By Michaela Abrera
April 30, 2008
If there is anything more adventurous and satisfying in traveling through Southeast Asia, it's testing out the diverse, unique and interesting selection of food. Kuala Lumpur is one of the hottest and most exciting locations for food lovers, taste bud adventurers and fans of cooking travel shows such as Anthony Bourdain's "A Cook's Tour." The plethora of eateries and dishes will make you sweat-from the humid Malaysian weather, the full-bodied spices and most of all, from the excitement of having so many distinct and delicious options laid out before you.
With a cuisine that reflects the multi-cultural history and influences of Malaysia, there is more than one way to eat in KL. The country's food options have been derived, fused and influenced by Indian, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Arab and Portuguese cultures which makes it entirely possible not to eat the same thing twice.
So take this gastronomic adventure through the city where you'll not only have your mouth watering for more, you'll also learn more about the country's rich history and culture as well as the most intriguing sections in the city.
Some helpful keywords to use on your adventure:
ayam - chicken
Here is a guide to the food in Malaysia and a recommended hot spot to find it:
The country was and is still highly influenced by the Indian culture. With a historical relationship dating back to the 3rd century B.C., wherein Indian traders and fishermen came to Malaysia to trade with the locals and the Chinese. For true Indian cuisine, Brickfield's is the area to be. This section of Kuala Lumpur is also known as "Little India" and is where you'll find the best banana leaf rice cantinas, chapati breads and thosai (South Indian pancake).
For a sit-down meal, head over to Gem Restaurant offers North and South Indian food. Highly recommended options are:
Thalis - Mixed plates of rice, curry, soup and bread
Chicken Tikka - Tender, plentiful and melts in your mouth
Biryani dishes - Basmati rice dish served with vegetables/meat and yogurt.
Mamak, which refers to Indian Muslims, have created their own distinctly Malaysian-Indian fusion of food. One of the most popular category of food is the "nasi kandar," which originates from Penang. Mamak stalls (a.k.a. mapley) are widespread throughout the city as well as the rest of Malaysia, wherein some are even open 24 hours a day and is considered as the local "watering hole" where people gather to eat, gossip and watch football games (its extra crazy during the World Cup). You're bound to come across one of these tiny cantinas or stalls wherein you'll feel fully satisfied by the freshly made roti canai (thin, flaky bread), Nasi Lemak (rice steamed with coconut milk), Teh tarik (literally, "pulled tea" with condensed milk). These stalls (some even illegal-which makes it more fun) can be found in streets and near parking lots all over the city, but a great spot to find a mass of these eateries is by the busy Jalan Imbi section of Kuala Lumpur.
The best sections of the city to find street vendors, mamak stalls and hawkers is by the Jalan Imbi and Jalan Alor (next to Bukit Bintang Road) areas. These areas have a diverse array of delicious of street food fare at extremely low prices. However, don't limit yourself to these districts, as mamak stalls are abundant in the city and discovering your own favorite eatery is all part of the adventure.
For those craving some good ol' Chinese takeout, you're bound to be delightfully surprised. Though still influenced by the cultural melting pot that is Malaysia, the food remains discernibly Chinese. Though Chinese food is often rife with pork (which is not allowed for Muslims), there are many vegetarian, chicken and halal (ingredients that are allowed in the Islamic religion) options. A good bet to find fabulous Chinese food is obviously, in KL's Chinatown as well as in the grungy, red-light district of Chow Kit (Jalan Chow Kit Road) which has an interesting wet market, an Indonesian community, an African community and a night market.
Restaurant Kin Kin
If you're addicted to Chinese food, then Restaurant Kin Kin in Kuala Lumpur will be your version of heaven. With steaming mounds of noodles, slow-roasted chilies, deliciously salty poached eggs and crunchy sweet and sour pork and chicken, you'll understand why Buddha is often depicted with a massive tummy. This restaurant is also famous for its "Chilli Pan Mee" which is a Hokkien-style egg noodle soup and includes: a half cooked egg, fried onions, Ikan bilis (anchovies), oil, minced pork, meat balls, spring onions, chili that you mix together.
Invented by the Peranakan people (descendants of Chinese Indonesians) of Malaysia and Singapore, this cuisine is a mix of Chinese ingredients and Southeast Asian flavors like turmeric, coconut milk, chillies and lemon grass. You'll find this cuisine option in almost any traditional restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Highly recommended dishes are: Masak Lemak (vegetable stew with coconut milk), Lam Mee (long, yellow rice noodles which are also known as "birthday noodles") and Otak-otak (fried fish rice cake).
This cozy hangout has a selection of nyonya cuisine that will have you coming back for more. A must-try is the Nasi Lemak, which is rice cooked in coconut milk, is savory and served with a hard boiled egg, ikan bilis (anchovies), cucumber and chili. The Indonesian rice dish known as Nasi Bojari is also a delectable dish and is served with assam prawns, beef rendang and crispy fried chicken drumsticks.
If there is anything traveler foodies miss, it's "mom's home style cooking." Well, Kuala Lumpur serves to answer that need in a delicious, felicitous, satisfying manner with a cuisine aptly named as "kampung" (which means "village") . Guide your stomach to the Kampung Baru district in KL, located near the Golden Triangle, and is famed for being the ultimate food haven.
The open-air restaurant, Fatimah Selara Kampung, is where you'll find some true gastronomical satisfaction. The food is fresh, hot and divine.
The specialties of the house are the juicy fish dishes such as:
Ikan kembung - A perfectly grilled mackerel-like fish with a crispy outer layer and juicy meat inside that is stuffed with coconut, turmeric, lemongrass and chilies. It's served with kecap manis sauce and chopped chilies. Assam-- Sour fish which is stewed in sweet-and-sour tamarind sauce and a chili gravy.
Ikan bilis -- Dried anchovies ,which is also known in other parts of Southeast Asia as dilis, and is served in Fatima Selara with a Malaysian mustard, chilies, caramelized onions and vegetables.
Chicken curry - Juicy and heavenly, cooked with a generous amount of chilies, coconut milk and of course, curry.
Pergedel - Brilliantly deep-fried potato and vegetable fritters which are crunchy yet savory.
For dessert lovers who've made a special pact with the tooth-fairy, you'll feel as though you've stepped into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory-Malaysian style. Kuih which is Bahasa (language in Malaysia) for sweets and pastries which are made fresh with natural ingredients, can be found in specialty shops all over the city. Most of Malaysian desserts are made with coconut milk and local fruits. For health buffs and/or fruit lovers, you can find your fix in any local outdoor market and must try delights are: mango, mangosteen, pineapple, rambutan, star fruit, jackfruit, langsat, watermelon, papaya, banana and fresh coconut. For other traditional desserts, try: Cendol - Green rice noodles served in chilled coconut milk and gula melaka (coconut palm sugar). Ais Kacang/ Air Batu - Shaved ice with sweet corn, red beans, condensed milk and sweet syrups. Sago - Rice balls or cubes served in chilled coconut milk. Pengat - Tapioca and banana with thick, melted brown sugar mixed with coconut milk, traditional fruits Ondeh-ondeh - Pandan flavored balls of glutinous rice flour which is filled with gula melaka (coconut palm sugar) and rolled in coconut shavings.
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