“That cafe under the bridge, that lady by the traffic lights, that restaurant near my house…” Malaysians may not know the names of places, but they sure know their food. Follow their lead for the best meal you will have in KL.
Bak Kut Teh
What is it? Although its name translates to “meat bone tea”, this dish is actually a Chinese soup, consisting in its simplest form of pork ribs simmered in a herb- and spice-infused broth. Spices include cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, garlic, ginseng, goji berries, orange peel and clove, which give the dish a strong brown colour. Depending on the exact combination of herbs and spices, the soup may be slightly sweeter, tangy or even bitter. Ingredients such as offal, mushrooms and tofu may be added to the broth. The soup is thought to have medicinal qualities.
Where to get it? Restoran Seng Huat Bak Kut Teh – this restaurant is in its third generation and has a strong following. Its famous slow-stewed bak kut teh is served with chunky slabs of pork and is flavoured with soy sauce, star anise, cinnamon, black pepper, ginseng, goji berries for sweetness and Sichuan peppercorns for a kick of spice. It sells out everyday so be sure to beat the rush!
Address: No.68, Jalan Metro Perdana Barat 3, Taman Usahawan, Kepong Utara, 52100, KL.
What is it? A type of Indian flatbread sold in Mamak stalls throughout Malaysia. Roti come in various forms and can be flavoured and stuffed. The roti canai is a circular bread, made by swirling or folding the dough repeatedly, oiling with ghee between folds, and then flattening it out as thinly as possible. It is then cooked on a hot stone with oil until crisp on the outside. The result is a slightly stretchy, waxy flatbread composed of tissue-thin layers. The roti canai is a plain bread and is traditionally eaten with dahl.
Where to get it? Valentine roti’s incredible paper-thin, light and crisp roti canai are undoubtedly the most highly recommended in KL. They also serve a signature roti Valentine, filled with shallot, vegetables and sardines, as well as traditional egg and potato versions. All of their roti are served with a myriad of colourful sauces and should be washed down with a frothy teh tarik.
Address: Stor No.1, Jalan Semarak (Opposite Menara Celcom), 54000, KL.
What is it? A local Penang dish of breadcrumbed bread, stuffed with minced pork and deep-fried; double the carbs, but double the deliciousness! The dip served alongside this popular street snack is of great importance; it is typically a spicy-tangy sauce, with a base of chillies and soy sauce.
Where to get it? Kedai Makanan Yut Kee; one of the oldest coffee shops in Kuala Lumpur. Its a friendly place where tables are shared at busy times and service is prompt. Make sure to grab a cup of their thick local coffee and take home a jar of their delicious home-made kaya.
Address: 35 Jalan Dang Wangi, Dang Wangi, 50100, KL.
What is it? This much-loved Malaysian and SIngaporian breakfast food is basically toast with butter and jam, but jazzed up with Asian flare! Fluffy white bread is toasted, spread thickly with kaya; a traditional coconut-egg jam, and sandwiched together with a slab or two of cold butter. The toast is usually served with soft-boiled eggs and is sometimes fried in egg; much like European ‘french toast’.
Where to get it? Ah Weng Koh Hainan Tea, a classic kopitiam where the breakfast of coffee with kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs draws in the crowds.
Address: Ah Weng Koh Hainan Tea at Pasar Baru Bukit Bintang (Imbi market), KL.
What is it? The recipe for KL’s famous street burger can be traced back to chef Ramly Moknin, who invented the gloriously tasty, but fat-laden treat based on a family recipe in 1979. He began selling his branded Ramly burger in small kiosks; today it is copied across KL. The burger consists of a beef or chicken patty, fried in copious amounts of oil or margarine, seasoned with Maggie seasoning and Worcestershire sauce, and then wrapped up with shredded cabbage, onions, cheese and mayo in a thin and crisp egg omelette and shoved into a soft, fluffy bun.
Where to get it? At Burger Bobby, where the deliciously greasy meat is slathered with a myriad of sauces, wrapped loving with egg, slathered with even more sauce and gobbled down by hungry passer-bys.
Address: Jalan AU 5C/1, Tamal Lembah, Keramat, 54200, KL.
