Going to be in KL—where to eat?
Welcome to KL - you are in for a real gastronomic adventure!
Malaysian cuisine is hard to pin down, in part because it covers a lot of territory. You've got Chinese-influenced dishes (and by Chinese I mean Hokkien, Hakka, Cantonese, Shanghainese, a bit of northern Chinese - pork figures prominently), Indian dishes (including Indian-Muslim dishes which are called 'mamak'), and Malay dishes (which are Indonesian-influenced, halal, and feature lots of curries or lemak - coconut milk-cooked - veggies and 'salads' of cooked vegetables mixed with grated coconut, chilies, and lime; also fresh vegetables and herbs eaten with sambal, a fiery-or-not chile sauce). Then, to complicate matters you have cuisines that are unique permutations/amalgamations of Malay food and the foods of long-ago immigrants to Malaysia. Examples would be Indian-Penang cuisine(eg. nasi kandar) and Nyonya food (Chinese-Malay, roughly speaking, and two varieties - Penang Nyonya and Malacca Nyonya).
Two and a half days is not much time, but off the top of my head here are some sort-of representative, don't miss Malaysian dishes.
-for breakfast, a cup of thick, dark Malaysian coffee ('kopi' = black with sugar and milk, 'kopi o' = black) accompanied by grilled or steamed bread with butter and kaya, a wonderfully rich coconut jam. Ideally this meal will be taken in an old-fashioned coffee shop like Yut Kee on Jalan Dang Wangi
-char kuey teow (stir-fried rice noodles with cockles and prawns). The best is cooked over charcoal (hard to find these days) and fried with lard (only the non-halal stalls).
-at least one of several kinds of laksa (round rice noodles in gravy - laksa Penang is a coconut milk-free, sourish fish gravy; laksa Johor is a less soupy concoction, also coconut milk-free, very spicy, with lots of sliced herbs on top; curry laksa aka curry mee is a very rich, coconuty gravy with big prawns, deep-fried tofu pieces, fried pork skin if you're lucky, and shredded chicken; laksa Kelantan aka laksam is a variation on the theme, wide and thick rice noodles cut from sheets and served in a coconuty-fishy gravy)
-an Indian banana leaf meal - rice served on a banana leaf with a variety of 'gravies' (ie thin curries), chutney, and a few veggie dishes. Hopefully this will be at a place that offers turmeric-rubbed deep-fried fish.
-nasi lemak - rice steamed in coconut milk served with a variety of curries; the simplest is premade and packed in a banana leaf and will consist of a triangle of rice topped with half a hard-boiled egg and a splash of ikan bilis sambal (fried dried anchovies in a spicy chili sauce). Malaysians are fanatical about their nasi lemak rice (nasi=rice, lemak=fatty with coconut milk) - the rice must be steamed not boiled, should not be too coconuty (best is using at least half coconut water to cut down on the gloppiness) and grains should be distinct and not stuck together
-bak kut teh (pork stewed with lots of Chinese medicinal herbs that taste great, served in a claypot. Usually includes tofu and a variety of mushrooms, eaten with rice and char kuay - fried Chinese crullers)
-chee cheong fun (rice rolls a la dim sum; served in a variety of ways. My favorite is with curry sauce)
-fish head (actually the head and shoulders of a large fish like carp - delicious!) either Chinese (Hokkien) style, with ginger sauce or a dark sweetish soy-based sauce, or Indian-Malay style, in a red curried gravy with tomatoes and okra
-Hakka mee - thin egg noodles topped with chopped pork and scallions in a light sauce of lard and soy. Sounds excessive I know, but it's wonderful. Wonton mee is a decent substitute (as long as the vendor uses lard).
-a Malay (as opposed to Chinese) noodle dish eg. mee rebus (yellow egg noodles in a tomato-chili-sweet potato sauce with sliced cuke, hard-boiled egg) or mee bandung (same noodles in a sweetish, slightly spicy, tomato-ey, dried shrimp or fresh fish, like mackerel, -based gravy)
-rojak-pineapple, cucumber, rose apple, green mango mixed with pieces of deep-fried tofu, tossed in a dark, sticky sauce and topped with peanuts. This is Penang rojak. There's also Indian-style, which has no fruit and more deep-fried stuff, tossed in a rich peanut sauce
-sate and ikan bakar (grilled fish)
-kuih! Coconut and dark palm-sugar based sweets. Nyonya or Malay-style. Too many too list, but some are better than others.
The best food here is street food, hands-down. By that I mean everything from what's offered by mobile vendors to what's dished up from casual, open-air shops. Malay food is not as easy to find as Chinese and Indian food, so I would recommend dedicating a lunch or dinner to Kampung Baru, a small mostly-Malay area right downtown. There's a main street with lots to choose from, grilled fish to kuih, and the atmosphere is distinctly different to the rest of KL.
