Quick, think of the greatest cities for tourists in East Asia. Perhaps Beijing and Tokyo come to mind. But 14 million people visited Kuala Lumpur (KL) in 2019, making it the tenth most popular city in the world for tourists.
One reason why is Malaysian food. You can find many different dishes in KL, but the cuisines in KL can be a little overwhelming. You should narrow your options down before you head out.
What are the most popular ingredients in KL? What are some great main courses, and what are good side dishes? What can you get at street carts in the city?
Answer these questions and you can taste everything KL has to offer. Here is your quick guide.
The durian fruit is popular throughout Southeast Asia. It is one of the best foods in KL, yet it can be an acquired taste. The fruit has an infamous reputation for its scent, which some people find overpowering.
But the fruit itself has a texture akin to custard, and it is very sweet. You can eat the fruit raw, or you can find it in many dishes.
Some chefs like to serve deep-fried durian as an appetizer or dessert. Many street stalls sell durian ice cream, milkshakes, and mooncakes. You can also order cappuccinos with durian extract in them.
Tempoyak is fermented durian. It is a common ingredient in curries, and you can use it as a condiment for hamburgers and other meals.
Ask a local about the national dish of Malaysia, and they’ll probably talk to you about nasi lemak. It is a rice dish made with coconut milk, pandan leaves, and other ingredients. Some locals eat it for breakfast, but you can have it as a main course any time of day.
You can find many variants of the dish throughout Kuala Lumpur. Some chefs add curry powder and vegetables while others serve their rice with chicken, peanuts, and other proteins.
You can find Chinese, Indonesian, and Singaporean chefs in KL who prepare nasi lemak with ingredients from their countries. Chefs familiar with what to eat in China tend to add fried chicken and fish cakes to their rice. Indonesian chefs like to serve their rice with beef, eggs, and shrimp.
Besides nasi lemak, you can find other fried rice dishes in KL. Hainanese chicken rice is popular in KL, Singapore, and China.
The rice contains chili and garlic sauces alongside roasted or fried chicken and fresh vegetables. You can eat the rice on its own or with bread.
Nasi goreng kampung is a traditional Malay version of fried rice. A chef fries rice with anchovies, shrimp paste, and garlic. The rice is then mixed with chili paste, adding a spicy kick to the dish.
Satay is one of the most popular local foods in KL. A chef slices or dices meat and then seasons it with a blend of spices. The meat is then attached to a skewer and grilled over a fire.
Chicken satay is the most popular form of satay, but you can also find beef and mutton. Many people dip their satay into sauces, including peanut and chili sauces.
You can eat your meat with lontong, which is a rice cake cooked inside a banana leaf. Some locals also like their meat with sliced cucumbers and fresh onions.
Laksa is a spicy soup with rice noodles. Most chefs prepare their soup with coconut milk, making the soup creamier and richer than broth-based soups. You can also enjoy soup seasoned with tamarind, which has sweet and tangy flavors.
You may notice a dish called “curry mee” on many menus. This is usually a variant of laksa that contains curry powder and other spices. Some versions contain chicken while others are vegetarian, so read the menu to see what ingredients the curry has.
The rice noodles in the soup tend to be very thick, so they may be difficult to eat with a spoon. You can use chopsticks or a fork to pick the noodles up, and you can find soups with thinner noodles akin to spaghetti.
Roti is an Indian flatbread. Many people eat their roti with curry or soup, but Malaysian people like to experiment with roti.
Roti canai is a flatbread that chefs make as the main course. They stuff the bread with chopped meat, cheese, and eggs, creating an easy breakfast or lunch. If you want a bigger meal, you can pair your flatbread with a salad, soup, or curry.
Roti tissue is a sweet flatbread that is very thin like tissue paper. You can find it at stalls throughout KL, and some of them contain powdered sugar or jam. You can also eat them with ice cream on top.
Pisang goreng is one of the best dishes to try in KL. A chef prepares the dish by chopping bananas and covering them in a batter. They then deep-fry the bananas until they are golden brown and serve them while they are hot.
The bananas are similar to fried plantains, but they are sweeter and crispier. You can eat a few of them for dessert, and you can dip them into a sweet dipping sauce.
The Essentials of Malaysian Food
Malaysian food is more versatile than you think. Durian and other fresh ingredients take the main role in most dishes, and you can enjoy many rice dishes, soups, and stuffed bread. Once you’ve sampled Malaysian food, you can go elsewhere in Southeast Asia and try what to eat in Bangladesh.