By Leigh O’Connor.
Overshadowed by the iconic and dizzying heights of the
Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur is the heartbeat of Malaysia and its street
food culture is legendary. While this type of fare may be a growing trend in
other parts of the globe, in KL it is simply a way of life.
Embracing modern times with towering skyscrapers and the
latest technology, KL still retains entrenched traditional customs, religions
and culinary charm. Colourful food stall lined streets abound on every corner,
where hawkers provide some of the best dining experiences in Malaysia - from fried
oyster omelettes to the national staple of nasi lemak.
Traditionally a breakfast dish, nasi lemak is now eaten at any
time of the day, combining fragrant coconut and pandan-scented rice, sambal
ikan bilis, toasted peanuts, hardboiled egg and cucumber.
With a generous use of spices and ingredients like coconut
milk, lemongrass, kaffir lime, tamarind and ginger, Malaysian food creates a
symphony of flavours on the plate. Inspired by influences from Thai, Portuguese
and Dutch cuisines, it is highly complex and diverse just like the melting pot that
is KL and its more than 7 million inhabitants.
One of the trademarks of South East Asia, street food
markets – or pasar malam – deliver a widely different experience to indoor
dining and service. This is roadside gastronomy at its finest, offering
tourists and locals alike the chance to sample delicacies steeped in historical
and cultural significance.
Let’s take a look at some of the top spots to get your
street food groove on in KL:
Once an infamous red light district, Jalan Alor is now one
of the brightest spots on the street food circuit and a must do destination for
foodies. There is not much going on during the day, but at night the street
comes alive with the hustle and bustle of hawker stalls.
Make sure to bring a hearty appetite to taste some of the
most unique dishes in Malaysia and don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations
from stall holders, as usually menus won’t be in English.
One of the most locally loved eateries in Jalan Alor is Wong
Ah Wah - where honey-coated barbeque chicken wings are the house specialty,
teamed with a local beer. Also try the sweet, garlic fried egg noodles with
roast pork, but be careful this dish can be addictive!
Lot 10 Hutong Food
This gourmet village in the Bukit Bintang area brings
together the handpicked best of KL and Penang street vendors in one spot, some
second and third generation cooks and all with a special signature dish to
share with diners. It is Malaysia’s first and only heritage destination that
pays tribute to good food and the art of local cuisines.
More of a food court vibe complete with air-conditioning,
guests shouldn’t expect hawker prices but the quality of fare is hard to beat. Fried
oysters, beef ball noodles, roast pork, Hokkien mee and even pork burgers can
be devoured while enjoying a respite from shopping and the heat outside.
Make sure to try Chong Hwa’s Hainan style succulent chicken
and fragrant rice, or grab a snack like steamed har gow prawn dumplings from
the roving yum cha trolleys.
This humming night market in the residential area of Cheras
boasts more than 700 stalls, stretching 2 km long and is open on Wednesdays
from 5.30pm to midnight. Always crowded, be prepared to squeeze past other
tourists and locals looking for cheap goods and fare from all over Asia. Taman
Connaught is also one of the few night markets that has a number of Thai vendors,
diversifying meal options available.
No visit to this market would be complete without trying Big
Tree Lin Kee’s steamed fish head with tom yum sauce. Stingrays are also
available along with pig’s trotter in vinegar, deep fried tofu with mayo and
chilli sauce and clams with salted fish.
OUG (Overseas Union
Garden) Night Market
A lesser-known, but more traditional night market, OUG
showcases different Chinese ethnic cuisines from local Hakka to Hong Kong
Cantonese. Open on Thursdays from 6pm-11pm, OUG is about 8 km from the city
centre and this maze of streets and back lanes is home to everything from
groceries to bling bling fashion.
Tuck into wok fried char kway teow - flat rice noodles with
cockles, bean sprouts, Chinese sausage and eggs - while wandering the stalls
and pick up delights such as dumplings, crispy crepes and sweet iced cendol
dessert, with droplets of green rice flour jelly, coconut milk and palm sugar
Pasar Malam Sri
Famous for its deep-fried squid and Chinese stinky tofu (pictured), Sri
Petaling opens every Tuesday from 5pm until late. While it is similar to other
night markets, it is a step up in some regards with tables and chairs where
guests can take a load off and chow down, before exploring the maze of stalls
littering the zig zag streets.
Must samples include pork and leek dumplings, deep fried
mushrooms lightly dusted with chilli powder and bite sized pieces of nien kou
(glutinous rice cake), with its crispy batter and gooey centre. Local specialty
tauhu bakar is not to be missed - grilled tofu is quartered, tossed with Penang
special spicy sauce, cucumbers, peanuts and chicken floss, creating a flavour
explosion in the mouth.
Tapak Urban Street
Tapak is a haven for hipster-like food trucks, catering
mainly for a Western-influenced clientele. The brainchild of four high school
friends and open every night of the week from 6pm, this city centre market
serves up a huge variety of culinary options at low cost.
Expect Indonesian, Chinese, Italian, Mexican and Malay dishes,
along with fruit shakes and coffee. Be tempted by tasty morsels such as
buttermilk fried chicken drumlets with curry leaves and chillies, or a plate of
sarawak kolo mee with noodles, braised beef and black bean sauce.
Left craving more? Click here to discover everything
this city of contrast and diversity has to offer.