Although Penang in Malaysia is internationally renown for a thriving culinary scene, the food in Kuala Lumpur can certainly hold its own. The sheer quantity of interesting dining choices in Kuala Lumpur is overwhelming at times, but then again, that’s a good problem to have!
- Use this Kuala Lumpur travel guide and make sure that you arrive hungry.
Kopitiams and Mamak Stalls
No culinary exploration of Kuala Lumpur is complete without visiting at least one -- or more -- of the many open-air Mamak eateries. Found on nearly every corner, and open until late hours, Indian Muslim ‘Mamak’ stalls and kopitiams (cafes) are an integral part of the culture. People from all nationalities gather to eat, snack on roti bread, drink specialty drinks, and watch sports or gossip.
Mamak restaurants are usually simple establishments and offer up cheap, no-frills fare. You can often order from a menu or simply point and choose from a multitude of dishes – all halal – that are already prepared and on display. Your bill will be calculated at the table later based on what you ate and drank.
The local beverage of choice -- non-alcoholic, of course -- is known as teh tarik, a tea-and-milk drink that is poured skillfully between two glasses until a foamy texture is achieved.
Popular throughout Indonesia and Malaysia, you’ll find many Padang-style restaurants in Kuala Lumpur. Food is usually cooked once per day, then served throughout the day at room temperature. Customers start with a heaping plate of rice, then customize their meals with meat, vegetables, and curries by pointing. As with Mamak restaurants, you’re charged for what you take; prices aren’t on display and printed menus are rare.
Although prices are often calculated at the whim of the proprietor, Padang restaurants are an easy, cheap way to fill up on local food.
Jalan Alor, adjacent to Bukit Bintang, is possibly the epicenter of Kuala Lumpur’s street-food scene, at least the tourist one. Frenetic and pushy, you’ll get menus thrust in your face for everything from seafood to Chinese delicacies as you try to choose from the numerous stalls. You'll even find food from the Philippines on offer.
Jalan Alor is pedestrianized, so it’s a great place to sit, nibble, drink, and watch other travelers get hassled into trying something from the menus.
- See some useful expressions in Malay for food terms that will come in handy.
The Chinatown area is a great alternative for food in Kuala Lumpur away from the busy scene around Bukit Bintang. Along with plenty of hotpot eateries and family-style Chinese restaurants with overly attentive staff, you’ll find street stalls selling sizzling claypot noodles and other delicious Malaysian noodle dishes.
The Madras Lane Hawker Centre is slightly hidden in Chinatown but well worth finding to try local renditions of laksa noodles.
Petaling Street, although often shoulder-to-shoulder busy with people perusing fake goods, is an exciting place to sit with a cold beer and watch the throng push through.
- See some transportation options for getting between neighborhoods in Kuala Lumpur.
It’s no surprise that Kuala Lumpur’s neighborhood of Little India harbors delicious places to eat; even the air often smells of spice and curry! Indian restaurants serve up the familiar dishes popular with Westerners, along with lots of tasty Malaysian Indian specialties. Alternatively, you can expand your South Asian culinary repertoire by trying one of the Nepali or Bangladeshi restaurants in the area. Even Tibetan food is on offer.
For a new experience, try one of the banana-leaf restaurants where rice and ghee-based sauces are scooped onto banana leaves at your table. Don’t worry, the messy leaves are thrown away after you eat!
The Bukit Bintang Area
Along with plenty of ethnic restaurants squeezed along the busy Bukit Bintang strip, you’ll find fine dining choices, the usual fast-food suspects, and even a scattering of big Western chains such as Outback Steakhouse. But why fly all the way to Kuala Lumpur for food you can have just as easily at home?
If you’re lost in the labyrinth of shopping malls in the area and don’t want to make your way to Jalan Alor, you can grab some decent food in one of the many mall food courts -- usually found on the basement levels. Offerings from Korean food and Japanese sushi to authentic Chinese cuisine can be enjoyed in a cafeteria-like setting. The food courts in Sungei Wang Plaza and the Pavilion KL are especially popular.