5 Days in Kuala Lumpur: A Report
5 Days in Kuala Lumpur A Food Report
In November I spent 5 days in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was on my way back from 5 weeks in India, and since I was flying Malaysia Airlines, I was permitted a free stopover in Kuala Lumpur. One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Kuala Lumpur was for the food, since I had heard that it was great. What I had heard was correct. Food in Kuala Lumpur was very very very good. Wow. I will write this report in chronological order, and then probably Ill add some final thoughts at the end.
This report is also on my website in a nicer format and with built-in links. Feel free to read it there instead of here (the text is the same). The link is: http://davidpistrang.no-ip.biz/david/malaysiawriting/malaysiawriting.htm. On that same page are links to my Malaysia food pictures, and a few other links (like Foodfirsts blog).
Also, I posted last week about South India (I went to Malaysia on my way back from India). I still have to write a North India report, which I will hopefully get to soon. The link to my South India report is http://www.chowhound.com/boards/intl/messages/45038.html or just look down the screen, since it was posted quite recently. Enjoy
I arrived in Malaysia early in the morning after a short (5 hour) overnight flight from Delhi. It was 5:30 AM when I arrived (which felt like 3 AM to me), so the first thing I did was to take the fast train into KL and a taxi to my hostel, where I slept. I woke up feeling pretty refreshed at 11:30, ready to begin my culinary adventure. I stayed at a place called Anjung KL, which is located in the Golden Triangle area between Tengkat Tong Shin and Jalan Alor. The hostel is really new and nice, staff were really friendly and helpful, and even better, it is located next to TONS of great food. I started out my explorations by walking up Jalan Alor, passing by lots of stalls and restaurants, some with people, some closed. It looked very promising. I turned the corner, walked past 2 different 7-11's (they are popular here!) and walked down Tengkat Tong Shin. I made it almost all the way around the block before stopping to eat! Such restraint!
I ate my first meal in Malaysia at a restaurant that was comprised of a few different stalls. I ordered a fish ball noodle soup, which had a really nice chicken broth, yellow noodles, several fish balls, pieces of fish cake and one fish wonton. This was served with a small bowl of chilis and oil that I used to spice up the soup. This was a hot dish for such a hot day, but it was delicious. With this I drank a cup of hot black tea.
After this meal, I moved back up the street again to an outdoor restaurant I had passed before, and that was recommended by my chowhound contact here in KL. I got in touch with Foodfirst via email after reading her chowhound post about KL from a few years ago. She gave me tons of recommendations and was extremely helpful. I also met up with her twice for meals, which was really great. Its really cool that chowhound is the type of place where one can connect with people who are literally on the other side of the world! It was great having local people tell me and show me where and what to eat, and I definitely had a better trip because of the advice. Still, there were several discoveries that I had to make on my own.
I wasn't exactly sure what popiah were when I ordered one, but the woman working at the restaurant showed me a picture of one, and it looked good. In fact, it was great. Popiah are sort of like fresh spring rolls, and the one I had was filled with warm noodles, chili sauce, some other sauce, shrimp and chicken, all wrapped in a soft wrapper. This was topped with more chili sauce and some hoisin sauce. It was so delicious that I ordered another one immediately, and had a canned jasmine green tea on the side. Awesome.
After a short break from eating (I went to KL Tower and walked around), I went with a guy from my hostel on a walk to Chinatown. We walked around, looked at items for sale, visited a few tea shops since I was interested in buying some jasmine tea, and then finally ended up in a food court thats on the north side of J. Han Lekir, between Petaling Street and Jalan Sultan. We shared one plate of fried noodles that contained egg, vegetables and some fish cakes. Nice small dinner. I also had a great fresh squeezed melon juice. Later in the evening, I went out for another dinner with another guy from my hostel. We walked back up JL Alor, which was now filled with people eating in all of the stalls and restaurants. Lots of tables had been set up, and I would have been really excited to eat at any of the places (mainly Malaysian and Chinese). We chose one stall that seemed to have several options, and ended up ordering chicken-in-clay-pot (which we saw on a neighboring table), two bowls of rice, and 10 pieces of satay (5 beef, 5 lamb). The satay was awesome, though it broke my 5 week beef-free streak (I didnt eat beef in India, or pork for that matter). Oh well. The chicken-in-clay-pot had an awesome sauce (lots of ginger pieces on caramelized onions in a sweet glaze) but the pieces of chicken were quite bony and not too amazing. I had another jasmine green tea that was great. The evening ended at a fruit stand (they actually only had bananas, durian and rambutan) where I bought some rambutan to bring back to the hostel. They are pretty tasty, though I don't like them as much as I like some other fruits.