I've been happily eating my way up, down, and around KL for almost a year. Feel free to check out my blog (hit KL-Klang valley on the sidebar) and, if you want more geographically-specific suggestions based on yr hotel, feel free to repost.
Sorry for late follow-up, been sidetracked moving house.
You are in KLCC area, I think. I don't have many recommendations within a quick walk (I wouldn't really call KL a walking city anyway), but many a quick taxi or transit ride away. One rec in KLCC shopping mall - Little Penang. I'm not fond of eating in malls but this little place (1 of a chain of or so) does quite good versions of Penang food, even gets thumbs-up from a Malaysian friend whose parents are Penang natives. I really like the vinegared fish (small fish deep-fried then in a vinegar and onion sauce, somewhat similar to Venetian preparations), chicken merah (red curry), Penang laksa, and desserts.
Otherwise, here are my recs by dish:
rice wine chicken noodle soup, a Hokkien dish: Sisters Drunken Chicken Noodle, coffee shop at 31 Jalan Alor (Bukit Bintang area), morning-afternoon only, closed Sun I think
gravy beef noodle (deep-fried egg noodles topped with succulent sliced beef in a rich gravy, a Cantonese style dish): stall across from the Radius Hotel at end of Tongkat Tong Shin (which runs parallel to Jalan Alor, above). This place also does an excellent version of sang har meen, see Greenview Restoran below.
fish head (you must have at least one fish head!):
For Indian/Malay style, Bangsar Fish Head, Bangsar. You can take the train to Bangsar stop then catch a taxi out front. All taxi drivers in the area will know 'Bsar Fish Head' ... or, it's behind TMC grocery store on Jalan Ara off of Jalan Maarof. Just walk behind the grocery store and look for the crowds at lunch (closed eves). Closed Sun too.
for Hokkien (Chinese)-style fish head Woo Lan, 19J Jalan Scott in Brickfields. Monorail Brickfields stop, exit station, turn right and walk along Tun Sambanthan and then turn left at Jalan Scott. Closes by 9p, lunch too. No menu (or so they say), but fish head in ginger sauce, pork ribs stewed in Guiness, Sarawak veggie (if they have), and special fried noodles are all excellent.
Hakka-style fish head at a delightful old-style place, lunch only, no-name restaurant on Jalan Tiga in an old house with tables out front under a huge tree. Cab driver will know. There are others on the street but look for the crowds and go to right place. Get your fish head geungjing (w/minced garlic and ginger), cheongjing (with yellow bean sauce - great!). Other Hakka dishes to try are char yoke (stewed pork belly with cloud ear mushrooms) or khau yoke (pork belly and yam slices). Lunch only.
beef noodles - Malaysians are fanatical abt it. I prefer to order dry, rather than in soup (soup is on side). I like Shin Kee Beef Noodle, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock about a block from the entrance to Petaling Street (Chinatown). Look for the red sign. Others claim the beef noodle from the stall across the street in the coffee shop is better, adds preserved Chinese veggie. Compare and contrast, you decide.
Dim sum - Xin at Concorde Hotel (near Shangri-la). No reservations on weekends. Can get v crowded sometimes. Fried carrot cake, prawn dumplings, congee with fish and century egg, steamed pork and rice in bamboo are a must. Desserts are excellent, look for mochi-like rolls filled with custard and light-as-a-feather coconut pudding squares.
Or have dim sum in Chinatown at Yook Woo Hin, 100J Petaling Street (duck behind the clothes sellers), till 9am only (after, other dishes). This is an old-time dim sum place that hardly exists anymore. The dim sum is less delicate, more rustic, but entirely tasty. Try the Cantonese seafood noodles (seafood gravy over rice noodles). If you eat here head out afterwards, down Petaling back towards Tun Tan Cheng Lock, take your first right, and near end of block look for bakery on your left selling baked char sui (BBQ pork) buns. Incredible. BTW Chinatown market is through an alley across from Yook Woo Hin and towards TTCL a bit. Pretty much over by 9am.
lard - for non-Malay Malaysians it's pretty much an essential ingredient in many noodle dishes. Wonton mee, char kuay teow, and hakka mee are judged by whether or not there's lard in the dish. To appreciate what lard does for a noodle head down Pudu to a Hakka mee stall just before you hit Jalan Pasar. There are a number of stalls and if you ask 'Hakka mee?' pple will point you to the right one. They are usu sold out by noon. This is one post on my blog you might want to check out, titled 'Appropriately Lardy'.
