By Lara Dunston
FOR first-time visitors to Kuala Lumpur, it’s not just the humidity and traffic that can overwhelm. The array of delicious cuisines on offer and venues for sampling local fare can often leave travellers bewildered.
From fine dining in five stars to plastic chairs and tables beside street stalls, all budgets are catered for in KL. As are all palates – with Nyonya, Malay, Chinese, Indian and, increasingly, Thai cuisines represented with all their nuances, making Kuala Lumpur a fantastic city for food-obsessed travellers.
Below are my top eating picks for first-time foreign visitors to the city:
Undeniably touristy and a tad overwhelming for first-timers to KL, Jalan Alor is lined with food hall-style eateries boasting clusters of hawker stalls that feed a mix of locals and tourists. Chinese, Malay and Thai cuisine feature heavily along the strip, with everything from satay to char siew (barbecued meats). My favourite is the soup and noodle stand on the corner (beside the malodorous fruit stands of durian) called Alor Corner Curry Noodle, run by the same woman for 30 years, helped out by her daughters each day. Here I order the best curry noodle soup (some would call it curry laksa) in town. She also does a deliciously minty, tangy Asam Laksa. They’re just RMB 5 each!
Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur
If the heat on the street gets too much or you can’t handle the hassles of Jalan Alor’s spruikers, it’s just a short stroll to Lot 10 Hutong, an upmarket, air-conditioned hawker centre in a building basement marketed as a ‘gourmet food heritage village’. Many of the eateries here are the second shops of proprietors who established their businesses decades ago in older parts of KL, such as Chinatown. I go to Ho Weng Kee for tasty Char Siew Wonton Mee; Campbell Mini Popiah for Popiah (minced chicken rolls), which 65 year-old Chang Bak Hok and his 63-year-old wife Low Puay Huang have been making since 1974; and Kim Lian Kee for Hokkien Mee, which is owned by Henry Lee, whose grand grandfather from Hokkian in China brought the dish to Kuala Lumpur in the 1920s.
LG Floor, Lot 10 Shopping Centre, 50 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur
In some ways, Feast Village, a restaurant floor in posh Starhill Gallery shopping mall, is an even more upscale version of Lot 10 Hutong, with a dozen or so stylish dining options. For those who like a glass of white wine with their sushi or cold beer with their curry, many of the restaurants here serve alcohol, whereas the eateries at Lot 10 Hutong don’t, and only one hawker centre on Jalan Alor does. There is also a chic bar. My favourites here are Enak featuring excellent modern Malay cuisine (surprisingly hard to find in KL) and Gonbei San for superb Japanese grilled dishes.
Starhill Gallery, 181 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
Malaysians will tell you that the best Malay cooking is in the home, which is why many locals like to eat other cuisines when they go out and there’s few Malaysian fine diners around. Having had a few home-cooked meals in Malaysia I tend to agree. However, that doesn’t help visitors looking for top quality Malaysian in a restaurant. If you can’t score an invitation to a local’s home, then restaurants like Bijan are the next best thing. At Bijan, I opt for the Malaysian classics such as Beef Rendang (rich, aromatic beef stew) and Ayam Percik (super tasty barbecued chicken), as well as more experimental dishes such as Durian Cheesecake.
3 Jalan Ceylon, 50200, Kuala Lumpur
The city’s premier Cantonese restaurant is located at the Ritz-Carlton – which means eating here is all about premium ingredients, fine wines and fine service, in sumptuous surroundings, making it a superb choice for a special evening meal. Having said that, it’s the food here that really impresses. I like the Peking Duck served in two courses and some of the best I’ve had outside of Beijing, the Baked Spare Ribs with Chinese Tea Leaves, and Li Yen’s Signature Bean Curd. Traditional Chinese ‘Yangqing’ music is also performed live.
The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur, 168 Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur
If you’ve been travelling in Malaysia for a while and need a break from Asian food, this elegant steakhouse at Le Méridien specializes in top quality produce and excellent wines, from the New and Old Worlds. What makes Prime stand out is the great starters (their lobster bisque is fantastic) and use of premium quality beef such as Blackmore’s Wagyu, considered to be Australia’finest beef.
Le Méridien Kuala Lumpur, 2 Jalan Stesen Sentral
This is the restaurant to head to if you’re with a group of friends or family who can’t agree on what cuisine they want. Everywhere you look chefs are prepping food in one of the open kitchens specialising in Japanese, Chinese Wok, Italian, and Western Grill. While it might seem odd to have sashimi and Beef Rossini on the same table, the quality of the produce and cooking are first rate. Great wines too.
Starhill Gallery, 181 Jalan Bukit Bintang
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about travelling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website
About the author…
Australian-born, Dubai-based travel writer Lara Dunston and her photographer husband Terence Carter have been living out of their suitcases since 2006, bouncing around the planet on assignment for publications from National Geographic Traveller in the USA to The Independent in the UK. The couple also have a popular travel blog Grantourismo, where they write about slow and sustainable travel, local travel, and experiential travel.