Kuala Lumpur offers a smorgasbord of exotic culinary experiences for the intrepid traveller. From the weird to the wonderful, KL’s pleasures are bountiful.
KL is a crowded metropolis of people, traffic, skyscrapers, luxury shopping malls, counterfeit markets and dens for the foodie to score. From luxury restaurants, to crazy night markets, from discreet tea houses tucked up in alley ways to packed mamak stalls spilling onto the streets, there is plenty to devour.
Slightly inconveniently for food blogging purposes, I was in KL on a work trip. Therefore, while my travels normally revolve almost entirely around carefully planned foodie research, I was in the hands of conference organisers when it came to my KL eating adventures. Fortunately, I did at least have the opportunity to sample a range of KL’s diverse ethnic cuisines, which include Malaysian, Thai, Indian, Korean, Japanese and Portuguese delicacies.
Which brings me back to the porridge. While I passed on the frog option, I did opt for the Chinese home cooked porridge (or “congee”) with century egg and shredded chicken at Luk Yu Tea House . After 3 days of non-stop seminars in bone chilling, air-conditioned rooms, this was a heart warming and rejuvenating pleasure. Congee is made from rice (rather than oatmeal!) so think not so much “porridge” as thick, silky, chickeney soup garnished with shredded spring onion.
Luk Yu Tea House is a restful, Chinese lunching spot hidden away in the lower bowels of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel – although, on the negative side, it doesn’t quite shake that feel of being in an upmarket hotel “food court”. To accompany my main, I indulged in gourmet dim sum – steamed chicken and prawn dumping “siew mai”, steamed prawn dumpling in crystal skin “har kau” and steamed shark fin in dumpling with celery. These were completely scrumptious, and I could have eaten a dozen more.
The crispy fried beancurd skin roll with prawns and cheese, and crispy spring roll with yam and chicken were tasty but a little too oily. Nevertheless, accompanied by endless pots of Chinese tea, this is one place I can recommend, particularly for those wanting a break from the hustle and bustle of the streets.
Another favourite (despite the name) was Jim Thompson Thai. I indulged in a fresh, colourful and tasty feast of Pad Thai with prawns gorgeously presented in an egg nest cup, a papaya and roast peanut salad and flavoursome BBQ chicken with rice. Dessert was delicious – a tropical fruit salad of lychee, orange, papaya, coconut and grilled peanuts. And I couldn’t resist the watermelon juice. Thai food this good is hard to come by in London.
Spicy Malay style meats and vegetables, grilled satays, nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk accompanied by spices, dried anchovies, roasted peanuts, chopped cucumber, hardboiled egg and spicy sambal sauce), curries and bright red, rose flavoured drinks, were decent at Enak Restaurant, although nothing to write home about. KoRyo-Won offered a “dosirak” (a Korean style bento box) of Korean tasters, including BBQ chicken with lashings of chilli, an apple and mayonnaise salad, ultra spicy Korean cabbage, greens with sesame and rice.
But to sample the real Malaysia, the foodie needs to break away from the restaurant scene and get amongst it at KL’s bustling night markets and food stalls serving street food. Jalan Alor was formerly the red light district of KL, but is now an outdoor night market packed with locals and tourists alike feeding upon huge grilled fishes, satays, stir fries, chickens, pork buns, dumplings, noodles, tropical fruits and…. frog porridge.
Kopitiams (or coffee shops, like budget Chinese restaurants) are scattered among the streets and I can thoroughly recommend the local “teh tarik” – sweet frothy tea with condensed milk - and black sesame ice-cream.
China Town, surrounding Petaling Street, is also a feast - for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Although I missed the day time food market, from all reports it’s an amazing, tummy turning event of bartering and food sniffing which needs to be seen – but beware of the odd rat scampering by!
I only sampled the tip of KL’s culinary iceberg, and I liked what I saw. That said, after 5 days of non-stop spice and sensory overload, I’m looking forward to a bowl of pasta tonight….
Tune in next month for New York. I’ll include new experiences and a round up on some old favourites from trips gone by.