City Profile: Kuala Lumpur Food Trip

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Photograph by Trey Ratcliff via Flickr Commons

If there is anything more adventurous and satisfying in traveling through Southeast Asia, it’s testing out the diverse, unique and interesting selection of food. Kuala Lumpur is one of the hottest and most exciting locations for food lovers, taste bud adventurers and fans of cooking travel shows such as Anthony Bourdain’s “A Cook’s Tour.” The plethora of eateries and dishes will make you sweat­from the humid Malaysian weather, the full­bodied spices and most of all, from the excitement of having so many distinct and delicious options laid out before you.

With a cuisine that reflects the multi­cultural history and influences of Malaysia, there is more than one way to eat in KL. The country’s food options have been derived, fused and influenced by Indian, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Arab and Portuguese cultures which makes it entirely possible not to eat the same thing twice.

So take this gastronomic adventure through the city where you’ll not only have your mouth watering for more, you’ll also learn more about the country’s rich history and culture as well as the most intriguing sections in the city.

Some helpful keywords to use on your adventure:

ayam ­ chicken
ikan ­ fish
garpu ­ fork
lembu ­ lamb
mee/mi ­ noodles takeaway ­ food to go roti ­ bread

Terima kasih ­ Thank you teh ­ tea
teko ­ teapot
teksi ­ taxi

Selamat datang ­ You’re welcome Selamat tinggal ­ goodbye

Here, a guide to everything you need to know about Malaysian cuisine.

Malaysian Indian 

Kuala_Lumpur_Little_India_0009Photograph of Little India by Stefan Fussan via Wikimedia Commons

The country was and is still highly influenced by the Indian culture. With a historical relationship dating back to the 3rd century B.C., wherein Indian traders and fishermen came to Malaysia to trade with the locals and the Chinese. For true Indian cuisine, Brickfield’s is the area to be. This section of Kuala Lumpur is also known as “Little India” and is where you’ll find the best banana leaf rice cantinas, chapati breads and thosai (South Indian pancake).

Mamak

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 Photograph by Krista via Flickr Commons

Mamak, which refers to Indian Muslims, have created their own distinctly Malaysian­Indian fusion of food. One of the most popular category of food is the “nasi kandar,” which originates from Penang.

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Photograph of Mamak Stall by Krista via Flickr Commons

Mamak stalls (a.k.a. mapley) are widespread throughout the city as well as the rest of Malaysia, wherein some are even open 24 hours a day and is considered as the local “watering hole” where people gather to eat, gossip and watch football games (its extra crazy during the World Cup). You’re bound to come across one of these tiny cantinas or stalls wherein you’ll feel fully satisfied by the freshly made roti canai (thin, flaky bread), Nasi Lemak (rice steamed with coconut milk), Teh tarik (literally, “pulled tea” with condensed milk). These stalls (some even illegal­which makes it more fun) can be found in streets and near parking lots all over the city, but a great spot to find a mass of these eateries is by the busy Jalan Imbi section of Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysian Chinese

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Photograph by Pavithran via Wikimedia Commons

For those craving some good ol’ Chinese takeout, you’re bound to be delightfully surprised. Though still influenced by the cultural melting pot that is Malaysia, the food remains discernibly Chinese. Though Chinese food is often rife with pork (which is not allowed for Muslims), there are many vegetarian, chicken and halal (ingredients that are allowed in the Islamic religion) options. A good bet to find fabulous Chinese food is obviously, in KL’s Chinatown as well as in the grungy, red ­light district of Chow Kit (Jalan Chow Kit Road) which has an interesting wet market, an Indonesian community, an African community and a night market.

Malaysian Dessert

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Photograph by Jonathan Lin via Flickr Commons

For dessert lovers who’ve made a special pact with the tooth ­fairy, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory­–Malaysian style.

Kuih which is Bahasa (language in Malaysia) for sweets and pastries which are made fresh with natural ingredients, can be found in specialty shops all over the city.

Most of Malaysian desserts are made with coconut milk and local fruits. For health buffs and/or fruit lovers, you can find your fix in any local outdoor market and must try delights are: mango, mangosteen, pineapple, rambutan, star fruit, jackfruit, langsat, watermelon, papaya, banana and fresh coconut. For other traditional desserts, try: Cendol ­ Green rice noodles served in chilled coconut milk and gula melaka (coconut palm sugar). Ais Kacang/ Air Batu ­ Shaved ice with sweet corn, red beans, condensed milk and sweet syrups. Sago ­ Rice balls or cubes served in chilled coconut milk. Pengat ­ Tapioca and banana with thick, melted brown sugar mixed with coconut milk, traditional fruits Ondeh­ ondeh ­ Pandan flavored balls of glutinous rice flour which is filled with gula melaka (coconut palm sugar) and rolled in coconut shavings.