You won’t find Lorong Bandar on a tourist map of downtown Kuala Lumpur. It’s really just a hole in the wall, an alley off an alley that runs between two larger streets.
But it’s where the East Indians who work in the neighbourhood go for breakfast. Our hostel clerk invites us to tag along with her when we show up at her desk in the morning looking for a place to eat. We head out the front door, turn left into an alley; step around or over a manhole, past a booth selling god-knows-what.
We enter an open space, an intersection of the two alleys, viewing the backsides of several buildings. It’s far cleaner than one would expect for such a location… at least way cleaner than any other similar alley in the other places we’ve been.
Our native guide turns to the left, and we follow her as she ducks and weaves around food stalls and tarps covering the narrowing alley. Then we emerge into a small courtyard lined with open kitchens.
She shows us what’s available and guides us to an older woman, veiled and working behind a large grey marble cutting board. Lumps of white dough are lined up in front of her.
Our guide says a few words to the cook, and she takes a piece of the dough in her hands. She starts spinning and flipping the dough, and in a few seconds it’s paper thin and about the diameter of an extra-large pizza.
She takes the thin disk (I have no idea why it doesn’t tear when she lifts it) and places it on a hot, black metal griddle. Turning the edges up, the disk becomes a boiling, bubbling square of light, chewy bread. For good measure we have an egg broken in our roti. She puts it on a plate and hands it to us. We wolf it back, dipping it in orange and brown sauces of mysterious origin. We order another for good measure.
Her husband, working in the stall next to her, hands us dark, thick coffee. We sit and watch the free show as our cook finishes order after order.
I wanted to get lost in Asia. Wanted to feel, if even for a few moments, like the travellers of old, far from home and the familiar. It’s not easy, travelling in a large group, with email and Facebook, to get that sense.
But here, with a plate of rice on banana-leaf, soft curries tweaking my tongue, and the practiced magic of the roti cook, Lorong Bandar seems just far away enough.