Word of mouth: Eating your way around KL’s street food scene
By Chris Wotton
STREET food across southeast Asia is well renowned for its quality, variety and low cost – and Malaysia is no exception to the rule. In the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, tasty street food abounds and eating on the street guarantees experiences – and flavours – you will struggle to get in the best of the more expensive indoor restaurants. There might be no air con, but the sights, sounds and smells and the hustle and bustle of the city’s streets more than compensate.
A variety of cuisines and tastes are catered for at the city’s vast number of makeshift roadside eateries. From satay chicken to deep fried bananas, expect top quality examples of the different dishes that make up Malaysia’s vast food culture. Year round you are spoilt for choice in terms of the food you can be chowing down in the comfort of local Malaysians. By following their lead and eating at stalls which have a crowd of hungry customers, you can be sure not only of better standards of cleanliness (if the locals are eating there, chances are they are not getting sick) but also top notch nosh!
There is an excellent selection of Malaysian street food in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown area on Jalan Petalling, as well as in the Bukit Bintang area – a favourite for backpackers in particular – and on the streets around the city’s many shopping malls and nearby the infamous Petronas Towers. Drop by around festivals like Ramadan for reams of extra choice – at dusk during the Muslim fasting period, when the day’s period of abstinence comes to an end, the streets are packed with throngs of stalls that are not there normally, each with even more choice of delicious snacks to tuck into.
Satay is a must eat on the Malaysian street food circuit. This unbeatable favourite, popular around the world and hailing from the Indonesian island of Java but adopted by the Malaysians and made their own, consists of skewers of chicken, pork or beef marinated in a rich curry based paste with coconut milk, then grilled and served with an equally rich peanut sauce on the side for dipping, again with lashings and lashings and coconut milk. The grill is often as simple as a metal tray on the street with a pot of smoking embers beneath – sometimes, though, simplicity is best.
Satay alone is a little on the rich side, so you will be grateful for the salad of onion, cucumber and chillies in a vinegar based dressing, which cuts through the fat of the meat and the peanut sauce beautifully. Eat them together, a mouthful at a time, for the ultimate flavour combination – just order in twenty skewers, sit back and watch the city go by one stick at a time. Be warned though, you will be ordering the next twenty before you know it! You can find satay all over the capital.
Another dish to put on your Kuala Lumpur bucket list, and perhaps one you are both unlikely to find in your guide book and probably do not naturally think of as a Malaysian speciality, is a ‘local burger’. Yes, a burger. But throw away all those preconceptions of fast food grease – yes, the chains are there in Kuala Lumpur but you won’t want to step inside again once you have taken your pilgrimage to street food heaven. These burgers are made by grilling or frying large juicy meat patties on a large open pan at the street stall, then frying a whole egg and stretching it far and wide, so the egg white is paper thin, in a way only Malaysian street food vendors seem able to manage.
The egg is then used as a kind of wrapping in which the burger patty is wrapped, giving the whole thing that added bite. Add plenty of salad and a chunky bun and you have what might not be a traditional Malaysian dish, but one that is authentically a local dish once it is given this twist – and one that no tour of Kuala Lumpur’s foodie scene should be without. It is certainly one you will remember! ‘Local burgers’ are available at various spots around the city, but the ones in Bukit Bintang are particularly good.
Of course, two dishes alone barely scrape the surface of the depth, complexity and sheer variety of the Malaysian capital’s street food scene – from curries to samosas to fresh fruit to whole cooked fish, delve deeper and you won’t be disappointed.
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…
A twenty-something with a medically incurable addiction to travel and a taste for southeast Asia in particular, Chris is a travel writer who is most at home seeking out lesser known spots and discovering their local culture and food – in Malaysia and beyond. Chris tweets @mountsushi and writes about regional and global destinations at www.theworldandhistuktuk.co.uk.