.

Already a smash hit with kids, the new Treewalk attraction is an aerial walkway over half a kilometre long suspended six to 12 metres above the forest floor. German-designed, it is impeccably engineered, very safe and very eco-sensitive, with lots of natural history information thrown in.

There are more redwoods across town at Mount Ngongotaha, where aerial gondolas glide 487 metres up the mountainside to the well-appointed Skyline complex. Three luge rides (Scenic, Intermediate and Advanced) take thrillseekers downhill through redwood-scented glades and back up on a chairlift. Skyline’s fully-licensed Stratosfare buffet restaurant has spectacular views over Rotorua and is good value for money.

Te Puia in Rotorua is an immersive experience of thermal activity and Maori culture.

Te Puia in Rotorua is an immersive experience of thermal activity and Maori culture.

To soak away the day’s exertions, Rotorua’s Polynesian Spa offers plenty of thermal bathing options; try the open-air Lakeside Pools which hover blissfully around warm-bath temperature. And no Rotorua visit is complete without seeing the thermal activity at Te Puia. Just as impressive as the geysers, mud pools and fumaroles is the sleekly modern tourism enterprise created by its indigenous Māori owners. An early-evening cultural performance followed by a hangi (Māori earth oven) dinner and buffet is a daily highlight.

ENCOUNTER WETAS IN WELLINGTON
“Be creative and make cool stuff” reads the souvenir T-shirt I bought at Weta Workshop in Wellington, a 70-minute flight or five-and-a-half-hour drive south from Rotorua. There is certainly a ton of cool movie costumes, characters and memorabilia on display in the daily Weta Cave Workshop studio tours. (Btw, a weta is a big, creepy-looking New Zealand insect that is basically harmless).

From humble beginnings in a motley collection of buildings near Wellington Airport, the multiple Academy Award-winning production house for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies has grown into a global behemoth that works on dozens of feature film and design projects every year. Weta’s digital division created the impressive CGI and other effects in Pete’s Dragon, including the 15 million CGI hairs of Elliott’s fur (big, green, friendly dragons of course do not have scales). Several forest scenes were shot ten minutes’ drive away at Mount Victoria Lookout.

The Wellington Waterfront Walk is fascinating in all weathers.

The Wellington Waterfront Walk is fascinating in all weathers.

Movie-making aside, Wellington offers visitors a serious dose of urban cool, with a vibrant coffee, craft beer and artisan food culture and more top-notch dining than you can shake a wizard’s wand at. For an absorbing look at the city’s pedestrian-friendly waterfront, cultural precinct and inner-city scene, take a small-group Zest Food Tour.

ZOOM AROUND QUEENSTOWN

Key aerial squences for Pete's Dragon were filmed around Queenstown.

Key aerial sequences for Pete’s Dragon were filmed around Queenstown.

An hour southwest from Wellington as the dragon (or Air New Zealand A320) flies is the alpine resort town of Queenstown, whose jaw-dropping lake, mountain and river gorge scenery appears throughout Pete’s Dragon. Local tour company Nomad Safaris can take you to spots like Windy Point and Peninsula Hill where key aerial scenes were filmed, and flying and zooming experiences here are definitely at the fore.

AJ Hackett Bungy's famous Kawarau Bridge jump site.

AJ Hackett Bungy’s famous Kawarau Bridge jump site.

At AJ Hackett Bungy at Kawarau Bridge (an official Pete’s Dragon location), watch 12-year-olds and little old ladies put you to shame while you screw up your courage to take the 43-metre plunge. Less terrifying, the adjacent 130-metre-long Kawarau Zipline delivers a thrilling evocation of what it’s like to fly like a dragon down a river gorge.

Indescribable. The staggering beauty of the Dart River Valley makes it a mecca for global movie-makers.

Indescribable. The staggering beauty of the Dart River Valley makes it a mecca for global movie-makers.

There’s more flying and zooming on a Dart River Wilderness Jet Boat Tour that takes you deep into the adjective-defying scenery of Mount Aspiring National Park, another Pete’s Dragon location and the setting for many other movies including The Lord of the Rings’ Misty Mountains of Mordor. Standing on the wide, braided bed of the Dart River, you understand why so many movie companies film here: the light is magical and the landscapes fill you with childlike awe.