Lum mee, yellow (or other) noodles in a rich fish gravy with chicken shreds, tiny shrimp, bean sprouts: May King on Jalan Yew, in vicinity of Pudu Market.
Malay food - harder to find than you might expect. Your best bets are nasi lemak (coconut rice with selection of curries), one on Jalan Dang Wangi less than a half a block from the bridge. Look for the wooden barrel that they spoon the rice out of. Mornings till noon but selection gets less as noon approaches.
More Malay at Pinang Masak, this is taxi only, in Bukit Tunku, about 10-15 mins ride from KLCC area if traffic is OK. It's on Langkak Tunku, off Jalan Duta (turn at the Hockey Stadium) right before the roundabout. Closed Sun, way crowded weekday lunches so go before noon or on Sat. Excellent selection of Malay dishes to have with rice, eg. grilled fish in banana leaf, petai (stink bean) sambal, various gulai (thin curries), beef rendang, and selection of ulam (fresh and steamed veggies) to dip into sambal. Open till 7p but lunch is best. They also have a nice Penang laksa (sour) and lontong (pressed rice cakes topped with mild yellow curry).
More Malay, Deena's Corner, ground floor Ampang Park Shopping Plaza, take the LRT to Ampang stop, exit to the right, the shopping ctr is in front of you as you emerge. Deena has Johor state specialties eg. laksa Johor, a delicious chicken curry, and daily specials, sometimes sweets.
Upstairs from Deena's, Selaseh Cafe has mee bandung (Johor specialty as well: yellow mee in a sweet-hot prawn gravy) and mee rebus (yellow mee in a sweet/spicy gravy of sweet potatoes). Their nasi lemak is decent as well, weekdays only.
And still more Malay, and a good place to wander: Kampung Baru, which is a little Malay neighborhood close but light years away in atmosphere to KLCC area. This would be a good place at night, we've only done lunch. Ikan bakar (grilled fish), noodles, nasi biryani Johor-style, nasi kerabu (look for blue rice - an east coast dish, topped with coconut and eaten with curry), and nasi dagang (coconut-cooked red rice). Just wander and get what looks good. there are also several Malay kuih (sweets) stalls here ... so cheap for a piece it's worth orderign one of everything!
For some of the best northern Chinese food outside of northern China, Dongbei Restoran, Changkat Thambi Dollah a block in from Jalan Pudu (Imbi stop on the monorail takes you to Berjaya Times Square, Changkat Thambi Dollah is 2 streets behind the shopping center). It may be empty, don't worry. You can do well from the picture menu but also rec. dao shao mian (knife-cut noodles), liang mian (almost Korean-style cold sweet potato noodles in vinegary broth), veggie jiaozi are better than pork ones, fen pi (bean flour noodles in sesame/vinegar-chile sauce, yum), the lamb-chile-cumin dish that I can't remember name of, but say yangrou (lamb) and dz-ma (cumin) and they'll probably know, yuxiang rousi, etc.
Absolutely classic old-style Malaysian coffee shop is Yut Kee on Jalan Dang Wangi (almost across from the nasi lemak place) - go here in the morning for a cup of thick Malaysian kopi accompanied by bread (steamed or grilled) with butter and kaya. All the classic dishes at this 80-year-old place are great, belacan fried rice, hailam mee (v. thick noodles in light sauce), to-die-for chicken curry, assam (sour) fish, lam mee, stir-fried meehoon. And they are very nice pple.
Prawn curry noodles (coconut milk-based) and killer tom yam noodles (not Thai-style tom yam, thick and chile-ish soup) are worth the cab ride (not bec it's far but bec no train there) to Segambut and Yu Ai, at 42J Segambut Utara. They are cooking the noodles up front on a row of gas burners. Air-con up, outdoor seating out the back. I love these noodles, hard to choose which is best.
All the above more details on my blog.
A couple I've recently discovered and haven't posted:
WONDERFUL south Indian vegetarian food at Bakti Woodlands Vegetarian Food, 55 Leboh Ampang (Masjid Jamek station, monorail). Tel 03-20342399. All staff and cooks from Tamil Nadu. Thali's great, idli wonderful, paper tosai (2 ft-long paper-thin rolled dosai served with 5 or 6 sambals/chutneys/curries) incredible. Lots of other stuff too. Breakfast to dinner. Menu a bit restricted on Sundays. Sweets are great, especially pori, a thin 'pancake' folded over a fragrant lentil filling, the whole thing screams cardamom (in a good way). This little block is a slice of India, interesting for a walkabout. Walkable to Chinatown, near Pudu bus station.
