I want to apologize to my loyal readers (I know you’re out there…) for this post being so delayed! But between traveling to Asia, working in Asia, and traveling back to the US, it was really difficult to find time to write. I did, however, manage to eat waaaaaayyyy more than necessary and snap a few photos while I was at it.
Kuala Lumpur really does feel like an international city, and offers just about any type of food you could think of (save for Tex Mex, which I don’t bother even looking for outside of the borders of Texas). When I first arrived to KL, I wanted to try some of the more “local” cuisine. So in my sleep-deprived, jet-lagged state, I wandered down to the concierge and asked for some recommendations (I hadn’t done my own research yet). He kept recommending a bunch of places in a nearby mall, and that didn’t sound terribly interesting to me. Though I found out later that the mall, called KLCC by locals, is actually pretty popular hangout spot, and has some halfway decent food.
I don’t know if locals expect foreigners not to like Malaysia food, or if there’s some cultural difference I didn’t pick up on, but I had the hardest time getting anyone to offer recommendations! Even servers rarely offered opinions when asked. Instead, they read back the descriptions on the menu, or pointed to something that was “not too spicy.” When I asked the concierge where HE would want to eat, he finally advised me to go to Pelta Nasi Kandar, a well known Malaysian restaurant chain, Nasi Kandar Pelita.
Nasi Kandar is a popular Malay Indian dish of rice and some variety of curry with meat, and the restaurant also served various curries with meats and fish, as well as things like chicken briyani, and briyani. The food was hearty, oily, and pretty much what I had imagined “local” food to taste like. The menu was mostly a mix of different curries, with various meet and fish options.
Right next door to Nasi Kandar Pelitar is a Buddhist temple. The temple is open to the public, and during weekdays, serves a buffet-style vegan lunch. The next day after arriving, a colleague took me here since I told her I wanted some “local food.” She asked what I meant by “local, and proposed two options: either halfway local (“places we take visitors”) or local local (places I would go myself”). I told her wanted “local local” food, so we made the walk over.
Each weekday, the courtyard of the temple is lined with tables selling different dishes, snacks, and fruits. To order, you approach the table with the various foods, smile, point at what you want, and then hold out your plate. Older Chinese ladies behind the tables will smile back and gladly fill your plate.
One thing to know if you’re going to KL (or much of southeast Asia I imagine) and want to eat “local” food, is to be prepared to eat outside. A lot of stalls don’t have tables or chairs and is intended to be taken away. Even a lot of the restaurants are open air, which means no AC.
I ate several other typical Malaysia dishes, the most beloved probably being Nasi Lemak, which is considered the national dish. The main components of Nasi Lemak are rice made with coconut milk, cucumbers, peanuts, a sweet chili sauce, and anchovies. It can also be ordered with chicken or other meats. I saw it being eaten for breakfast lunch, and dinner, though I think it’s most often thought of as a breakfast dish. I couldn’t imagine eating a dish this heavy for breakfast, so I tried it one day for lunch. The rice was incredible. I never thought I could like rice so much, but it was so rich and so fragrant.
I also couldn’t resist trying some of the noodle dishes. One of my favorites was at a restaurant in the KLCC mall, little panang kafe, called Char Kuey Teow, a dish made with rice noodles fried with onions, shrimp, small clams, green onions, and egg in a LOT of oil. Noodles with broth are also popular. Usually I likeve my noodles dry, not in a broth, but the Penang Hokkien Prawn Mee I had was great.
Another item I saw EVERYWHERE was a dessert made from shaved ice, and then flavored with coconut milk and sweet syrups, and often served with fruit or red beans. I had had something similar in chinatown in Houston before, but wanted to try perhaps a more “authentic” version. Considering how hot and sticky the weather in southeast Asia is, and how heavy much of the food is, a cool, fruity dessert is exactly what I wanted.
Though I loved all of the new flavors, and dishes, and spices, I started to grow tired of the heaviness of a lot of the local food. And since KL is known for having a wide variety of really good restaurants, I expanded my experimenting beyond noodles later in my time in KL. More about some of the other sides of KL to come!