Foodie Guide: Must Eats in Kuala Lumpur
One of the best (and most delicious) ways of discovering a new place and culture is definitely by exploring the food. The only problem is – trying every single dish. It's an amazing feat even for a local to try the myriad of foods here, let alone a visitor! But when in KL, be sure not to miss out on some of these local must-haves!
The Malaysian version of salad, this fruit and vegetable medley is anything but boring, as it’s served with a tangy and spicy palm sugar dressing. Another variation is tossing the fruits in a pungent prawn paste for another dimension of flavour. It’s hot, sweet, and fresh – can we consider this as part of a balanced diet yet?!
It’s almost a necessity to visit a local mamak store and order a fresh plate of sizzling satay. These delicious meat skewers are grilled or barbecued over a wood or charcoal fire, and often served with a special peanut sauce, ketupat, and onions. One can pick from a variety of meats such as chicken, goat, mutton, or beef.
Usually found in night markets or roadside food trucks, it’s unsurprising to find a bit of everything from various types of meats and vegetables, quail eggs, fish balls, and more served on skewers, ready to be dipped into pots of boiling water. Drizzle them with a sauce (or two) of your choice before devouring these perfect midnight snacks.
Despite its funny-sounding name (it literally translates to “brain-brain” in Malay), this is a block of spiced fish paste that’s been wrapped and cooked in either Nyonya style (steamed in banana leaves) or Southern Style (grilled in attap leaves). Whichever you prefer, it always ends up being a deliciously savoury and spicy treat.
Chee Cheong Fun
This simple but flavourful Chinese snack features rolls of silky soft rice noodles that’s been filled with meat and vegetables, and served with seasoned soy sauce. It’s a wonderfully balanced dish, with the plain noodles' smooth texture contrasting with the bite and flavour of its fillings. Chee cheong fun is known to be served in two versions – dry or wet. The dry version being with the soy sauce, and the wet version served with curry and mushroom gravy.
Ask any Malaysian about their national dish, and nasi lemak immediately comes to mind. Literally translated to “fat rice”, it comprises of santan steamed rice, sambal, cucumber slices, peanuts, anchovies, and egg. It’s a symphony of flavours and textures that’s well-loved and usually enjoyed as breakfast. It’s already delicious as is, but if you wish, you can accompany it with rendang, squid sambal, or fried chicken.
Banana Leaf Rice
Finding a seat at a banana leaf rice joint here is a challenge all on its own – because there’s really nothing like it. Rice served on a large banana leaf as a plate with a trio of vegetables, papadom, rassam, and crispy fried gourd. You are then free to choose which curry to drench your rice in – be it chicken, fish, crab, or dhal. Be sure to get some side dishes as well, such as fried tenggiri, chicken varuval, and fried squid. Honestly, this meal is a feast all on its own.
Yes, it’s spicy. Yes, it’s delicious. No, it’s not meant to be crispy. The best way to describe rendang is probably a sort of dry meat and coconut milk stew that takes hours to cook down. The dish is cooked with coconut milk and a rich paste made of mixed ground spices that also act as a natural preservative for the meat. The rich and complex flavours of rendang are best enjoyed with plain steamed rice, ketupat (compressed rice cake) or lemang (glutinous rice cooked in bamboo tubes).
Char Kuey Teow
Another national favourite - there isn’t one person I know who dislikes char kuey teow. A wonderfully savoury dish of flat rice noodles that’s been stir-fried in a wok with dark soy sauce, eggs, prawns, blood cockles, beans sprouts, and chives. Traditional char kuey teow is stir-fried in pork fat, and garnished with pork lard croutons. Personally, I always get my fix with extra eggs and sliced fishcake for that extra oomph.
One of the most difficult choices to make at a local mamak is what roti to get. If you want something simple, go for the soft, fluffy and thin Indian flatbread roti canai (add egg and you get roti telur). Craving something sweet? Go for the sweeter and flatter roti tisu that’s garnished with sugar and condensed milk. A true sweet tooth would opt for the roti bomb, a dense and decadent roti that’s stuffed with Planta margarine, sugar, and delicious calories. If you’re looking for something to mop up your dhal and curries, get the turmeric-coloured roti jala that’s prepared in a special way to get it to look like a net/web.
One of the go-to dishes for locals of Chinese descent, this hearty dish consists of egg noodles and rice noodles that have been stir-fried with egg, pork slices, prawns, and squid. It’s also usually garnished with vegetables such as bean sprouts, lard, sambal, and lime. A variation of the dish called Hokkien Char Mee is served in KL, where thick noodles are braised over a charcoal fire in thick dark soy sauce with pork, squid, fish cake, and cabbage.