GO RETRO IN TAPANUI
Last, if you are road-tripping, a two-and-a-half-hour drive east from Queenstown (or two hours west from Dunedin) takes you to the agreeably retro township of Tapanui “Millhaven” in Pete’s Dragon. Here, where Elliott follows Pete when he is “rescued” from the forest, the movie’s heart-warming themes of love, loyalty and belonging reach a peak. It’s the perfect place to end, or start, a great family holiday.

ESCAPE ROUTE

GETTING THERE
Air New Zealand, Qantas, Jetstar and other carriers offer frequent services from Australian capital cities to Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin. There are daily Air New Zealand and Jetstar connections to NZ regional airports.

ROTORUA
Redwoods Treewalk    treewalk.co.nz
Te Puia   tepuia.com
Skyline Gondola, Restaurant & Luge   skyline.co.nz
Polynesian Spa   Blissful natural hot mineral bathing and luxury spa treatments.     polynesianspa.co.nz

Stay 
Regent of Rotorua    An elegant, centrally situated boutique hotel accommodation with award-winning dining.

Eat
Okere Falls Store  Classic Kiwiana décor and excellent café food. okerefallsstore.co.nz
Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar   skyline.co.nz
Te Puia   Try the hangi!   tepuia.com

WELLINGTON
The Weta Cave
    wetaworkshop.com
Zest Food Tours   zestfoodtours.co.nz

Stay
Novotel Wellington
   4-star-plus accommodation close to the waterfront, shopping and museums.  novotel.com

Eat
Pōneke by Mojo    Waterfront café with menus by leading NZ chef, Martin Bosley.   mojocofee.co.nz/location/Poneke
Matterhorn   Dining and drinking for grown-ups. A Wellington institution.   matterhorn.co.nz

Basque   A rockin’ rooftop tapas bar with delicious food and great ambience.    basque.co.nz
Coco at the Roxy  Serves up Art Deco décor and flavours from around the globe.   cocoattheroxy.co.nz
Fork and Brewer   Savour the city’s flourishing craft-beer culture. forkandbrewer.co.nz

QUEENSTOWN
AJ Hackett Bungy and Kawarau Zipline
   bungy.co.nz
Dart River Wilderness Jet   dartriverjetsafaris.com
Nomad Safaris   nomadsafaris.co.nz

Stay
Novotel Queenstown Lakeside
  Well situated for restaurants, shopping and the lakefront esplanade.   novotel.com

Eat
Botswana Butchery
  Top-class fine-dining for grown-ups.   botswanabutchery.co.nz
Blue Kanu    Delicious, innovative Asia-Pacific cuisine in stylish surroundings.    bluekanu.co.nz
Amisfield Bistro & Cellar Door   Taste Central Otago’s world-famous pinot noir and aromatic white wines.   amisfield.co.nz

Photos: Disney; John Corbett; rotoruanz

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The Essential Guide to Hawke’s Bay and Napier, New Zealand

 

 

 

 

Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Escape travel supplement of News Corp Australia newspapers and websites in July 2016.

John Corbett travelled as a guest of Scenic Hotels and Hawke’s Bay Tourism.

Craggy Range Winery, Hawke's Bay

Craggy Range Winery, Hawke’s Bay

Can’t decide between Wellington or Auckland? Here’s what you can do and see if you meet halfway in beautiful Hawke’s Bay.   

WORLD-CLASS WINE AND FOOD
Wine has been grown in Hawke’s Bay since 1851 when French Catholic missionaries needed sacramental wine. Their winery, still thriving, has since been joined by 71 others and the region is now New Zealand’s leading producer of full-bodied red wines and rich and complex Chardonnays.

International and local investment in the last two decades has seen the emergence of world-class wineries like Craggy Range and Elephant Hill. Year-round sunny skies and flat, easy terrain make Hawke’s Bay ideal for wine touring. In the summertime, outdoor concerts in the vineyards attract some world-famous performers.
hawkesbaynz.com
classicwinetrail.co.nz
craggyrange.com
elephanthill.co.nz

Hawke's Bay produces some of New Zealand's best red wines and chardonnay

Hawke’s Bay produces some of New Zealand’s best red wines and chardonnays

FAWC!
This slightly naughty acronym belongs to the Hawke’s Bay Food and Wine Classic, a twice-yearly body assault showcasing the region’s gastronomic offerings. The inventive food and wine experiences of the summer event are a hot ticket on the New Zealand food scene.