One block over, Hong Ngek Restaurant, another old-style KL hangout in the same spot for 70 yrs. 50 Jalan Tun HS Lee. Fried meehoon are excellent, crab balls nice, sweet and sour fish on rice delectable, get kangkung (morning glory) stirfried in their excellent sambal.
Nicer sit-down dinner ... Precious, a Nyonya place recently opened in the Central Market (redone building devoted to crafts now). Decor is old-style Chinese and I've heard it's pretty good, but I haven't been. There is also a Malay restaurant in a converted bungalow right downtown, I can't find the info on it but I'm yr concierge will know. Also haven't tried, but menu sounds promising with everything from paku (fiddlehead fern) salad to curries and sweets.
Night markets: Jalan Masjid India (masjid jamek station), Sat nights. Lots of Malay specialties to try including satak, fish and chile paste grilled in triangular banana leaf packets. Bangsar night market, Sundays from about 5, behind Bangsar VillAge Shopping Ctr. Mostly CHinese, some Malay specialties, but all tasty.
Coffee shop protocol: coffeeshops are 2 kinds - single owner (like Yut Kee) where you pay whole meal at end and building owner with multiple stalls (ie. where Sisters Drunken Noodle is). Basically, if you walk into a place and see a bunch of stalls, claim a table then order from each stall individually. Sb. from shop will come to yr table to take your drink order. Pay for everything, each dish and drinks, separately.
Forgot Restoran Greenview in PJ (Petaling Jaya). This is a place worth travelling to. Abt 20 mins by taxi. Every KL-ite knows Greenview so you'll have no problem getting exact address (Rothman's roundabout, Utama exit off of Perseketuan Hwy). The specialty is crab prepared a number of ways and sang har meen, an exquisite dish of deep-fried egg noodles topped with HUGE prawns, halved, in a luscious gravy heavy on prawn roe. Hard to say which is better, the prawns themselves, which Greenview cooks to perfection (barely done), or the way the gravy soaks the noodles so you get crispy, kinda soft, and very soft noodles in every bite. Order a side of stir-fried baby gailan with garlic ... Greenview slow pan-roasts whole cloves till they're golden and caramelized, then adds the greens.
I would place sang har meen at the top of my must-eat list. This would be a place for dinner, if you like - not for you 'nice' meal out. Not that it's not nice, it's just a typical Chinese-style restaurant. Air con. If you don't get to Greenview seek out the dish elsewhere. There is supposed to be a place on Jalan Imbi (near your part of town) that soaks the prawns in Chinese rice wine first. Ask your concierge or a doorman - and assure them you want a local not tourist version.
Thanks so much! I am in NYC, and have eaten Malaysian food a number of times, but I always assume that it is like the Thai foood here--nothing like the real deal. I will check out your blog. My hotel is on Jalan Ampang, I think not far from the Petronas towers. I am sure we will eat many snacks on the street, but we may want to have a sit-down dinner (not necessarily fancy) one night though. Do you have any recs in that neighborhood? If it is too touristy, we will travel for good eats. Thanks again.
Hi there - hope you get this before you head off to KL. Since you're staying along Jalan Ampang, a good introduction to malaysian food in a decent restaurant would be Madam Kwan's in KLCC (twin towers). Ask someone there for directions, it's easy to find though you may have to wait for a table at lunchtime. I personally love the nasi lemak there and make it a point to visit every time I'm in KL
There are a few Madam Kwan's around KL now but I prefer the one in KLCC. Just my two cents
Hey foodfirst just wanted to say thank you for all the recommendaitons. I can't give a full recap of my trip now, but I did eat some really good stuff in KL (mostly on the street). I tried to find out where Greenview restaurant was, but no one could tell me. I did find a good place that served sang har meen in Bangsar. We also hade delicious crab there that was stemaed in a brothe with ginger and star anise. (Can't remember the name now, but it was a pretty big Chinese seafood restaurant.)
Also, I looked on your blog, and made a point of eating at Lamduan when I was in Chaing Mai. The khao soi was delicious! They did not have the sausage the day I was there, or else I just couldn't communicate what I wanted to the waitress. Thanks!
Just returned from a short trip to KL. Agree it is a good food city with a wide range of choices. My first night I had awesome Indian food at Spice of India (4th floor of the KLCC mall). I enjoyed two lunches of Malaysian food at the food court of the KLCC...tons of choices of good food and very cheap. Dinner the last night was at Cilantro Restaurant and Wine Bar, which is located in the Micasa All Suite Hotel. The cuisine is French fusion and absolutely delicious. Decor is excellent as well as the service. The restaurant features an extensive wine list that is heavy on the French. I can't say enough about this restaurant. If you are looking for fine dining in KL, you will not be disappointed in this place.