What is it? Little parcels of chicken, minced meat or even fish, with hard-boiled eggs, potato and veg in a creamy, spiced curry sauce, then freshly fried until piping hot and gloriously golden. They are eaten at all times of day and night, serving as breakfast, a light lunch, or post-beer snack. A convenient way to satisfy hunger pangs for all curry-lovers.
Where to get it? See Kee Curry Puff stall – this place is almost an institution; an old stall run by an even older man. Their mutton curry puffs have been enjoyed for over 30 years and are still going strong. Chunks of tender meat and nestled amongst fluffy potato and a rich curry gravy, encased in a perfectly crisp, golden shell.
Address: Off Jalan Imbi (next to the Honda showroom), Bukit Bintang, 55100, KL.
What is it? A fresh and healthier version of a spring roll popular in Malaysia, Taiwan, Sinpapore and Thailand. Rather than the greasy, deep-fried skin we are accustomed to with a spring roll, popiah have a tissue-thin, soft, crepe-like skin made from wheat flour which is cooked in seconds on a hot steel plate. The skin encases a fresh, crunchy and colourful filling of grated carrot, shredded omelette, bean sprouts, lettuce, thin slices of sausage or fried tofu, fried shallots, chopped peanuts, and sometimes pork, shrimp and even crab meat in more luxurious versions. They are much larger than a spring roll and are served with a sweet dipping sauce; often a blend of hoisin, soy sauce or shrimp paste.
Where to get it? Sisters Crispy Popiah have mastered the art of the perfect popiah. Staff skilfully wrap several at a time with your chosen ingredients, without ever tearing the skin. Two types of popiah are available here, ‘crispy’ or ‘egg roll’; both use the same basic dough, but the latter is slightly richer with the addition of egg to the batter.
Address: Mid Valley MegaMall, Lower Ground Floor, Lingkaran Syed Putra, 59200, KL.
What is it? Simply put, satay is a dish of seasoned, skewered and grilled pieces of meat, served with a sauce. Authentic versions use bamboo skewers which are grilled over a wood or charcoal fire. The dish originated in Java, Indonesia, but has now become a staple of cuisines throughout the continent.
Where to get it? Zaini Satay, a stall in Ampang’s infamous Naan Corner where Mr Zaini is known as the “king of satay”; quite a status to live up to! The stall was first opened by his grandfather. Now Mr Zaini’s wife spends all day preparing their delicious meat sticks, marinating the meat in a secret recipe sauce that is creamy and sweet and used no MSG or stinky belacan. The king himself then grills them to juicy tenderness with an inviting char on the outside.
Address: Naan Corner, Jalan Kolam Ayer, Ampang, 68000, KL
What is it? Small, bite-sized bundles of joy, hailing from Hong Kong. Eating dim sum is linked with the olden tradition of “yum cha”; tea-tasting. It was found that the combination of grazing on dim sum while sipping tea aided digestion and helped reduce weight gain. Dim sum has now become a culinary are, with thousands of variations of fillings, forms and cooking method. The dumplings are traditionally steamed in bamboo steamers, however, they can also be boiled or fried. It is a meal intended for sharing, accompanied by steamed greens, roasted meats, congee and other soups. The small portions mean that diners can try a wide variety of food.
Where to get it? Sri Petaling Clan Dim Sum – forget the expensive and “showy” hotel restaurants, revered for their pretty (and pretty expensive) dim sum; the streets of KL offer superior flavour at economic prices. Here, the highlight is the gai wo bao; “chicken nest bun”; a large, white, fluffy steamed bread bun, similar to a bao, stuffed to bursting with chicken, pork, mushrooms and salted egg yolk. The restaurant’s signature loh mai fan; a glutinous rice dish, is stuffed into base of this bun for the ultimate starchy meal. Also try the xiao long bao which explode with hot, sweet juices when you bite in. Dim sum may be a sociable affair, but you’ll be eating in appreciative silence.
Address: 140, Jalan Radin, Anum 1, 57000, KL.
What is it? First created in China’s Jiangsu province, Beggar’s Chicken is a whole stuffed chicken, encased in clay and roasted on hot coals for several hours. The clay traps in all the bird’s moisture, producing the most succulent, tender and juicy meat. In modern versions of the dish, the chicken is wrapped in lotus leaves of a flour dough rather than clay and is baked in an oven.