The winter FAWC! series features 55 events over four weeks in June. The next summer FAWC! runs from 4 to 13 November this year.
fawc.co.nz

Napier is one of the world capitals of Art Deco architecture

Napier is a world capital of Art Deco architecture

A WORLD CAPITAL OF ART DECO
On a bright, sunny morning in February 1931, the city of Napier was levelled by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake. Two years later, thanks to a number of keen young architects who seized an opportunity, the place re-emerged as one of the world’s most complete and coherent expressions of Art Deco style. And with a twist: along with examples of Spanish Mission, Stripped Classical and Zig Zag Moderne, several of the 140 UNESCO World Heritage-nominated buildings feature Maori motifs.

All are cherished by local residents: each February an Art Deco Festival brings people from around the world; in July a weekend-long party features themed events. Year-round there are walking tours, vintage car tours and displays of Napier’s retro-fabulous heritage. artdeconapier.com

Bistronomy restaurant, Napier: mighty, mighty impressive

Bistronomy restaurant, Napier: mighty, mighty impressive

NAPIER IS GROOVIER
You might expect a regional city with streets named after nineteenth-century writers (Byron, Tennyson, Dickens, Thackeray) to be dull, but nobody told Napier that. Step out of the four-star Scenic Te Pania, the city’s leading hotel, and you find a buzzing inner-city scene with a burgeoning arts district and great shopping and dining. For lunch, simply head to Emporium at the Art Deco-themed Masonic Hotel.

When the lights go down, Bistronomy in Hastings Street offers cutting-edge fare you would expect to find in trendy Melbourne and Sydney. For dining with a rock’n’ roll/country-inflection, Mister D in Tennyson Street is the sophisticated answer – the sugar doughnuts with an “adult syringe” filling of Hennessy Cognac Custard are a standout treat.

Afterwards, move on to cool laneway bar-cafés like Monica Loves. Yup, it’s Melbourne again.
scenichotelgroup.co.nz
emporiumbar.co.nz
bistronomy.co.nz
misterD.co.nz
monicaloves.co.nz

Inky the octopus prior to his escape from the National Aquarium in Napier

Inky the octopus prior to his escape from the National Aquarium in Napier

SWIM WITH THE SHARKS
“There are no more octopuses,” said the desk staff at the National Aquarium of New Zealand, apologetically. In April 2016, the institution on Napier’s Marine Parade went viral around the world when Inky, the octopus, escaped Houdini-like from his tank and slithered away to freedom in Hawke’s Bay. His erstwhile tank-mate, Blotchy, has since passed away but there are plenty of other cool things to see including dinosaur bones (Hawke’s Bay is a paleontological mecca), Kiwis and tuataras, penguins and piranhas, and Fiona and Cheryl, two toothy young alligators.

And for $95, three times a day, you can swim with the sharks. In a wetsuit. No cage. Your call.
nationalaquarium.co.nz

Hawke's Bay has 200km of easy to intermediate-grade bike trails

Hawke’s Bay has 200km of easy to intermediate-grade bike trails

JOIN THE EASY RIDERS
New Zealanders are inveterate hikers and cyclists and Hawke’s Bay is no exception with a 200km network of pathways traversing the river and coastal scenery of the coastal plains.

The easy to intermediate-graded rides take in picturesque coastal communities, beautiful river valleys and panoramic views; perhaps the favourite is the Wineries Ride lined with award-winning cellar doors with plenty of places to stop and er, rest awhile. For travellers with an eco bent the Ahuriri Estuary is an internationally significant wetland with over 70 species of wading and migratory birds. You can also plant a native tree complete with its own GPS coordinates on Google Earth.
hawkesbaytrails.co.nz
freshairforests.co.nz

 

Cape Kidnappers has one of the world's largest gannet colonies

Gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers

THE CLIFFS OF CAPE KIDNAPPERS
Captain Cook named the dramatic white cliffs and headland at the southeastern extremity of Hawke’s Bay after a 1769 incident when Māori tried to abduct one of the Endeavour‘s passengers.

