I’ve been to KL three or four times before, but only a couple of days each time. This meant that I only ever saw the inside of shopping malls and a few touristy destinations like the Petronas Towers and the aquarium. A three-day trip to KL over the Easter long weekend was our chance to properly explore Malaysian food, which I had never really ticked off the bucket list before. Our hotel is exactly on the boundaries of Bukit Bintang and Bukit Ceylon, so we end up eating mostly in this area.
What To Eat
Yut Kee Restaurant, Chow Kit
I’m not normally into breakfast, but at Yut Kee I’m happily gobbling up the toast with butter and kaya alongside gooey, soft boiled eggs and an intense cup of coffee. After ordering coffee and tea at a few places, we finally figured out that ordering kopi (coffee) is made with condensed milk, and kopi o is sans condensed milk. The same concept applies to teh (tea) and teh o. The roti babi (pork sandwich) is almost like a savory French toast stuffed with pork, but I’m much more enamored by my kaya toast and egg situation. Yut Kee is also famous for their roast pork (but it’s only available on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays – and apparently sells out quickly). The service here is the friendliest we come across.
Lot 10 Hutong, Bukit Bintang
Every single person I asked for KL food recommendations told me to check out Lot 10 Hutong, the food court of a shopping mall. We mistakenly head there too late at night (around 9.30pm) and everyone looks like they’re closing up shop. But we come back the next day for lunch. You can’t go wrong with the succulent chicken and fragrant rice at Chong Hwa Hainan Chicken Rice. Eric goes for the Penang Famous Fried Kway Tiao, which is delicious – although I would have probably liked more wok hei (breath of the wok, which gives it a fantastic charred flavor).
TG’s Nasi Kandar, Bukit Bintang
Our breakfast at TG’s Nasi Kandar is full of punchy flavors. We order the masala tosai, roti canai, and chicken curry with kopi tarik and teh tarik. I’m a fan of it all, but especially the very tasty chicken curry. I detect sourness from the tosai (or dosa), and I later consult trusty Google to find out that it’s a thin pancake made from a fermented batter of lentils and rice flour. The fermentation explains the sour flavour.
Petaling Street, Chinatown
The claypot loh shu fun at Petaling Street’s Seng Kee is a tasty number. The noodles are shaped like rat’s tails and have a lovely, chewy texture. Plus the raw egg in the middle adds a DIY element to the dish when you stir it in. I prefer this over the hokkien mee we also order. Across the road from Seng Kee, I grab air mata kucing, complete with plastic bag and straw. It’s a sugary longan beverage, which translates to cat’s eye water or even cat’s tears.
Jalan Alor, Bukit Bintang
Touristy and noisy, Jalan Alor isn’t my favorite spot for food in KL, but we end up here twice because it’s close to our hotel. At Cu Cha we order satay, kangkung, and rice on our first night. On our last night we stop at Meng Kee Grill Fish. The only downside is that we didn’t have enough cash on us to order fish (sad face) so we settle on fried rice, kailan, and claypot tofu. The kailan is actually the standout – who knew simple green vegetables could be so delicious.
Nagasari Curry House, Bukit Bintang
One of my friends who’s originally from KL can’t contain her excitement about banana leaf rice, and sends me a link of places where I can get it. The closest to us is at Nagasari Curry House, which is just around the corner from our hotel. But once we get there, we realize we actually have no idea what banana leaf rice is. And it turns out there’s a proper process to it.
At first we think it’s the display of delicious-looking curries on one side of the restaurant, which would go onto a banana leaf. We tell the friendly guy there that we want the mutton curry. Later the mutton curry arrives separately in a small bowl (because unbeknownst to us it has nothing to do with the banana leaf rice dish).
Firstly, it turns out the banana leaf rice is unlimited, so when we ask if we can share, they initially say no. I think they notice how mystified we are by this, and end up letting us share. A banana leaf is placed directly on the table in lieu of a plate. Then the staff comes over to serve however much rice, vegetables, pickles, chutneys, and papadums you desire. Afterwards we totally get why this isn’t normally a dish you can share because you could keep topping it up between two people.
I Love Yoo
When we arrive at recently revamped KL airport on our first day, we’re in awe of the shopping center-style building. We make a pit stop at I Love Yoo because we spy curry puffs. Eric also orders congee with yoo tiao (deep fried dough). I Love Yoo is a franchise so you can find it in other places like Lot 10 Hutong and Pavilion, too.
We splash out on two soft serves at Godiva, which at 22.50 Ringgit per cone (around 7.50 AUD) turns out to be the most expensive meal of our entire weekend. I first tried Godiva soft serves in Honolulu (more on that here) and loved the white chocolate soft serve. But in KL, I found even better soft serve at Milkcow, which I stumble upon at Pavilion (but you can find it at other locations, too). I go for the milky pop, a cup of organic soft serve made with honey, topped with popcorn and salted caramel. So creamy and delicious.