Simple, rich, and spicy – three words to round up Ayam Percik. Think juicy grilled chicken that’s been slathered with unctuous spiced coconut milk gravy. Ayam Percik can be easily found at market stalls such as Pasar Malam, and is especially popular during Ramadhan at bazaars where you can easily see the chicken cooking and caramelising right in front of you.
This noodle dish consists of rice noodles, chicken, and prawns or fish served in a spicy soup that either has a base of spicy curry coconut milk (curry laksa) or asam (asam laksa). In asam laksa, the dish is flavoured with a sour ingredient such as tamarind, gelugur, or kokum (dried sour mangosteen slices). It’s also garnished with finely sliced vegetables like cucumber, onions, red chillies, pineapple, lettuce, mint, Vietnamese mint, and torch ginger. Penang asam laksa is especially popular, which has a distinctive lemongrass and galangal flavour.
Kuih is a chameleon - made sweet or savoury and can be served as a dessert, snack, or tea-time bites. Most kuih have common ingredients such as grated coconut, coconut cream or milk, pandan, gula Melaka, glutinous rice and glutinous rice flour, and are usually steamed, boiled, or baked. You can easily find kuih-muih at any road stall or market. Personal favourites include onde-onde (pandan-flavoured glutinous rice balls filled with palm sugar syrup and rolled in grated coconut), ang koo kueh (sticky glutinous rice filled with a sweet bean filling), pulut inti (glutinous rice covered with palm sugar-candied grated coconut that’s been wrapped in banana leaf), and kuih talam (two-layered kuih with one half coconut milk and rice flour, and half pandan custard).
This sweet treat is a local cake dessert similar to the Hedgehog slice, and is made by mixing broken Marie biscuit chunks with a rich chocolate sauce or runny custard that consists of egg, butter or margarine, condensed milk, Milo, and chocolate powder. After assembling, it's then refrigerated before serving. This rich and sweet dish is best served with hot tea!
With the Malaysian weather, it’s pretty much mandatory to get a serving of cendol whenever possible. This mountain of shaved ice is drenched in creamy santan (coconut milk) and delicious gula Melaka for flavour, accompanied by pandan jelly worms and red beans. It’s an icy and sweet dessert that encapsulates simplicity at its best.
Bubur Cha Cha
Like the girl of your dreams, Bubur Cha Cha is comforting, soft, fragrant, and can be enjoyed both hot and cold. This is a rich and creamy coconut concoction with sweet potatoes, taro and sago (tapioca pearls) swimming through it. After a hefty Malaysian feast, this is a sweet and soothing way to top it all off.
Apam Balik is a type of thick griddle pancake snack that’s been turned over to form a semicircle, and can often be found at roadside stalls, especially at Pasar Malam (night market). The rich coconut milk-infused batter is fried in a thick round iron frying pan with palm margarine, and then traditionally filled with crushed peanuts, sugar, and sweetcorn kernels before being cut into several pieces. However if you’re looking to break away from the iron-mould, you can also have your pancakes filled with chocolate sprinkles or cheddar cheese.
Literally translating to “pulled tea”, this popular local hot milk tea beverage can be found in most restaurants, kopitiams, and mamak stalls all over Malaysia. Made from black tea and either condensed milk or evaporated milk, this sweet and creamy tea is named after the “pulling” pouring process between two vessels from a height during its preparation. This process helps to not only thoroughly mix the tea and milk together, it also gives it its signature thick frothy top as well as cooling the tea down to an ideal drinking temperature.
Ipoh White Coffee
Another beverage favoured by the locals is Ipoh white coffee. This light coloured coffee is made from coffee beans that have been roasted with palm oil margarine, and served with condensed milk. Contrary to what its name suggests, this coffee is not made from a special white coffee bean, but actually refers to how the coffee is prepared and presented. Its soft and creamy texture with a hint of caramel flavour and a faint charcoal perfume is what makes this particular drink so popular among locals and visitors alike.
A mix of fermented shrimps, chillies, shallots, and lime juice, this strong flavoured Nyonya delicacy may be a bit jarring at first for foreigners. However, it is still a must-try condiment that’s especially delicious when incorporated into an omelette.
It’s common to find Malaysians eating rice with sambal to spice everything up. This spicy hot condiment is a mixture of a various chilli peppers, shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, shallots, palm sugar, and other ingredients that’s been mixed with a stone pestle and mortar. Aside from being a delicious and complex condiment, it’s also used as a crucial ingredient in many local dishes such as sambal sotong (squid), sambal ikan (fish), and sambal goreng teri kacang (fried anchovies).