Jackie M’s Non-Definitive and Desperately Incomplete Guide to Dining in KL

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Petronas Twin Towers from my Traders Hotel KL room.

Petronas Twin Towers from my Traders Hotel KL room.The topic of where to eat in KL has been done to death, as I’m sure most people who spend an inordinate amount of time online will protest – so why am I adding my two cents’? How’s this post different from others out there?

I emigrated 30 years ago, plus I didn’t grow up in KL – when I go back, I’m as much a tourist as the next person.  You can take it to mean that I possess less insight than a local food blogger – which I will completely admit to.  Yet, this also means my food choices and therefore my suggestions are dictated by what’s available either in the vicinity of my hotel (invariably located in The Golden Triangle) or a short cab ride away – so this guide could come in handy for those on short trips to KL for business or enroute elsewhere – the infrequent Mat Salleh traveller, if you like.

By the way, I don’t go to Malaysia to eat Lebanese kebabs or sushi or North Indian food, so while I’m sure there are great non-Malaysian ethnic eateries in KL, if you’re an operator of one of these businesses, my apologies for the exclusion. Having said that, my American travelling/TV partner-in-crime likes his Western meals, so these I will mention.

Having run a Malaysian food business in Australia means I kind of know what Australian/Western taste buds and standards are like, so these are taken into consideration when compiling my list.

You won’t hear me talk about “the best” so-and-so (one of my pet peeves is coming across this kind of list since the presumption is that the writer has tracked down every single last one of whatever it is they’re evaluating and applied some kind of expert judgement on it/them). Hence the title of this post – I’m keenly aware of its shortcomings. I’d love to hear your suggestions about your favourite places to eat in KL, but keep the pitchforks at home if I’ve missed out on mentions of your must-visit haunts.

A few pointers –

  • The “below 5’C or over 60’C” rule about safe food handling doesn’t apply in Malaysia. If you like buffets but are leery about eating room temperature curries, stick to eating at your hotel.
  • We like our meat on the bone, plus our chickens are tiny, so your portion of chicken with your Hainanese Chicken Rice is going to be disappointingly small and bony – ask & pay for double or triple portions of chicken to go with your meal.
  • We also like our prawns on the shell, and our fish whole with heads intact – just a heads-up (no pun intended).
  • Malaysian satays are tiny (that’s how they’re meant to be) – go ahead and order them by the dozen.
  • Our street food is cheap and that usually means what we Chinese call “lieu” in Cantonese – ie. the nice stuff – the prawns in your prawn noodle soup, the chicken in your Ipoh Kueh Teow , the fish balls/wontons in your bowl etc. are going to be sparse. Offer to pay an extra $2 for extra “lieu” – you won’t regret it.
  • We tend to sweeten our fresh fruit drinks (unless you’re ordering from your hotel) – but they’re really nice if you’re not averse to added sugar. My American associate orders watermelon juice everywhere we go – it’s readily available and cheap by Western standards. Other local drinks to look out for – asam boi (calamansi plus preserved plum drink), guava juice, fresh sugarcane juice. And of course, teh tarik (pulled tea – hot or cold).
  • Bring your own paper napkins/tissues if opting for street food; it’s a bonus if a stall supplies them with your meal, but it’s not de rigueur.

Breakfast –

Curry Laksa at Gobo Chit Chat's breakfast buffet, Traders Hotel KL

Curry Laksa at Gobo Chit Chat’s breakfast buffet, Traders Hotel KL

I really love the breakfast buffet spreads on offer at Malaysian hotels, and Traders KL’s is a notch above the already extravagant feast you might expect to find. Traders’ breakfast is served at Gobo Chit Chat (Level 5) which is open for all-day dining.  I gravitate towards the local offerings – the curry laksa at the noodle station is incredible – but they cater to other tastes including Japanese (fabulous chawanmushi) plus I’m told all their buffets also have a gluten-free section.

If you’re anywhere near Suria KLCC Shopping Mall (ie. where the Petronas Twin Towers are), they have 2 food courts on separate floors – one with local food and the other with international offerings. I, of course, go to the Malaysian one where there’s a good mamak roti canai stall that also does the usual mamak offerings like teh tarik, murtabak etc. etc.

Ampang Homeland Yong Tau Foo

Ampang Homeland Yong Tau Foo

Ampang Homeland Yong Tau Foo – if you’re up for catching a 20-minute cab ride to Ampang, this area is famous for its fish paste-stuffed vegetables.  This is something that brings back childhood memories of when my parents used to take us on day trips to Kuala Lumpur (along with satay in Kajang).  On one of my recent trips to KL, tour guide extraordinaire Aspaliza from Holiday Tours and Travel picked me up from my hotel on her day off, would you believe, and took me there specially to recreate my childhood memory of eating at this place.

Lunch/Dinner –

Lot 10 food court in Bukit Bintang – I’ve covered this place in my Truly Malaysian Digital Magazine previously so I won’t go into too much detail here; the food isn’t halal (which limits my options since I don’t eat pork) but I’ve tried the claypot frog and popiah and they’re both great.

Pavilion food court in Bukit Bintang – you’ll be spoiled for choice in this place; I’ve tried Penang Fried Hokkien Mee (aka Singapore Hokkien Mee) and Ham Chin Peng (fried dough cakes filled with red bean paste) – the entire area is always buzzing at lunch time.

Madam Kwan’s at Pavilion and KLCC – this is probably the closest you’ll find to Malaysian food as you’ve come to expect from eating it in Sydney – the portions are generous and beautifully presented and you get to experience street food in air-conditioned, casual but classy surrounds.

Jalan Alor at night

Jalan Alor at night

Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang – this is a street that comes alive in the evening when stalls are set up for a food-focused night market. There’s a durian stall, lots of street food – Penang Char Kway Teow, BBQ chicken wings, cockles, sotong, you name it. I really, really like the Ham Chin Peng at this stall I’ve managed to frequent in the late afternoons (I don’t know if they hang around till night time) – they’re located near the durian stall. There’s also a section further down the street that does Thai food – for those looking for a break from Malaysian.

Ikan Bakar Pak Din at Tanglin

Ikan Bakar Pak Din at Tanglin

Ikan Bakar Pak Din at Jalan Tang Lin – my Mediaprima collaborators took me here during one of my flying visits to KL – this place is famous for its grilled fish (and in particular the pungent sauces/dips they serve with it) but keep in mind the caveat above. Grilled stingray is a terrific choice if you want to keep the bone-picking to a minimum. You order and get your rice at the counter, pick whichever curry sauces look interesting, then head out back where they cook the fish and point at what you want before heading to your trestle table to feed under a marquee. They’ll come round for your drink orders and tally up your total at the table.

Nasi Kandar Pelita at Jalan Ampang – one of the more famous Nasi Kandar (rice + selection of curries/dishes) joints and the great thing is it’s located right in the Golden Triangle ie. within walking distance of your hotel.

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Gobo Upstairs Bar & Grill – located on level 6 at Traders Hotel KL – this is an upmarket, top-notch steak establishment; perfectly-grilled steaks, and if you like foie gras – trust me, you’ll never look back.

Tony Roma’s – an American chain serving steaks and smoked briskets etc. which I liked so much we went back 2 days in a row; there’s an outlet in Pavilion Mall in Bukit Bintang (though the one we frequented was in a different part of KL).

I’ll add to this list as I think of more places – I’m doing this on the fly because I’ve been asked so many times about places to eat I figured it was about time I put something together. If you have any suggestions of your own, let me know!

ps. my latest trip to Malaysia was hosted by various parties (as is often the case) including Traders KL, though this blog post covers my experience from not just this trip but previous ones as well.

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