Things are a lot more relaxed these days with sightseeing tours to the world’s largest mainland gannet colony, and golf at the spectacular clifftop par 71 championship course designed by Tom Doak. For the deep-pocketed, The Farm at Cape Kidnappers lodge, a member of Relais & Chateaux, offers secluded luxury. The lodge also offers gourmet weekends hosted by internationally acclaimed celebrity chefs.
capekidnappers.com

The Farm at Cape Kidnappers s a member of Relais & Chateuax

The ultraluxurious The Farm at Cape Kidnappers s a member of Relais & Chateaux

HAWKE’S BAY INTERNATIONAL MARATHON
Q: What’s even more appealing than an international running festival in wine country? A: Staying on to enjoy world-class restaurants and cellar doors – which is exactly what lots of the 5,000 competitors did after this year’s hugely successful inaugural Hawke’s Bay International Marathon.

With a half-marathon, 10km run and kid’s course, the event is not just for the 2% body fat brigade; the main course also takes in the beauties of the region’s coastline, riversides, vineyards and olive groves. Everyone celebrates at the finish line among the vines of Sileni Estate. Entries for the 13 May 2017 event are open.
hawkesbaymarathon.co.nz 

Experience Maori culture with Waimarama Maori Tours and Waka Experience

Experience local Maori culture with Waimarama Maori Tours and Waka Experience

THE HOOK OF MAUI
Copenhagen has The Little Mermaid and Napier has Te Pania, a much-visited 1954 bronze statue on Marine Parade close to the Scenic hotel of the same name.

The Māori legend of Te Pania the sea maiden is part of the rich heritage of the Ngāti Kahungunu people who settled Hawke’s Bay in the 12th century: the sweep of its coastline is known as “the hook of Maui” where the ancient Māori god fished the North Island out of the sea.

Across the road from Te Pania, the smart new MTG Hawke’s Bay Museum & Art Gallery holds one of New Zealand’s finest collections of Māori artefacts. For living Maori culture, Waimarama Maori Tours and Waka Experience offer guided walks, visits to marae (meeting and ceremonial places) and cultural and sailing experiences on a double-hulled waka (ocean-going sailing canoe).
waimaramamaori.co.nz
wakaexperience.co.nz

Gwavas - one of the great 19th century pastoral homesteads in Central Hawke's Bay

Gwavas – one of the great 19th century pastoral homesteads in Central Hawke’s Bay

DOWNTON DOWN UNDER
Back in the day the term “Hawke’s Bay Farmer” was a synonym for landed wealth: the region’s vast 19th century sheep and cattle stations, complete with grand homesteads and fleets of servants, were amongst the finest in the land.

Heritage trails now take you into the Victorian and Edwardian splendour of lovingly preserved homesteads and gardens in Central Hawke’s Bay’s. They include Wallingford, reputedly the largest single-story dwelling in the Southern Hemisphere.

Most of the great houses are now boutique event venues with luxury accommodation. If you’ve ever wanted to sleep in a kingsize four-poster bed, here’s your chance.
heritage.org.nz

ESCAPE ROUTE

HAWKE’S BAY

GETTING THERE

Air New Zealand operates domestic services to Napier several times daily from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Jetstar NZ also flies to Napier from Auckland. Hawke’s Bay is a 5.5-hour drive southeast from Auckland, and four hours northeast from Wellington.
See: airnewzealand.co.nz, jetstar.com

GETTING AROUND
There are good local organised tours (visit the i-SITE office on Napier’s Marine Parade) but a rental car is the best way to explore the vineyards and many other attractions in the hinterland. Take a free walking tour of Napier’s Art Deco heritage or do it in style by vintage car.
artdeconapier.com

STAYING THERE
Scenic Hotel Te Pania, located on the waterfront in Napier’s buzzing inner-city and Deco district, is the perfect base for sightseeing and touring.
scenichotelgroup.co.nz

MORE
hawkesbaynz.com

Footpath feasts

 

Kuala Lumpur‘s street markets offer a fascinating introduction to one of the most diverse cuisines in Southeast Asia.