Where to get it? New Heong Kee follows the traditional method for making Beggar’s chicken, using a 40 year old recipe for which a whole chicken is stuffed with medicinal herbs, wrapped in heatproof plastic, covered in clay and buried into burning charcoal for 8 hours; a labour intensive process, but well worth the effort; the fragrant tender meal falls off the bone. Customers must pre-order their chicken a day in advance.
Address: 446, Batu 7 1/2 (by the batu caves), Jalan Ulu Klang, 68000, Ampang, KL.
What is it? Considered to be a national dish, Malaysian chicken rice is an adaptation of a Hainanese recipe for wenchang chicken, which involves poaching a whole chicken in boiling stock to preserve its tenderness. This dish is widely available in coffee shops and Hawker stalls all over Malaysia.
Where to get it? Restaurant Loke Yun Ampang, owned by Phang Kee Kim who was awarded the title “King of Hainanese Chicken Rice” by Guang Ming Daily in 2007. The “King” himself serves up his smooth and succulent village free-range chicken, along with sides of chicken liver, chicken soup and a delicious home-made chilli sauce made from a blend of chillies, ginger and garlic. Try Loke Yun’s soy sauce rice for an alternative to the usual plain rice.
Address: 158 Jalan Ampang Besar (near Ampang Jaya traffic police station), 68000, KL.
What is it? Curry mee is a dish unique to Malaysia made of either thin yellow egg noodles or rice vermicelli, submerged in a spicy coconut-curry soup and topped with a choice of tofu, chicken, cuttlefish, prawns, egg or a combination. Mint leaves and hot chilli sambal are used to garnish the dish. In some regions, this dish is known as curry laksa.
Where to get it? Curry Mee stall at Jalan Tiong Hawker Center at Taman Million, open 7:30pm-late is always packed with a night crowd craving a bowl of their thick curry soup, richly flavoured with coconut milk and topped with fish cake slices, cockles and tofu puffs. Be prepared to wait for your noodles; due to popularity, they sell fast and diners can expect to wait up to half an hour for their turn.
Address: Jalan Tiong Hawker Center at Taman Million, Batu 3, Jalan Ipoh, 51200, KL.
What is it? Dark, sticky, rich and bursting with soy sauce, garlic and crispy, golden lard flavour. Thick and oh-so-soft egg noodles are drenched in this lip-smacking sauce and stir-fried with fresh prawns and kangkung. It’s a cheap and filling plate of comfort.
Where to get it? Kedai Makanan Ming Hoe’s hokkien mee is slathered in a sweet, glossy and aromatic sauce. Generous amounts of deep-fried pork lard lace the noodles with nuggets of flavour; utterly delicious.
Address: Batu 3, Jalan Ipoh, 51200, KL.
What is it? Fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and infused with Pandan leaves. It is another national dish of Malaysia that forms the base of many Malay dishes. It is partnered with various sauces, curries and condiments. It is traditionally sold wrapped up in a banana leaf, simply topped with sambal and a sprinkling of dried anchovies, peanuts or a hard-boiled egg.
Where to get it? Warung Nasi Lemak, Pak Ayob serve their nasi lemak rice with their signature house-made sambal which is cooked fresh everyday for 6 hours from freshly ground chillies which give the sauce a deep red colour and a sweet, almost chocolatey flavour.
Address: Jalan Singa G 20/G, Section 20, 40000, Shah Alam, KL.
Banana Leaf Rice
What is it? A traditional method of serving rice dishes brough over to Malaysia by the South Indians. White rice is served on a clean banana leaf with an assortment of vegetable pickles, papadum and other regional condiments. Diners then have a choice of curries and fried dishes to pair with their rice. When finished eating, the banana leaf should be folded towards you, signifying that you have enjoyed your meal.
Where to get it? Raju’s is well-known for their flaky roti canai and delicious banana leaf spreads. Waiters weave between tables with a whole host os curries, sauces, condiments and rice, ready to pile onto diners leaf plates. Select some of their marinated fish and seafood; it is deep-fried to perfection.
Address: Jalan Chantek, Off Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya, 46000, KL.
What is it? A sweet version of the curry puff; flaky pastry filled with sweet and creamy kaya; a coconut-egg jam, sometimes fragranced with Pandan.