What To Do
To be honest I find that most capital cities in southeast Asia can be a bit unexciting in the ‘what to do’ department. Having grown up in Jakarta, I spent my days as a mall rat, going to movies, shopping, restaurant hopping (eating is Indonesia’s number one pastime), and hanging out in coffee shops (ie. Starbucks – I know, I know; there was nothing better in those days). KL is quite similar to Jakarta in a lot of ways, though it’s a bit cleaner, there’s better public transport, and there’s less traffic. Anyway, so other than eating, there are only a few attractions (like the Petronas Towers), plus shopping, and relaxing.
All the usual suspects in clothing brands can be found in KL malls. We check out Lot 10, Suria KLCC, and Pavilion (PS. Pavilion has an art gallery that we checked out). Sungei Wang Plaza is worth a visit if you like budget-friendly shops.
We head to Chow Kit Market to get a glimpse of local produce. It’s the largest wet market in KL (having said that, it’s not even that big compared to some other wet markets I’ve seen across Asia). If you’re a germophobe this is probably not the place for you. We also track down the Masjid India night market, which was a bit underwhelming. The markets around Petaling Street weren’t that interesting to me either except for the food.
There’s nothing better than getting a foot massage after racking up between 10,000 and 40,000 steps every day. We consult our Lonely Planet and find that luxury mall Starhill Gallery has an entire section devoted to pampering. Asianel Reflexology Spa is the most affordable of the bunch – and even then it’s still super plush. Everything is considered; they even provide a change of clothes and slippers. Our one-hour foot and back massage concludes with a relaxing cup of tea.
We took the train to Ipoh on one of the days, which is all food and street art (blog post coming soon!). Other recommendations from a few friends were Melaka or Cameron Highlands. If we had more time I would have considered Penang for an overnight trip.
Where To Stay
We stay at Invito Hotel Suites, a small hotel with spacious, modern rooms on the cusp of Bukit Ceylon and Bukit Bintang. The location is very convenient, but one minor drawback is the proximity to the line of clubs on Changkat Bunkit Bintang – the dull, rhythmic sound of music is discernible from our room. The hotel graciously provides free ear plugs though. I didn’t even have to use them to be honest because I passed out right away each night (food coma, am I right?). We time it so well that we head to the pool during a thunderstorm and we’re not actually allowed into the water. But it’s totally worth jumping in because it can get pretty damn hot in KL.
Our first encounter with a taxi is at the airport where you prepay the taxi fare at a counter. When our allocated taxi has a strap securing the boot, alarm bells are already going off in my head. We’re then treated to a wonderfully unfriendly guy who drives recklessly, while alternating between burping loudly and hacking up phlegm. But the most concerning part is actually that one of the seat belts is stuck and unusable, as he dodges cars and people on the street, all the while completely baffled where our hotel might be. When we say that the hotel is in Bukit Bintang, he is absolutely adamant that it isn’t, that it’s in a completely different area. (Weeks later I google this and Invito is literally on the edge of both Bukit Bintang and Bukit Ceylon, though the physical address is Bukit Ceylon.) He makes a call to find out where it is, and then berates us about the choice of our hotel, moans about KL traffic, and gets pissed off because apparently Eric shut his car door too forcefully. When we’re stuck in a bit of traffic in the city, he suggests that we should walk, which isn’t met with enthusiasm. Then he stops the car because the engine is supposedly too hot. Then he takes the address from us again, gets a second opinion from a guy on the street (because he obviously still has no f***ing idea). He returns to the car shaking his head and muttering ‘very difficult, very difficult’, and then demands more money from us.
This is where I lose it, and actually start yelling at him. I’ve probably only raised my voice to this extreme three times in my life because I absolutely detest confrontation, so I avoid arguments at all costs. But when people try to scam me, a furious beast rises out of me. I absolutely can’t stand it when people are dishonest or unethical. Anyway, I probably shouldn’t have sworn at the guy; he stops the car in a rage because I used the F word. And then he yells my parents would be ashamed of me, that I’m a disrespectful foreigner, that he’s teaching me a lesson, and that he won’t drive unless I apologize. I’m icily laughing at the absurdity and irony (ME DISRESPECTFUL? Who was disrespectful first here?!), but I’m so angry to the point that hot tears are trickling down my cheek. Luckily Eric doesn’t lose his cool, although at one point he tells the cab driver that we’ll call the police (which hilariously isn’t even feasible anyway since we don’t have a Malaysian phone number). I end our yelling match with ‘I feel sorry for you’ and I’m not sure if the taxi driver suddenly takes this as an apology, but he drives the last few minutes to our hotel in silence.
Bottom line: I know people who haven’t had any problems with taxi drivers in KL (like my dad for instance), but most people told me immediately to avoid taxis and take Uber instead. And that’s exactly what we do after this. We also walk a lot and take the monorail/light rail. Sometimes an Uber worked out cheaper than two monorail tickets.