As a bustling capital city home to almost two million people, it’s no surprise that Kuala Lumpur boasts its fair share of exquisite dining hotspots and haute cuisine restaurants. However, it’s not always necessary to pay top dollar to treat yourself to a first-class meal in this culinary melting pot.
A thriving street food scene means there are always a plethora of roadside carts and hole-in-the-wall eateries which can satisfy your cravings on a budget. Here are 10 suggestions of the best street food in Kuala Lumpur, along with a recommendation for where to try them. However, you should remember that all of these dishes are readily available all across the city and it’s often not necessary to seek out a particular location to get an authentic and appetising option. Follow your nose!
Often considered the national dish, Nasi Lemak is also popular in neighbouring countries containing slight variations. The Malay original is comprised of rice cooked in coconut milk and served on a banana leaf, accompanied by anchovies, boiled egg, cucumber, peanuts, sambal and a hot spicy sauce or curry, often containing lamb or other meat. It is usually served for breakfast but can be consumed any time of the day. Where to try: Nasi Lemak Peel Road, 88 Jalan Peel, Maluri
More of a snack than a substantial meal, pisang goreng is deep fried banana or plantain. Although banana is the traditional choice, plantain is a common alternative and either can be covered in batter (made from flour, wheat, tapioca or bread crumb) if desired, although battering is not necessary. It’s then deep fried in a substantial amount of palm oil and sometimes sweetened with vanilla extract or coconut milk, before being served as is.
Where to try: Brickfields Pisang Goreng, 19 Jalan Thambipillay, Brickfields
Muah chee are another decadent snack in the shape of glutinous balls of rice. The secret ingredient here is the shallot oil, which, when mixed into rice flour, salt and water, turns an unappetising lump of shapeless flour into a sleek and shiny ball of deliciousness. Steamed or fried, the balls are then topped with tasty additions such as crushed peanuts, black sesame seeds or sugar and served as an on-the-go snack. Among street food in KL, this is one of the quintessential experiences.
Where to try: Madam Tang Muah Chee Queen, 42 Jalan Hang Lekir, Chinatown
Translated as wonton noodles, wantan mee is a highly popular Malay version of this Cantonese classic. The base ingredients of thick noodles and leafy green vegetables remain the same as in the original recipe, but the Kuala Lumpur version often adds char siu (a style of barbecued pork) to the top of the dish and sometimes serves the broth separately from the noodles, which are garnished with spring onions and a tangy oyster sauce. Delicious.
Where to try: Kei Suk Wantan Mee, Jalan Brunei, Pudu
Another noodle dish which has its roots in China, hokkien char mee uses fat yellow noodles coated in dark soya sauce and laced with slices of chicken, squid and cabbage. Additional garnishes of egg, sambal, tiny pieces of lard and lime juice are also available at some outlets, while the Malaysian version differs to its neighbouring counterparts in that it is stir-fried rather than served in a broth.
Where to try: Hokkien Mee Halal, 40 Jalan Othman, Petaling Jaya Old Town
The literal translation of “rojak” is “eclectic mixture” – and that’s certainly what you get when you order this zesty salad. The main staple of the dish is a combination of seasonal fruits and vegetables, chopped up into bitesize pieces and smothered in a sweet and spicy sauce. However, there are plentiful variations on the theme, with such diverse ingredients as fried dough, tofu or prawn fritters, hard-boiled eggs and cuttlefish added to achieve different textures and flavours.
Where to try: Rojak Bellamy, Jalan Bellamy, Bukit Petaling
With a literal translation of “burned fish”, ikan bakar might not sound quite as appetising as the dish above, but don’t be put off by the name: this classic Indonesian fare has become a staple among street food in Kuala Lumpur for good reason. Wrapped in a banana leaf which imbues it with a deliciously sweet aroma, the fish is then barbecued over an open fire and served with a chili, garlic and lime sauce.
Where to try: Ikan Bakar Sarjan Jam, Jalan Pantai Murni, Pantai Dalam
No menu would be complete without a dessert, and cendol is the perfect way to cool yourself down on a hot Malaysian afternoon or after some spicy noodles. Served on a bed of crushed ice, cendol consists of coconut milk, green jelly noodles, palm sugar syrup and sweetened red beans. The name is believed to come from the Malay word “jendol”, meaning “swollen”, in reference to the distended jelly noodles. Whatever its origins, we’re big fans.
Where to try: Cendol Durian Runtuh, 57 Lorong Raja Bot, Chow Kit