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To be honest, the street food in Kuala Lumpur was bound to be excellent.
While almost 70% of the population in Malaysia is ethnically Malay, 23% are Chinese and 7% are Indian. With large swathes of citizens from such culinarily colourful nations, Malaysian food is an explosion of flavours and spices. The capital, Kuala Lumpur, has among the most diverse ranges of food anywhere, with influences from the many Tamil, Arab, Malay, Indonesia, Thai, and European settlers who settled its shores. Leaving the country without treating yourself to the incredible range of street food in Kuala Lumpur would be a grave injustice upon your taste buds.
Though the three distinct cuisines of Malaysia, China and India don’t often overlap – in Kuala Lumpur you’ll find areas of the city dedicated to each – there are many instances where they have drawn inspiration from one another. There are more styles and varieties than we can fit in one article, but below are some of the most celebrated regional dishes. We heartily recommend you try as many as you can. Look up your nearest Malaysian restaurant ASAP, or even better, pop over to Kuala Lumpur chow down like a local!
Examples of street food in Kuala Lumpur
In KL, ‘street food’ is a little different to, say, Vietnam or Thailand. Though it does still exist, it’s rare to see a queue of local people standing in front of a single man or woman with a cart, frying up fresh ingredients in a big old wok. Kuala Lumpur is a very wealthy city and residents like their snacks a little more modern; much of their ‘street food’ these days is to be found in restaurants, albeit served in a similar, quick-and-casual style.
Considered the national dish. Rice cooked in coconut milk is the base of the meal, but it’s the sides that count! It’s usually accompanied by hard–boiled egg, peanuts, vegetables, meat curry and sambal (chili sauce).
A little sauce short of a curry, rendang is a meat dish cooked in coconut milk & spices until all the liquid is absorbed. Beef is best.
A spicy noodle soup with curry coconut milk, regional variations and family recipes mean no two are the same. Laksa is usually served with prawns, although can also get meat and vegetarian options.
Grilled skewers of chicken or beef served with a peanut–based (often spicy!) dipping sauce.
Pan–fried bread filled with a meat and onion mix, served with a spicy-sour dipping sauce.
A coconut milk–based porridge that includes vegetables and meat, often served direct from the pot from food stalls. Some colourful variations include coloured balls of flour.
Indian–inspired flat-bread that’s crunchy on the outside and maintains a soft and fluffy inside. Served with curry.
Different cities have their own version of these Chinese–inspired fried noodles. Kuala Lumpur uses yellow noodles and favours meat over seafood, whilst in Penang a broth is added to egg noodles and prawn is the most common variety.
Claypot chicken rice
Does what it says on the tin! Rice combined with chicken, vegetables and seasonings before being added to a clay pot and slowly cooked.
Where can I find street food in Kuala Lumpur?
A haggler’s haven, the busy market stalls of Petaling Street are known as the birthplace of Kuala Lumpur. Beneath a vast green canopy, shoppers can get lost in endless stalls selling a wealth of faux-branded items – Dolce & Banana, anyone? – and plenty of hot bites from stalls lining the street. The market’s open until late at night, so you can while away the hours gorging on hokkien mee and perusing handbags of dubious origin.
Kwai Chai Hong
If you begin to tire of the frenetic market with its tangles of electricity cables and counters laden with mysterious fruits, head south. Immediately beside Chinatown and Petaling Street, you’ll come across a charming regenerated area full of street art. This is Kwai Chai Hong, a lovely little spot full of excellent eateries and watering holes, that many travel sites somewhat infuriatingly refer to as ‘Insta-worthy’.
A food tour is the best way to sample the local delights, sit on little plastic stools tucking into claypot chicken, then head to one of the area’s several hidden speakeasy bars for a cocktail using local ingredients. Around here you’ll find Nasi Lemak, spicy satay skewers, and – if you can brave it – durian puff desserts (the pungent durian truly is the Marmite of the fruit world). There’s even a converted cinema, where pop up stalls include a brewery with a delectable lemongrass IPA.
Jalan Alor Night Food Court
Located in Bukit Bintang – the place to go in KL if you’re looking to do some upmarket shopping or high-end dining – Jalan Alor Night Food Court is a must-visit for fans of exotic cuisine and perhaps the best example of street food in Kuala Lumpur. Again, food tours are a great choice for exploring the seemingly infinite mouthwatering options available. The whole night market has a boisterous energy about it; locals and tourists alike visit come nightfall, drawn in by the allure of cheap drinks, a vibrant cultural mashup, and the ever-present aroma of spices and sizzling treats. Take cash and go on an empty stomach – trust us, you’re gonna want to try everything.