I slept quite well on my first full night in KL, and due to a bit of jet lag, didn't wake up until 10 AM. I called Foodfirst and she told me that she'd pick me up at KL Central Station at noon to meet up with friends of hers at a good Malaysian place. Since I knew lunch was coming soon, I limited myself to a small breakfast of roti canai from the 24 hr restaurant across the street from my hotel, along with a hot, sweet tea. Delicious. Next I headed to Central Station on KL's lovely monorail. This city is super modern and clean, it's quite impressive.
Foodfirst picked me up at the station (she recognized me as the hungry looking white guy) and we drove to Petaling Jaya, a nearby suburb (about 15 minutes away). Foodfirst and her husband are thinking about going to India in December, so she was eager to hear about food there. I think I convinced her to go to Kerala. Anyway, it took a while to find the restaurant (Village Park Restaurant), which is located in a big area full of strip malls and parking lots...reminded me of South Florida. We met up with two of her friends (both Malaysian) and had a great meal. Foodfirst had a nasi dadang plate and I had nasi lemak plate. I think the main difference between these was the type of rice: mine was just coconut rice, and hers was cocounut with another type of grain too.....this could probably be googled easily. Anyway, nasi lemak includes coconut rice, sambal (chili sauce), anchovies, peanuts and slices of cucumber. Very tasty. The "plate" also included several dishes (I got to choose) from a prepared food table. Foodfirsts friends helped me figure out what everything was, and I chose some mutton curry (excellent), tempeh with anchovies (even tastier), sauteed eggplant, sauteed water spinach and a hard boiled egg. The food was great, writing about it now is making me hungry again!
To drink Foodfirst and I both tried a bright green lime and sour plum drink...this was kind of a mistake on my part, since I really don't like the sour preserved plums that come inside these drinks (I have had it before in the U.S. too). I drank more than half of it though. Malaysia has an infinite number of juices and drinks, so many bright colors too,
I am not sure what Foodfirsts friends had, although one had already eaten and just had a small sandwich and a white coffee, and I actually can't remember what the other friend ate. After the meal, I had a delicious frothy milk tea, and Foodfirst had an iced white coffee. We each paid 10 ringgit or so (less than 3 dollars). Awesome.
Foodfirsts friends dropped us off at the train station, where we took the train (also above ground at this point) back toward KL. Foodfirst and I made plans to meet up again on Sunday for dim sum.
After an afternoon spent wandering through the Lake Gardens, I headed back to the hostel and rested. Then, keeping with tradition, I had two dinners. First I went out by myself, since I was hungry and other people at the hostel weren't ready to eat yet. I found a stall on my block called "Hong Kong Dim Sum" where I picked out some steamed pork buns (freshly steamed on a cool contraption on the street) and had a freshly squeezed starfruit juice. On the way back to the hostel, I stopped at a fruit cart where I bought a small bag of sliced honey dew and a small bag of sliced mango. Both were excellent, although I saved most of them until later in the evening. The mango was perfect, and it's so nice to have someone else cut it for you! I didn't eat any mango in India (except in mango pickle) since it's not in season now, so it was nice to eat it again.
