A melting pot of cultures, Kuala Lumpur comprises people from various ethnic backgrounds, racial orientations and different walks of life from all over the globe. Owing to this, Malaysia’s capital city boasts a mélange of delectable dishes and foods across its regions.
Malaysian cuisine — be it street food or dishes at fine-dining restaurants — consists of recipes that have been greatly influenced by the city’s multiculturalism. While its heavily influenced Chinese cuisine is often infused with Indian flavours, the Muslim population, too, affects the culinary landscape of Kuala Lumpur.
Additionally, the dishes boast a wide spectrum of umami (meaning savoury) broths as well as curries with robust spices. Noodles, vegetables, meats, like pork, chicken and other local produce, and garnishes added to the dishes not only make them vibrant but will also leave you wanting for more.
So, if you are a foodie who is willing to try local dishes and authentic flavours while in Kuala Lumpur, then there are quite a few classic dishes that you wouldn’t want to miss.
Typically made of aromatic curry sauce, minced pork, rice noodles, fried fish, chilli sauce and other ingredients, the delicious array of dishes make the culinary journey in Kuala Lumpur a ride to cherish.
Here are 10 must-try dishes in Kuala Lumpur
One dish that can safely be called every true-blue Malaysian’s comfort food is nasi lemak. It is also the country’s national dish.
Nasi lemak consists of aromatic rice cooked in coconut milk, pandan leaves, roasted peanuts, fried anchovies, hard-boiled egg and for the added heat, some sambal belacan (spicy shrimp paste).
To up the dish, it is often coupled with ayam goreng (crispy fried chicken) or some other meat or seafood.
Be it breakfast, lunch or dinner, any time is a good nasi lemak time in Kuala Lumpur. If you find the sambal paste too hot, follow the dish with a cool lemon iced beverage.
Some popular places you can hit for the perfect nasi lemak in Kuala Lumpur include Village Park Restaurant, Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa, Nasi Lemak Tanglin and Nasi Lemak Angah.
A go-to Malaysian local food with an Indonesian origin, satay is an assortment of meats, like beef, chicken, pork, venison and tripe that are put on sticks and marinated in Asian spices. They are then grilled over a charcoal fire for the perfectly succulent texture.
Typically served with cucumbers and raw onions, satay is a must-have street food, which is served in every nook and corner of Kuala Lumpur — right from the street stalls to well-known restaurants.
For a nutty flavour, dunk the satay in some peanut sauce and savour the taste. You can make a complete meal out of it by accompanying this tender meat dish with rice cakes.
Some of the best gourmet places to savour some delicious satay in Kuala Lumpur are JP Teres, Grand Hyatt, OpenHouse KLCC and Leonardo’s Dining Room & Wine Loft, among others.
Bak kut teh
Think of an aromatic umami broth infused with rich flavours of Asian spices slow-cooking baby pork ribs. Doesn’t it feel like a classic comfort dish?
Although bak kut teh’s literal translation from Chinese is ‘pork bone tea’, it has nothing to do with the beverage. It is a rather complex pork stew that is simmered for hours with star anise, cinnamon, pepper, garlic and Chinese vegetable gai choy.
Garnished with fried onions, it is served with white rice. You can add some chilli padi to make it spicy.
Kuala Lumpur is home to some of the best stops to try bak kut teh. According to a Foodadvisor report, popular joints include Restoran Yu Yi, Sun Fong and Pao Xiang.
A hot-selling Malaysian dish and one of the classic things to eat in Kuala Lumpur, bak kut teh is a classic example of how Malaysian cuisine has been influenced by other cultures, with many other dishes featuring Indian and Thai influences for example.
The Indian and Muslim population has rendered their own share of influence over Malaysian cuisine. Roti canai is one such classic example.
An Indian-style flatbread, roti canai is made from dough mixed with copious amounts of butter and oil for an extra soft texture and flakiness.
Found at all mamaks (24-hour Muslim eateries) dotted across the city, these plain roti canai or roti kosong is slightly sweet. It is typically served with dal and curries.
