This is why visitors to Malaysia are obliged to try a banana leaf lunch. Served at most mamaks (street side restaurants with typically outdoor seating), these lunches are (as in their namesake) served on a large, green banana leaf. While each banana leaf is different, punters can expect raitas, poppadoms and a big serving of rice as a compulsory standard. It’s hearty, full of flavour, and will get you to grips with the local fare.
Come to Kuala Lumpur and you’ll find a mamak on every street corner, packed to the brim with hungry people from all walks of life; families breaking Ramadan fast, office workers on lunch and tourists squinting confusedly at the Malay menus.
Between 11am and 3pm the banana leaf lunch buzz is in full swing, with uniformed waiters swiftly attending crowds at the stainless steel tables. The decor is simple, white walls dotted with a few calendars and decorative images that highlight the food and drinks counters.
The ambiance here is created by the simple things; the chatter of customers, shouting of orders, clinking of plates. Strangers sit across from each other, fork and spoons engaged in a ravenous tussle with their banana leaf lunch. You come here for the food, plain and simple.
Huge, steaming portions of fresh rice are piled onto your leaf, and will keep on being piled until you tell them to stop. Carrying three cylindrical metal pails, the waiter then offers you the choice of three curries to sauce your rice - lentil dahl, chicken curry sauce or fish curry sauce. Opting for the latter, I was treated to a rich, zesty accompaniment.
To go with the banana leaf, customers are invited to choose from a flusteringly large range of main options. These include chicken tandoori, curry and fried fish. To go with my fish curry sauce, I ordered a hefty (albeit dry) portion of fried fish. Rounded off with the grand bazaar of meal components, it solidified an altogether waist-busting and highly memorable dining experience.
“Nirvana is pure, detachment from all material things and existence,” says Nriwana Maju owner Amutha Devi. “That’s why we chose the name. You eat food at Nirwana, you feel pure.”
If purity can be defined as a full belly and happy smile, then seek enlightenment at Nirwana Maju.
Sri Nirwana Maju Bangsar
No. 43 Jalan Telawi 3
Price $$ (a little more than you’d normally pay, especially by local standards)