Back at the hostel, I rested for about 20 minutes, and then headed out with 4 Swedes who were also staying at Anjung KL. All four of them (Simon, David, Axel and Gabriella) had come from Australia a few days earlier. We went to the same restaurant that I ate at the night before, and we had a good but not amazing meal. Fried rice (nasi goreng) had bits of tasty Chinese sausage and a few large shrimp, and was served with a mixture of chili paste and shrimp paste. Fried noodles were tasty but less interesting. I drank a lemon tea, others had various juices and sodas. Someone also ordered some chicken and rice that was okay but not too amazing. After this, we ordered a bit more food (fried lamb and shrimp rolls, served with an orange chili sauce) and some chicken satay. Overall a good meal, but I decided Id stick to Foodfirsts suggestions from then on to ensure great meals every time.
On my third day in Kuala Lumpur, the 4 Swedes and I went on a long day trip that included a visit to the Blue Mosque, the Batu Caves and Templer Park waterfalls. We arranged this at our hostel and our guide was one of the guys who works at Anjung KL. Overall, it was a good trip. Before we left, I had two roti chenai at the place across the street, and another sweet tea. A good, fast breakfast. After visiting the Mosque and the Batu Caves (and before visiting the waterfall), we ate at a good vegetarian South Indian place that is right next to the Batu Caves. All 6 of us had the veg thali lunch. This was tasty but not as good as some of the meals I had in South India. However, after a few weeks away from South Indian food, it was nice to have a nice meal of rice, sambar, rasam, 4 vegetable dishes (spicy potatoes, yellow lentils, okra and something else????) and papad. Everyone enjoyed the meal, and everyone also liked eating with their hands....Axel said it was the best meal he'd had in Malaysia so far! I tried out my Tamil skills with the waiter, who wasn't that impressed (which is understandable, since I really only know two words).
The waterfalls were really nice, and we had a nice walk through the rainforest, followed by a dip in the falls, followed by a long ride back to the hostel (lots of traffic). After a bit of a rest, we headed to the nearby Times Square building to investigate the possibility of seeing a movie. The Times Square building was possibly the biggest and nicest mall I have ever seen....it had several levels of shops, although it seemed like many levels weren't full at all. The building also has several open atriums, and we were surprised to find that one of them contained a large rollercoaster! This mall is nuts. We walked around a bit, since it took a while to find the movie theater, and at about 7:45, bought the last 5 tickets for the 9:30 showing of Harry Potter. Then it was time to find food. Sadly we didn't have the energy or time to venture too far from the movie theater, but fortunately food courts in Malaysia are about 1000 times better than food courts in the USA.
We found our way to the elevator, which we took to the food court (on the 10th floor!!). All of us got different things to eat...Simon had a delicious Thai Green Curry, better than most green curries I've had in the U.S. I went to a stall that had yong dau fu (sorry bout the spelling here). I wasn't sure what to do, but the woman at the counter was helpful and helped me figure it out. I chose out some thick rice noodles, some spinach-like vegetable, fish balls and tofu, and she cooked them in a delicious chicken broth. The soup was sprinkled with crispy fried garlic and was very tasty. After this, I went to the juice stand to buy juices for David and myself. They were through making fresh juices (this place is more alive during the day I think) so I randomly picked two juices from the coolers. The pink guava juice was okay but had a funky flavor I didn't care for, but David liked it. The bandung juice was new to all of us, and had an interesting (almost bubble-gum like) taste. I took a picture of these juices; the bandung juice is bright pink!
Just before the movie, I bought some popcorn. They were all out of the "light and sweet" popcorn and only had caramel corn. I bought a small one, and it was light and quite good. The Swedes, who hadn't seen much caramel corn before, were disappointed not to have salty popcorn and didn't like the sweet popcorn very much.
After the movie we considered getting some more food on Jalan Alor (at 1 AM the street was still hopping!) but instead decided to go to bed.
