I have a confession to make, and I’m pretty sure it makes me a terrible person. While exploring Kuala Lumpur, I stumbled upon an outdoor Chinese restaurant that served up pigeon, and I ate it just before going to a bird park.
While wandering around Jalan Alor, an area renowned in Kuala Lumpur for its street food, I decide to sit down at a Chinese restaurant and see what’s on offer. After all, trying new foods is one of those things that make travel worthwhile, and a major factor when I decide what country to visit next. I also try to eat as many things as I can that I’ve never had before. Travel 101.
And there it was: pigeon. From the picture on the menu, it seems fairly innocuous. Not the most exotic choice, but I had already ruled out the shark fin soup for ethical reasons.
After placing the order, the waiter returns a few minutes later to say that they are all out of pigeon. I resolve to come back the next day, comforted by the fact that at least I’ll know it’s fresh.
Nearly 24 hours later and I’m back at the restaurant with a mission to snag one of those pigeons before they’re gobbled up by the hungry masses of Kuala Lumpur. And I’m in luck.
Does your food have a face? The well-known PETA slogan immediately flashes into my brain. It’s not uncommon for food in Asia to have its head still attached when it’s brought to you, but this one forced me into an awkward smile. I think what got me was a combination of the expression on the poor bird’s face, and the fact that the head had already been detached–meaning it was separated, then fried with the rest of the bird, and then placed on the plate in roughly the right place. Is this to identify that I am, indeed, eating pigeon? How do I know they haven’t just swapped heads on a small magpie?
The whole bird had been deep fried, and came with a slightly spicy sweet-and-sour sauce. And it wasn’t bad. A little gamey, a bit like dark meat on a turkey. There’s not much meat on a pigeon, as you can imagine, but a the crispy skin makes up for it a bit.
Had I been able to get the pigeon the previous day, I wouldn’t have hopped in a taxi immediately afterward and headed to Kuala Lumpur’s bird park, the largest free-flight walk-in aviary in the world. But the fates had conspired.
With a bright orange entrance bracelet on my wrist and the smell of fried bird on my breath, I wandered into the park to spend some time with the relatives of my lunch.
Kuala Lumpur’s bird park is a decent attraction. It’s only slightly touristy, but the grounds are well-kept and it’s wasn’t, at least on a weekday afternoon, too busy. The entire park is covered by a massive series of nets to prevent the birds from leaving the safety of the park, although I was a little dismayed to find that many of the birds were still caged; birds of prey, mostly. While it’s understandable that a bird park with free-range predators might not stay in business that long, the park could have probably done without them. If you spend the effort going to a free-flight aviary, you want to see birds in flight, living relatively naturally.
All in all, not a bad way to spend an afternoon, and the park’s Hornbill restaurant has reasonably good food, although it’s priced a touch higher than you’ll find elsewhere in the city. The aviary is only easily reachable by taxi as it’s not located near KL’s monorail system, but it’s located near city-centre, so your fare should be quite cheap.
And, if possible, try not to breath your pigeon breath on the birds. It’s just bad manners.