In Kuala Lumpur, we continued our eating streak, fitting in 4-5 meals a day. I’m not kidding. We started early in the morning each day, and we ate all the way until night, and repeat. It’s probably a good thing that KL is a big place and we got to walk around between meals to help digest the food.
When it comes to eating out, there is a great variety of cuisine in Kuala Lumpur, all for very affordable prices. The food reflects the ethnic mix of the local population with a vibrant mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian with influences from across South East Asia. Malaysia is known for its love of rich flavors and generous use of spices and ingredients such as coconut milk, lemon grass, kaffir lime, tamarind, ginger and galangal. When it comes to spices, few foods illustrate this as well as the national dish – Laksa.
Knowing that we could not fit all the food we wanted to eat into 2 days, no matter how hard we tried; we choose to focus more on the noodle offerings. It’s no secret that we love noodles, soup noodles in particular. So when we were in Kuala Lumpur, we decided that we needed to try a lot of Laksa. There are many different kinds of Laksa, the most popular is Asam Laksa, which is served with a tangy, spicy, fish soup base; and Curry Laksa, which comes in a coconut-milk curry soup base. There are also lesser-known versions such as the Sarawak Laksa, Laksa Lemak and Bogor Laksa. Below is a list of our favorites and where to find them:
Little Penang Kafé – Do you know what I love about being in Asia? There is good, cheap food to be had everywhere, even in the mall. Unlike the mediocre fast-food outlets we usually find in North America, the amazingly diverse restaurants in Suria KLCC shopping center serve all kinds of cuisines. The best one is Little Penang Kafé, this bright open space, located on the 4th floor of the mall, was recently renovated with cute decor reminiscent of a coffee house. The casual ambience and convenient location make it the ideal location for lunch.
Little Penang Kafé serves authentic hawker style food from Penang including specialties such as curry prawn mee and their well-known Penang Asam Laksa. Unlike the other typical coconut based laksas, this one is spicy and sour with a fish base and noodles. The tamarind broth is a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and sour with a hint of fermented fish paste. It comes with a thick chewy noodle, better to absorb the flavors in the soup. The slightly larger bowl comes with generous portions of fish as well as fresh herbs and pineapple.
Baba Can Cook (also known as Limapulo) is a small café with big flavors, serving traditional Nyonya cuisine. It is located in the middle of town across from the Sheraton Hotel in a block surrounded by trendy wine bars. Their lunch specials are served on a rotational basis, but the restaurant’s most well known dish is none other than the Nyonya Laksa, it even won a “Best Curry Laksa” award.
The Nyonya Laksa is a hearty bowl of creamy goodness consisting of a generous serving of noodles with fishballs, fishcake, chicken, fresh bean sprouts and topped with a hard boiled egg. The bright orange hue broth is made from the paste of chilies, shallots, galangal, turmeric, and lemongrass simmering in coconut milk. This mouth-watering, tummy-warming bowl of noodles definitely packs a punch. If noodle soup is not your thing, they also serve an amazing curry rice dish.
Restauran Kin Kin – One of my favorite places we ate at in Kuala Lumpur is Kin Kin, an unassuming shop in Kampung Baru known for their chilli pan mee. Pan Mee is traditionally a Hokkien-style egg noodle soup. There is a fair number of places serving “pan mee”, but Kin Kin, was the first to serve the hand cut noodles ‘dry’ in their signature red bowl with the soup on the side.
The brilliant dish comes with a mound of thick springy tapioca noodles drizzled with pork lard, sesame oil, and soy sauce. It’s topped with minced pork, ikan bilis (crunchy anchovies), tiny cubes of pork fat, finely diced scallions, and pan-roasted dried-chili that are guarantee to numb your tongue and blow your palate. The best part is the perfectly poached egg that sits on top of the dish. To eat, you prick the egg slightly and let the runny yolk coat the hot noodles. The egg provides the necessary counter balance to the chili and adds a creamy richness to the whole dish. The noodles are accompanied by a small bowl of clear broth laden with strands of egg-white ribbons and a generous amount of katuk (sweet-leaf bush) to help you cool down after the spicy onslaught.
The bowl of noodles looks delicious (seriously, it’s probably the best photo of a bowl of noodle I’ve ever taken) and tastes even better. It’s not surprising that they have won multiple awards over the years. I can say without a doubt in my mind, that I’ll definitely come back here again if I am ever in the city.
Jalan Alor is the night food market filled to the brim with various restaurants and food stalls. Most of the stalls on this street operate until the early hours of the morning, making this place a popular destination for party-goers. Walking down the street, you’ll be greeted with the aromas and fragrances that promise to satiate your hunger.
Wong Ah Wah, located at the end of the street, known for their famous BBQ chicken wings is a standout amongst all the stands. It has grown over the years from a measly little stall to a thriving business that spreads over two storefronts to meet the increased demand for the chicken wings. The wings are marinated in a blend of soy and ginger and cooked over a charcoal grill that gives it a unique smoky flavor. It’s usually served with a chili sauce for extra kick. Even though it’s darkened on the outside, the meat is nice and moist inside . They also have a large menu with photos and prices if you want to order other things. To avoid the crowds, make sure you get there around 6:30 pm to get a table.
Another favorite stall of ours is the one selling coconut ice cream. The ice cream is served in a tiny coconut and comes with your choice of unlimited toppings that you add yourself. You can also get chocolate sauce or condensed milk drizzled on top. The best part is the pieces of actual coconut at the bottom. I can eat this every day.
Durian Stalls – We’ve had durian before, but we would be remiss if we didn’t have one in Kuala Lumpur. The king of fruits is quite popular in Malaysia and sold in stalls around the city. This pungent fruit is often sold as a whole or in pieces if you just want to give it a try. A whole small durian only costs a few dollars and is much cheaper than in the States. There are surprisingly many varieties of durian, each with a slightly different taste. The stall owner can help you narrow down the kind you want, depending on if you want a creamy or a slightly bitter taste. Once you’ve made your selection and paid, the spiky fruit is cracked opened and served at a nearby table. It also comes with a pair of gloves so you don’t have to soil your hands. According to Fausto, the fresh ones taste a lot better than the frozen variety we get in New York. If you have not tried durian before, Malaysia is the perfect place to try the king of fruits to decide if the acquired taste is for you.
ABC desert – Malaysia is known for their ice dessert, commonly known as ABC (short for Air Batu Campur, which means “mixed ice”). As the name suggests, the dessert consists of finely shaved ice, topped with red bean. It has evolved over the years to include a wide variety of additional toppings like palm seed, candied corn, and grass jelly. These are usually buried underneath the shaved ice like hidden treasure. The dish is topped with a scoop of ice cream and drizzled with condensed milk and red rose syrup. Surprisingly it is not as sweet as I expected and quite refreshing on a hot day. I didn’t think I would like it at first, but the taste really grows on you, especially when it’s all mixed together. This local dessert is definitely worth a try if you have not had it before. It can be found almost anywhere, from the hawker stalls to the food courts to restaurants.