My fourth day in Kuala Lumpur, a Saturday, was when I started going a bit crazy with food. I slept till almost 10 AM, showered, then went out by myself in search of breakfast. I went to the same place I went on day one, and this time got more yong tau foo. I chose out my items and thought that I would receive one dish that contained them all. However, the items I chose were apparently sufficient for two different dishes (pan mee and yong tau foo). The pan mee contained fresh yellow noodles stir-fried with ground pork, shitake mushrooms, scallions and sweet soy sauce. The yong tau foo was a soup that contained soft bean curd, fish balls, scallions, stuffed eggplant and stuffed bean curd skin. Broth was similar but even more delicious than at the food court the night before. Along with an iced lemon tea, the entire meal was less than 2 dollars.
After breakfast, I went back to the hotel a bit, hung out, and then went with the four Swedes to the popiah place, since I thought they would really like it. Axel got some decent fried noodles, while Simon and David had 4 popiah each. Since I was there, I decided to eat one popiah, and I also drank a jasmine iced tea. By this point, the Swedes had all come to realize that I was obsessed with Malaysian food (and food in general) and were basically letting me order everything for them at restaurants we went to together. I had no problem doing this, especially because they were good eaters and sharing with them meant trying more things!
After this second brunch, the Swedish guys headed off to Chinatown, and Gabriella and I took the monorail and then the subway to Ampang Park, a shopping center near the Petronas Towers. I wanted to visit this place to try food, and Gabriella wanted to shop, so we were perfect mall buddies. Foodfirst had recommended two places in Ampang Park, so we went to check them out. Selasah Cafe was closed, but Deena's Corner, a small cafe/stand in the middle of the mall was open. Foodfirst had specifically recommended the laksa johor (spaghetti with a Malaysian fish/curry broth) but since Gabriella doesn't like fish too much, we got the Mee Curry (curry noodles with chicken). This was OUTSTANDING and the spiciest dish I had in Malaysia. The dish contained yellow noodles, several pieces of chicken, some greens and lots of chilis, all in a spicy, coconut/lemongrass/curry broth. The broth was amazing, but several spoonfuls were so full of chili that I lost my voice. Since this was already my third meal, the soup (1 dollar) was plenty for the two of us to share.
Next stop was a supermarket, where I bought a big box of green tea to bring back to the US, and where Gabriella bought a bag of some unknown snack which turned out to be cereal and chili coated peanuts. Very addictive, I ate more than enough.
Next we took the metro to KLCC, another huge and beautiful mall in the Petronas Towers (the tallest building in the world). Here we did a bit of window shopping (Gabriella looked at jewelry, I looked at food), and then we decided to split up. I planned to head back toward the hotel, but I decided to head upstairs to the food court "just to take a look." Famous last words.
My first stop was at the dessert stand, where I decided to order something completely random and then decide whether I liked it. I chose Len Chee Kang Ice Shaving, which was a big glass full of several things: lots of dried nuts (peanuts, coconut, macadamia?) and dried fruit (lichee, dates?), some seaweed or grass jelly or something, all drizzled with a sweet brown syrup, then topped with ice, which soon melted. The end result was kind of like putting lots of GORP (trail mix) into a bowl of sugar water. I only ate 1/4 of it, deciding that I should not waste stomach space on anything that wasnt fantastic. I have seen these desserts before in the USA and Id probably like them more if I got used to them.
On the way out of the food court, I passed by Genki Sushi, a Japanese chain with a sushi conveyor belt! I had heard about these places before, but I had never seen one, so I decided that I could just order one thing. I got a seat at a counter (in front of the conveyor belt) and enjoyed 2 dishes (did you really think I'd stick to one?) along with a green tea (made from powder, not bad actually). First dish was raw salmon wrapped around rice, topped with mayonnaise, to which I added wasabi and a bit of soy sauce. Delicious. Second dish was tender fried scallops, also topped with a bit of mayonnaise. Quite good, though it wasn't hot. After this small meal, I managed to leave the mall and walked back (in the rain) to the monorail, which I took back to my neighborhood.