Where to get it? If you are willing to venture a little out of the city, you will find Sin Eng Heong, rumoured to sell the best kaya puffs in all of Malaysia! Their sweet and flaky pastry puffs emerge fresh from the oven each morning, along with an array of delicious traditional cakes and sweets, such as lou por peng (“wife’s biscuits”) and ham dan sou (lotus paste and salted egg-yolk biscuits). The kaya used is house-made and each puff is hand-rolled and moulded by Mr Ng and his wife.
Address: No. 64, Jalan Mustapha Al-Bakri, 30300, Ipoh, Perak.
What is it? Also known as ‘egg tarts’, the custard tart was brought over by the Portuguese and is extremely popular is Hong Kong as well as Malaysia. The tarts consist of a puff or shortcrust pastry cup, filled with a creamy egg custard, flavoured with vanilla and baked at a high heat to give their signature black ‘burn’ marks and a shiny skin top.
Where to get it? A delicious aroma of buttery pastry seeps from the kitchens at Tong Kee Brothers Confectionary in Pudu. Their custard tarts are generous in size and have a good ratio of custard to pastry. The crisp pastry flakes apart delicately when you bite into the bouncy and sweet filling.
Address: 8, Lorong Brunai 3, Pudu, 55100, KL.
What is it? A brightly-coloured, bite-sized dessert food that comes in various forms, from cakes and puddings to cookies, biscuits and dumplings. They are made from glutinous rice and are more often steamed than baked. Most kuih are sweet, however, savoury ones can be found. Kuih vary widely in texture, flavour and appearance.
Where to get it? For traditionally made kuih, head to Mak Jah Corner in Ampang.
Address: 26 Jalan Kerja Ayer Lama, Ampang, 68000, KL.
What is it? Soft, green-coloured crepes infused with the heady fragrance of pandan leaves, which are widely used in Malaysian desserts. The bright green coloured crepes are traditionally filled with moist coconut flesh sweetened with gula melaka; a dark and sweet palm sugar. Modern fillings include custard, fresh fruit, chocolate and ice cream.
Where to get it? Traditionally filled pandan crepes can be found at KL’s Central Market along the row of food stalls in the covered outside area. For a more upmarket version, try the french restaurant Soleil where the crepes are fashioned into a parcel, filled with bananas sweetened with gula melaka and served with a refreshing coconut sorbet.
Address: Central Market, Jalan Hang Kasturi, 50050, KL or Soleil Restaurant, jalan 17/54, Section 17, Petaling Jaya, 46400, KL.
What is it? Banana fritters; battered and deep-fried bananas, which are consumed as a snack food in the morning and afternoon, sold by many street vendors. Pisang goreng can also be eaten as a dessert; many restaurants serve a more sophisticated take on this street snack, often serving the fruit with chocolate or sauce and ice cream. Various types of banana can be used, also including the more bitter plantain.
Where to get it? Mr Chiam is a legend amongst locals. He has been frying up tasty pisang goreng from his Pisang Goreng Stall for years and also served delightful kuih bakal () and sweet, flaky sesame balls.
Address: (facing the YMCA) Brickfields, 50470, KL.
What is it? A traditional South-East Asian dessert made from coconut milk, jelly noodles coloured green (often with pandan), shaved ice and palm sugar. The dessert can be topped with other ingredients such as red beans, glutinous rice, grass jelly, creamed corn, condensed milk and even chocolate or the love-it-or-hate-it durian fruit.
Where to get it? The famous cendol stall at SS15. As with many a hidden gem in Malaysia, the places rarely have a name, but you won’t miss the famously long queue for this popular treat.
Address: along Jalan SS15/3B (near KFC and opposite a type shop)
What is it? I’d say this one is pretty self-explanatory – more of a Western influenced street food.
Where to get it? Sangkaya Creamery are a breakthrough in innovation for Malaysian street food. They fuse this popular Western sweet with Malaysian flavours, such as coconut, pandan and teh tarik. Splurge on their signature creation of coconut ice cream with a choice of three toppings including kidney beans, roasted peanuts, sweet corn, freshly grated coconut and cornflakes – be sure to ask for your ice cream in a coconut husk or you may receive it in a plastic cup instead.
Address: Jalan Alor, 50200, KL. (only open at night)