Its variants come in roti canais stuffed with all kinds of fillings like eggs, minced meat cheese and onions. Eateries across Kuala Lumpur even serve a dessert called roti hawaii.
Some popular eateries to try roti canai in Kuala Lumpur include Valentine Roti, Mansion Tea Stall and Restoran Murni SS2, as per Foodadvisor.
Thick noodles tossed in rich glistening black sauce with shards of pork belly or beef, hokkien mee is another classic Malaysian dish and one of the popular ones in Kuala Lumpur. Made with soy sauce and mushrooms, the black sauce adds a typical flavour profile to the noodles.
This delicious food item is served with sliced cabbage and chopped spring onions, which makes it a dish you must have while visiting Kuala Lumpur.
Some of the best places to slurp these noodles include Ah Wah, Aik Yuen, Kedai Kopi Dan Makanan Ming Hoe and Restoran Setapak Teochew.
Fish head soup
To address the elephant in the room, the dish does not come with an actual fish head. The fish fillet is rather dredged in a light batter and deep-fried before adding it to a sweet and spicy broth, which locals cherish.
Unlike your average noodle soup or fish curry, the fish head soup is prepared by evaporating milk and flavouring it with garlic sauce, chicken stock, ginger and plums. Topped with mustard greens and sliced tomatoes, the aromatic dish embodies the distinct flavour of the ocean.
Fresh local fish coated in a robust mix of spices and thrown over a charcoal grill, this dish is as delicious as it gets.
The crispy-charred exterior encrusting the moist glistening meat inside makes ikan bakar worth trying in Kuala Lumpur. The fish is generally wrapped in banana leaf to prevent it from burning and is served with an assortment of condiments like chili sauce or soy sauce to suit your liking.
According to FoodAdvisor, some of the best places to try this grilled fish in Kuala Lumpur include Sambal Hijau Restaurant, Peturi Café and Kak Ton D’Condo.
A classic Malaysian comfort food, the hearty chicken rice is a local food in Kuala Lumpur that is hard to miss. One of the simplest dishes to prepare, chicken rice can be enjoyed with the meat boiled or roasted for different textures.
However, the highlight remains the rice, which is cooked with ginger, garlic and chicken stock. The sticky consistency of the aromatic rice served with tender chicken makes it a flavourful meal. Similar variations also exist with pork and beef that are equally appealing to the palate.
Try out this fragrant rice dish in Kuala Lumpur at Loke Yun, Restoran Nasi Ayam Chee Meng and Coffee shop Ban Huat Heng.
A mouth-watering seafood goodness, prawn mee is a delicious Penang noodle soup, where the shrimps are boiled and stewed for hours, without deshelling them. The rich aroma of the broth is enhanced with the wholesome flavours of seafood.
Though it can be made with any type of noodles of your liking, the authentic taste and texture are best achieved with thin yellow noodles or vermicelli noodles. It is accompanied by scallions, eggs, bean sprouts and at times sliced pork.
Although the dish is synonymous with Penang, Kuala Lumpur, too, offers a number of options where you can taste this Malaysian delicacy. Try it at the many stalls and restaurants in the city, including Prawn Noodle King, Soon Lee Prawn Mee and Restoran Yong Len.
Nothing rounds up the culinary journey better than the classic Malaysian dessert cendol.
Shaved ice topped with creamy coconut milk and doused in brown sugar juice or palm sugar syrup and condensed milk makes cendol a perfect dessert.
Topped with green noodles, red beans, corn and sweet confections, cendol is a delicacy that you simply cannot miss.
Cendol is more famously found in Penang, but visitors can sample it in Kuala Lumpur, too. A good number of spots in the city offer this dessert. Some of the popular joints include Madras Lane Hawkers, Cendol Durian Runtuh and Ah Keong’s ABC & Ice Cendol Stall.
(Main and featured image credit: Job Savelsberg/ @jobsavelsberg / Unsplash)