By the time I got from my numerous lunches, it was almost time for dinner! After using the internet, I came back to the hostel and met Andreas, a guy from Germany who is on his way around the world. Eventually, I went to get dinner with Andreas, Gabriella, Axel, David and Simon, although I didn't eat anything. We went to an Indian place where the Swedes had eaten before. All but Gabriella ordered dosa, which were not as good as the ones in India, but everyone seemed to like them. The highlights of the meal were the "large" mango juices ordered by David and Simon, which turned out to be HUGE (the biggest juice glasses I have ever seen). They dwarfed my small lemon iced tea. I didn't eat anything except the shrimp that Gabriella picked out of her noodle dish. I was saving room for food in Chinatown.
After dinner, Axel, David and Simon left for Singapore, and Gabriella, Andreas and I headed off toward Chinatown in the rain. Luckily it wasn't raining too hard, and once we were in Chinatown, the main street (Petaling St.) is covered to protect shoppers from rain and sun. We shopped for quite a while, although I took some important food breaks. I bought a nice pair of sunglasses for 16 ringgit (about 4 dollars) and then, on my way back from the bathroom, came across a small stand selling tau fu fah. I got a small plastic container to go, and I ate it while standing next to lots of burned DVD venders. Tau fu fah is warm, soft tofu served with a sweet syrup....a healthy dessert. After this, I headed to a stand I had heard about from Foodfirst that had chicken and rice in a clay pot. I went to the stand and ordered a single portion (which was huge). The clay pot contained lots of rice, chicken and Chinese sausage in a dark brown sauce. The chicken tasted like it was infused with ginger, and the Chinese sausage added a wonderful sweetness. Some of the rice and pieces of ginger stuck to the bottom of the pot, and when I scraped it out it was crispy and delicious. This meal cost a bit more than 1 dollar. The stand is located on the corner Jalan Sultan and J Hang Lekir, on the east side of Jalan Sultan. Its easy to spot the stand with lots of clay pots.
After this, the three of us did a bit more shopping, and then we headed back to our neighborhood at about midnight. After chilling at the hostel for a few minutes, we headed back out at 12:30 AM to try to find some starfruit juice. We chose the restaurant where I had had the pork buns the day before, since they told us they had starfruit juice. In the end, however, they didn't (which was annoying) but Andreas had already ordered some steamed buns, so we stayed there and Gabriella ordered an apple juice. I decided that I really had had plenty to eat already, which was probably true. We headed back at 1 AM and the streets were still packed with people eating.....for chowhounds, Malaysia rules. I ended up going to sleep at about 2 AM.
I woke up at 10:25, unsure if I still had plans for dim sum. I called Foodfirst, and sure enough the plan was to meet at 11:30 and Xin Restaurant in the Concorde Hotel. I hopped on the monorail at 11, got there early, shortly after Foodfirst and her husband David showed up. We had a great dim sum meal, although service was a bit slow. Can I remember everything we had? Maybe...rice with ginger and saltwater fish was tasty and different, har gau were great (maybe the best I've ever had). Peanut and pork translucent dumplings, egg congee, fried meat dumplings and stuffed bean curd skin were all good. Pork buns were nice but nothing too special. Long rice noodles with scallops were really tasty, served with both sweet soy sauce and a chili/shrimp paste. Fried carrot cake had a great chili flavor, it was different than the normal turnip cake I've had in the US. Fried taro puff was great, and veggie dumplings were fine. There may have been a few other things before our dessert course. We initially tried two desserts: coconut pudding and custard mochi. The coconut pudding was light and airy and had a delicate flavor. The mochi was also very delicate, and definitely the BEST Chinese dessert I have ever had. I took a nice picture of it too. I considered buying a bunch of them to bring back to the US, but I think that would have been overkill, so I'm glad I didn't.
I showed Foodfirst and her husband some pictures from Kerala, it sounds like they might go early next year. It was very nice meeting them and eating with them, I hope they visit me someday wherever I live, I will definitely take them to all the best eating spots wherever I am.
