From the perfectly flaky roti canai to the best customised burger, here’s how you eat your way through Malaysia’s capital city
Visiting a wet market isn’t such a big deal for Indians. Despite the brazen takeover by supermarkets, we’re all familiar with markets spilling over with colourful and, most importantly, fresh produce. Baru Chow Kit therefore is not unusual, until you wander through its alleys serving some of best Malaysian delicacies like nasi lemak, roti canai, nasi goreng, apam balik and nasi campur off stalls.
One of Malaysia’s staple diets, the roti canai is something the country’s Indian immigrants brought over. Its discerning factor is the flaky crust, akin to our laccha paratha sans the oil. However, ghee is used liberally, and together it makes a fabulous breakfast. For fuller meals, sign up for its cousin, the murtabak, a stuffed version full of minced mutton, and eaten with an omelette and curry.
If you’d like to start your day with something spicy and perfectly balanced between carbohydrates and protein, head to the Jalan Bukit Bintang. This bustling city centre is where you can melt in with locals as they tuck into nasi lemak, Malaysia’s beloved breakfast. While the base is mild (coconut milk rice) it’s the fiery accompaniments that add flavour. Expect chilli sauce and anchovies, fried chicken, seafood or a spicy beef curry, and occasionally, pine leaves or pandan.
Kuala Lumpur’s humid afternoons demand something extraordinarily freezing.That’s where the cendol comes in. The Pudu market back alleys and the Lebuh Keng Kwee excel in the country’s signature dessert, an unreal combination of red bean paste, shaved ice, coconut milk all piled on to a bowl of screw pine-flavoured noodles. Sulaiman’s stall adds corn while Teowchew keeps is basic.
If your appetite tends towards the adventurous, and you don’t mind munching on the not-so-pretty bits of an animal, pull up a rickety chair at Kim Lian Kee. You’re surrounded by hot woks churning out Hokkien Mee, a stir fry of noodles in thick dark soy sauce flavoured by liver, prawn squid and pork scratchings. The dish is a delicious heap of possible heart burn, but a must-try nevertheless.
This is one of Kuala Lumpur’s most popular food courts, but don’t expect the pristine plastic allure of the food courts at malls. It’s located in the middle of the city’s oldest localities, where little has changed since the Malays built their bright wooden houses. Head for the buffet here and look for ikan bakar (steamed sting ray), babat kerabu (crisp ox tripe and in a coconut base), and the comparatively mild masak lemak, a veggie curry with jackfruit.
The intense aroma of seafood may not be to everyone’s liking, especially in its concentrated form, when it’s being steamed. Spicy marinades take care of the brine but the perfectly steamed fish—in case of ikan bakar, the sting ray—impresses mainly because it’s super fresh. It’s usually accompanied by the spicy sauce sambal belecan and the nearby coconut stalls provide a much needed relief after your meal.
This is not your regular McDonald’s fare – it’s infinitely better, and highly customised. The home-grown chain makes patties to your specifications, while you choose from flavours including Maggi and Worcestershire sauce. The patty is then wrapped in an omelette before being served. They’re available in spots all through the city.
It’s a buffet of the fruit that “smells of hell and tastes like heaven”. Mid year is high durian season and this spot, despite the cacophony of the neighbouring police station is overflowing with people through the day till 2 am. There are different varieties, with D24 being the most popular, for pocket and taste. The fruit is not for everyone, but after the first garlicky hit, its lush sweet pulpy flavour will haunt you for days.
It’s really not as sketchy as it sounds, and the items here are all diet killers, but in the best way possible. The country’s favourite snack, pisang goring or banana fritters are best here – sticky and sweet inside and perfectly crispy outside and a legacy left behind by the Portuguese. Equally decadent are the sweet potato balls, and sweet cool jelly, agar agar.