Locals gear themselves up for the day at a food stall in Jalan Petaling.

Locals gear themselves up for the day at a food stall in Jalan Petaling.

Editor’s note: The old adage about familiarity breeding contempt generally holds true, but for me, Malaysia is one of the exceptions. Over the last twenty years my work has taken me to this fascinating country nearly two dozen times, but every trip continues to yield exciting revelations. From the beauty of its natural setting to its cultural richness, its vibrant cities and its indescribably good cuisine, Malaysia is one of my favourite places on earth.

This story appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of Explore, helloworld New Zealand’s magazine for premium customers and agents*. John Corbett flew to Kuala Lumpur with the assistance of Tourism Malaysia and 4PR, Auckland, New Zealand.  

BY JOHN CORBETT.
“Monday is a quiet day at the market,” said Miss Julie, our guide from Mayflower Acme Tours Sdn Bhd, interrupting her commentary to peer through the minibus windows at the slow-motion ballet of morning traffic in central Kuala Lumpur. At 8.45am, this part of the city was still in full spate, the drivers around us performing feats of Zen-style manoeuvring that in New Zealand would cause a storm of honking and road rage. In Kuala Lumpur, where everyone unites in the task of getting to where they want to go, no-one turns a hair.

Dokong (Lansium domesticum) in the foreground is a seasonal fruit treat in October/November.

Dokong (Lansium domesticum), in the foreground, is a seasonal fruit treat in October/November.

“Saturday and Sunday are very busy,’ continued Miss Julie. “Many housewives work during the week these days so they go out specially during the weekend to get their fish and meat and vegetables. The supermarket is only for certain things in KL. Many people still buy their food at the market.”

Our destination was Pasar Pudu (the name “pasar” means “market” in Malay), one of the city’s largest and oldest traditional wet markets where fresh meat, produce and live animals are sold in the open air. Located near KL’s “Golden Triangle” of premium shopping streets and plush hotels, Pudu is an old part of the city that was once synonymous with a grim colonial-era prison, now demolished. After a few more minutes of traffic Zen the minibus stopped abruptly beside a row of old shophouses and we disembarked into the tropical heat.

A corner of the fish section of Pasar Pudu wet market.

A corner of the fish section of Pasar Pudu wet market.

“Dokong!” said Miss Julie, pointing to a stall featuring some unremarkable-looking brown fruit. She cast a glance at the stall owner for permission before opening one to display its translucent, lychee-tasting flesh.

“Very tasty, but a bit pricey because they are seasonal,” she said, offering another of the endless stream of facts and observations she delivered throughout our tour. “We are now in the season of little fruits.”

Dried fish, shrimps and anchovies are Malaysian culinary staples.

Dried fish, shrimps and anchovies are Malaysian culinary staples.

All around us, Pasar Pudu stretched away in lane after stall-crammed lane, sprawling out of its central square and into the adjacent streets. It definitely lived up to its description as a wet market: the uneven asphalt paving (we had been strongly advised to wear comfortable, closed footwear) was splashed with the drippings and rinsings and trimmings of the most astonishing variety of fresh seafood, meat, fruit and vegetables you could ever hope to see. And even on a Monday it was jam-packed, with shoppers jostling three to four deep in the narrow aisles and porters yelling and pushing trolleys and barrows in every direction. It was also hot: although sun umbrellas covered most of the stalls the temperature in the shade was still around 30 degrees C, with 90 per cent humidity. We half-joked that we would hate to see the place on a busy day.

Mangosteens (background) and rambutans (foreground)

Mangosteens (background) and rambutans (foreground)

But Pasar Pudu was a revelation. For all of its devotion to commerce, the market had an unexpected beauty. There was counter after counter of gorgeous, subtly-patterned cuttlefish, frilled gurnard, spiky black sea urchins and slithery eel-like fish completely unfamiliar to Westerners. Big blue crabs sat grumpily in shallow polystyrene tubs with air bubbling into the water to keep them alive, their ferocious nippers tied securely with green rubber bands. There were tiny sharks, perfect red snapper, garfish, grouper and octopus.