After dim sum, I took the monorail back to my neighborhood and went on a walk to a block I hadn't been to before. I found a small Taiwanese restaurant than Foodfirst had mentioned, and ordered a jasmine bubble tea. This was definitely the best bubble tea I've ever had: boba were perfect texture, not too soft, not too hard and the perfect sweetness. The jasmine tea was also perfect. Man oh man. Did I mention that I love this country? I think I should check out Taiwan sometime soon too...
After bubble tea, I took the monorail to Central Station, and then caught a taxi to the Islamic Art Museum. The museum was super nice with great explanations of all the artwork, some of it quite old! They also had a section with models of mosques from around the world that was pretty cool. After this I walked through the Lake Gardens again until I arrived at the Bird Gardens, which are apparently the biggest in the world. There were lots of tropical birds from all over the world.
After this, I took a taxi to the Times Square building where I went on a short shopping spree at the big supermarket there. Then I walked around a bit more, eventually heading back to the street near my hostel for dinner #1. I ate at a place called Restoran Fu Xi, where I ordered wonton mee (which I thought was a soup), but it ended up being a plate of noodles in a tasty brown sauce, topped with some sautéed greens and sliced roast pork. This was served with a small bowl of wonton soup. Everything was excellent, and the green plates and chopsticks were perfectly color coordinated with my starfruit juice! This picture is my favorite!
Two hours later, I ended up going back to the same place with Gabriella, where she ordered wonton mee and I had a curry mee, which had noodles and lots of random seafood (fish balls, fish cake, clams) in a curry broth. Pretty good, but not as good as the chicken curry mee from yesterday. After this, I headed back to the hostel and got a bit of sleep before my long flight back to the USA.
Kuala Lumpur in general:
Overall, I thought Kuala Lumpur was a nice place to visit and a GREAT place to eat. I enjoyed some of the major tourist attractions, but after a few days, it was hard to find things to do between meals. However, since the food was SO good, it was really impossible to have a bad stay in Kuala Lumpur. People were very friendly and very willing to give advice about food. It was incredibly easy to get around and English was widely spoken. I would definitely like to return to Malaysia someday, since I think that the rest of the country has a lot to offer. I would also definitely consider using Kuala Lumpur as a base for travel in Asia in the future, since it is so accessible and such a great place to eat. I had a good experience on Malaysia Airlines (which I flew from Newark to Kuala Lumpur via Stockholm, then from KL to Chennai, then from Delhi back to KL and finally from KL back to Newark (via Stockholm again). Food on this airline was pretty good, and included lots of Indian, Malaysian and Scandinavian specialties.
Food in Kuala Lumpur was really awesome because it was incredibly varied, quite cheap and also seemed very safe and clean. I loved the variety of fruits, the abundance of juices, the wide array of teas, coffees, beers and other soft drinks. I also liked that many eating establishments were very informal, and it was always acceptable to share food or order just a small amount. It was truly a chowhound paradise. I can guarantee 100% that anyone who reads chowhound would like the food scene in Kuala Lumpur. This was my introduction to Southeast Asia, and I am excited to return someday and eat my way through the region. I now want to visit places like Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand and I feel confident that I would enjoy all of these places, since even if the rest of the trip were a complete failure the food would probably make up for it.
Thanks for reading, enjoy
Thanks for this report. I wish there were more of these from international travelers.
I once spent a few weeks hitchhiking around Malaysia and really enjoyed myself. In KL, I stayed in Chinatown. I found KL to be rather bland as far as Asian cities go, but I agree the food was good. My best meals were up the coast in Penang. Seafood to die for.
Hope you can make it to some of those other Asian locales. I've been to many of them and believe it or not, I rank (totally personal and subjective) Malaysia below Vietnam,Thailand, China, and Japan....Of course, they are all on my ALL-STAR Team!....Hey, how about an India report!?!
I'm glad you enjoyed the report...just a bit further down the Int'l board is my South India report, which I finished last week. I'm including another link to it here. I am definitely looking forward to returning to Asia someday soon....Dave M.P.