One City, Many Flavours 48 Hours in Kuala Lumpur
When we plan a trip, we let our stomachs dictate the itinerary. We’d spend months travelling the world armed with only our appetites. But, in reality, sometimes a long weekend is all we can manage.
So where do we head when we fancy feasting on Indian curries, Japanese noodle soup and regional Chinese fare? Easy, we jump on a plane to Kuala Lumpur.
This buzzing Malaysian metropolis is fast becoming the travel hub of Southeast Asia, but passing straight through would be a mistake. Expedia’s Aussie travellers are a clever bunch, usually spending three days in the city. That’s plenty of time to sample an everything the city’s culinary scene has to offer.
Alfresco eating Hakka-style
Begin your food odyssey by sampling Hakka cuisine (from south-east China) at the imaginatively named Hakka (90 Jalan Raja Chulan), a short stroll from the main shopping stretch of Bukit Bintang. Serving hungry city folk for nearly 60 years, this sprawling open-air restaurant is a KL institution. Once you’ve grabbed a spot at a plastic table, the hardest part is navigating the endless choices on the menu. We recommend kangkong belacan (morning glory sautéed in spicy shrimp paste), squid with a delicate spiced soy sauce for dipping, and tender prawns with Asian greens. And a few bottles of Anchor beer to wash it all down.
Refined fusion food
Originating from the cosmopolitan Malaysian ports of Malacca and Penang, Nyonya cuisine is a blend of Chinese and local cooking styles. Try in it in the refined surrounds of Precious – an antique shop-meets-dining room on the first floor of the Central Market (10 Jalan Hang Kasturi). Settle in at a sturdy wooden table in one of the dining rooms and order a big glass of iced lemon tea to revive your spirits after a hard morning’s bargain hunting. Try the udang lemak (prawns cooked in a rich and creamy coconut sauce) alongside a sour okra and papaya salad with Thai aubergines. Don’t forget to order a side of blue coconut rice, apparently such a startling colour thanks to a little pea essence.
Hop in a taxi for an Indian fix
If you’re after a curry, spend an evening in Bangsar. The once sleepy suburb is today a bustling night spot overflowing with cafes, clubs and restaurants. Skip the tapas and pizzas at the shopping centre eateries and wine bars and make for Saravanaa Bhavan (52 Jalan Maarof). On a street of restaurants specialising in spicy vegetarian food, this is the place to try ‘pulled’ tea (teh tarik). The sweet, milky concoction is poured from pan to jug and back again to create a frothy-light and surprisingly refreshing hot beverage. Diners are expected to complete this theatrical flourish themselves at the table, but if in doubt enlist the help of one of the smartly attired waiters. Order paneer mutter masala – chunks of fresh cottage cheese and pop-in-your-mouth peas bobbing in a spicy tomato sauce – with a few freshly baked naan breads. Closer to the CBD, Nasi Kandar Pelita (149 Jalan Ampang) serves delicious buffet-style Indian Muslim dishes. A word of warning – the curries here are fiery. We spent our lunch making countless trips to the tap in the middle of the large canteen so we could replenish our water jug.
Soup – the perfect shopping pitstop
It’s been big in Japan for years, and you’ll now find Marutama Ramen in KL’s Fahrenheit88 mall (179 Jalan Bukit Bintang). A huge bowl of delicately flavoured chicken broth, freshly made hakata noodles (the thinner variety) and seasoned seaweed, topped with slices of char siu pork is guaranteed to put the spring back in your step.
Eat Malaysian at a night market
As the sun sets, Jalan Alor comes alive with food stalls – try fresh-off-the-grill satay and the local specialty, chilli ‘lala’ clams. For your fix of the salty-spicy shellfish between 6pm and 4am, look no further than W.A.W. Restaurant (1-9 Jalan Alor). Fish is also a specialty here – try grouper steamed in ginger and Chinese wine. This is no-frills dining at its very best – don’t expect to pay more than a few dollars for a dish.
Ok, this isn’t about food – but KL has some great hotel bars and it’s a shame to miss them. One of our favourites is View Rooftop in the GTower Hotel (199 Jalan Tun Razak). Order happy hour cocktails and soak up the tropical surrounds. Then there’s the deservedly hyped Sky Bar in the iconic Traders Hotel. The view of the Petronas Towers lit up at night is spectacular, but book a table or risk standing in a walkway wondering how to get to a window without falling in the pool. That’s right, there is a pool on the 33rd floor.
Find out more about what to do at the Expedia KL Travel Guide.
Images by Gwoeii, Hu Xiao Fang and Tatiana Popova