Kampong (village) chickens await their fate. Although they are scrawny-looking, Malaysians esteem them for their flavour.

Kampong (village) chickens await their fate. Although they are scrawny-looking, kampong chickens are esteemed by Malaysians for their flavour.

The produce section was equally fetching. Purple- and white-streaked eggplants were arranged in big eye-catching piles, as were tomatoes, garlic, coriander, galangal, ginger, lotus root and mint. The spices section smelt like the Arabian Nights, with counters heaped with black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg and cardamom. In the dried foods section, a couple of us recognised ikan bilis, the crunchy dried anchovies that are a key ingredient in Malaysia’s “national” breakfast, Nasi Lemak. Miss Julie stepped in to explain at times.

“This is known as square bean”, she said, holding up a sample in one hand. “And this is snake bean”, she said, shaking the other. ”The kampong (village) chickens are also very tasty to Malay people,” she observed as we entered the butchery section where hens with distinctive red-brown feathers sat in cages awaiting their fate. At the red meat counters, whole beasts were being filleted, with impressive skill, with meat cleavers.

Pasar Pudu: not flash-looking but a wonderland of sights and tastes and aromas.

Pasar Pudu: not flash-looking but a wonderland of sights and aromas and tastes.

Back in the cool of the air-conditioned mini-bus and its supply of wet wipes, we headed across town to look at another aspect of market life. By night, the bars, restaurants and discount shopping outlets in the Chinatown district do a roaring trade. By day, its streets are the realm of street food vendors, although at 10.30am things were only just starting for some of the locals who were quietly spooning up bowls of congee, a rice porridge dish that sets you up for the day. If KL’s wet markets illustrate the abundance of the land and the richness of tropical seas, its street stalls reflect the extraordinary mix of influences that makes Malaysian cuisine one of the most interesting and diverse in Asia.

The curry puff guy plies his trade beside some building work, unfazed,

Unfazed, the curry puff guy plies his trade beside some building work.

A thousand years before 16th-century European voyagers ventured into the region, Malaysia’s ancient kingdoms were part of a network of trading routes that extended west to the coasts of Africa and Arabia, east to Indonesia, and north to China. Later, under colonial rule, came influences from Portugal, Holland and Britain. A stroll past the street stalls in Jalan Petaling revealed some of the happy results: fragrant curries harking back to India and Indochina; soy bean milk and grass jelly drinks brought by migrants from southern China; popiah, a Southeast Asian-style spring roll) especially popular in Indonesia, and stands selling the brightly-coloured ais kacang (shaved ice) confections of agar-agar, tapioca and glutinous rice that Malaysians adore. At a vendor’s cart next to some guys doing building work I enjoyed the best curry puff of my life. Sort of like a samosa or Portuguese empanada but something else yet again, this puff-pastry cousin of the meat pie has been beloved by everyone since colonial times.

Lunch is ready streetside on Jalan Petaling.

Lunch is ready streetside on Jalan Petaling.

Another short hop took us to a Muslim eatery close to Central Market where Miss Julie introduced us to teh tarik, another colonial-era classic whose name literally means “pulled tea”. With a dramatic flourish, a café staffer poured our servings from a jug held high over his head. The tea was frothy from its exertions and tasted like tea made with Nestlé evaporated milk and sweetened liberally with palm sugar. Which it was.

Then it was on to Central Market where we roamed the profusion of stalls selling souvenir items, batik and songket fabrics, culinary utensils and even food art. Upstairs, Miss Julie pointed out the  market’s well regarded food court whose stalls include Nyonya, the world-renowned fusion of Malay and Peranakan (Straits-born) Chinese cuisine.

Nyonya cuisine - one of the glories of the Malaysian food scene.

Nyonya cuisine – one of the glories of the Malaysian food scene.

Two of us noticed the exquisite kueh (small cakes and tarts) that are Nyonya specialities and our eyes swivelled over to Miss Julie. She had officially discharged her duties and was readying us to head back to our hotel.

“If we bought a few of these for us all,” we asked, “could you squeeze some in?”

“Of course,” she replied. “You’re in Malaysia. There is always time to eat.”

* John Corbett is Subeditor of Explore magazine.  

Photos by John Corbett