Most travelers treat KL as a transit point to other destinations. We did not. We love laid-back holidays, and what better way to enjoy at leisure than chilling out in a city that throws so many options at you. KL, to us, was a boiling pot of equally tempting options waiting to be explored. Or devoured, depending on the way you see it. We started off with the touristy options like the museum and Batu caves. While these places were good in themselves, we quickly realised that we found more joy in fooling around with our camera and chilling on the clean pavements outside, discussing how they manage to keep out the dirt and why this can never be achieved in India. We dislike blaming everything on our people so we looked for other factors such as the weather, type of loose soil, lack of trees maybe that hold the soil together, and so on. None of them were convincing enough, maybe it was the people afterall. The number of times they swept the roads and pavements, the number of people employed to do this job, then again, compare their population to ours and you are faced with yet another question, with all the unemployed population in our country, why can’t we employ more people to keep our cities clean?
Anyhow, cut to the good things. KL being a city with a sizeable tourist and expat population, has a lot to offer to foodies of varied palates. In the given time we had, we tried out a wide range of food, and soon realised that in order to try every cuisine the city has to offer, it would perhaps take us an entire lifetime. Both of us love variety in food, but in KL, we often were faced with days when we wanted to go back to the same food we had on a certain day. The husband has this particular favorite Egyptian cafe on Bukit Bintang – while his extreme love for plain old hummus and pita is well-known in the household, I think its the location of the place that attracted him more. The place is localted bang in the middle of all the action. You can watch the crowd up-close and admire the franticness of shoppers while you enjoy a byestander’s liberty, calmly sipping on your arabic mint tea and pretending to have all the time in the world – which, thanks to no ‘planned itinerary’, we actually did.
By our inherent lazy nature, breakfast is the meal both of us enjoy the most; and we were lucky to have a few leisurely ones while in KL.
My favorite street food destination was the predictable Jalan Alor, one of the busiest eat streets of the town, located very close to where we stayed – The Radius International, which I strongly think beats any other hotel in terms of location. Jalan Alor opened rather tamely at around 11 am, this would be a time when you find streetstalls selling colourful Malay sweets, mooncakes and sweets made with various combinations of sticky rice, coconut milk, red bean and pandan leaves, wrapped in small packets. The local sweet Kuih (made with glutinous flour) was slightly sweet and gummy outside, quite like a soft chewing gum, and had various kinds of interesting stuffing inside. I really looked forward to these, moreso because they were only to be found on occassions. The noodle shops opened around this time too, and served through the day and way into the night. The other attractions for me were the dried meat shops – dried meat never looked or tasted to sophisticated – I bought a few packs from Loong Kee and knew at once that sophistry comes at a price. I paid an equivalent of Rs 600 for roughly 300 gms of assorted caramelised dried meat, but it was a gift for the brother so I quickly tried to console myself about the price and looked forward to bro’s verdict on tasting it. Loong Kee has a chain of retail shops and takeaway burger stalls across the city where one can lay a hand on their products that range from dried meat and meat floss to local snacks, cookies and kedai biscuits.
As the day progresses, Jalan Alor is a completely transformed place with hissing smoke from the steamboat stalls alluring passersby with the array of fresh seafood and variety of fresh mushrooms to go along with it, noisy chatter of early diners enjoying their beer and steamed cockles, extra seats laid down at the Dragon View restaurant that is famous for its Bat Tuk Teh (claypot stewed pork with Chinese herbs and rice), people calling you out from stalls selling Cendol and jelly desserts in various flavors. The street is ornate with overhead strings of flaming red lanterns along the entire stretch; the energy and the aroma is captivating and highly addictive. Repeated visits to this street are not enough to satiate me and I kept craving to go back there, one more time, everytime.
Very often we miss out on the mot obvious choices to look around in a city, simply because we want to skip the touristy crowd. Central market was one such place that we kept hearing about from other tourists but kept deferring off till we reached a day we were tired of doing nothing. This was towards the end of our trip, and we had to buy some souvenirs for family back home. And weren’t we glad we visited this place – it was just what I had coaxed my husband with – an airconditioned equivalent of Delhi haat. We were not only elated with the variety of things we found there, we were completely bowled over by the prices, everything sounded so reasonable already, and best part was we could bargain. Although we didn’t, but that felt like home 🙂 It was here that I found this amazing Malay equivalent of our very own Puttu from Kerala – a light dessert snack made from steaming rice flour, coconut and jaggery in bamboo stems. The only difference was this version was flavored with Pandan flavoring.
Among our favorite walks in KL, apart from the inevitable Bintang walk, was taking the pedestrian subway from Palladium mall to KLCC. Just before one emerges out into the KLCC park area, one is drawn by the multicuisine whiff inside the subway food court – we were famished and tried our luck with Kenny Rogers Roasters – where we had the most incredible juiciest chicken ever. *gulp* Another favorite walk was across the Palladium mall where they have a chain of restaurants and pubs. One particular lunch we especially liked there was at an Italian place called Michelangelo’s. Linguini pasta with clams with a scrumptious seafood salad, both of which were
heavenly in their simplicity.
I could have written on and on but this post has been long overdue so I shall end with these few travel tips for first timers to KL –
- Do not underestimate KL as a transit destination as many would suggest; do keep a couple of days for this city and trust me you will not regret it
- Try and stay around Bukit Bintang – at the Radius, if possible or available. The location more than makes up for everything else. If you want high end, Royale Chulan, if you want higher end, you have the Grand Millennium (by far the best location). You could even rent out apartment suites at the Berjaya Times Square Apartments, for tariffs equal to 3-4 star hotels.
- Standard hotel rooms, in general, are smaller than one would find in say, Thailand; even across the same chain of hotels.
- Download the offline map of Malaysia if you are traveling all over. Triposo has a good map and guide that will take up about 80MB of your gadget space, but its very handy to have one. Also, you could download the Timeout food guides for KL (and Penang), or pick up copies of timeout mag or expatriate lifestyle mags in KL for good guidance.
- Most locals understand and speak comprehensible English so getting around is easy. Try and use the monorail and the KL rapid transit/metro to avoid traffic jams and save time.
- Petaling street/China town is highly overrated both for the food and the shopping. Head to Central market for a more holistic, reasonable and better experience for shoppers and foodies alike. Also, its air-conditioned (in the perennially hot humid city)
- Carry an umbrella, it rains throughout the year in KL. Most hotels rent out umbrellas for a deposit fee though, but our winters being their rainy season, the demand is huge and they often run out
- There is a government-run artisan village right next to Hotel Royale Chulan; one could interact with the artisans, learn batik painting from the DIY workshops and buy artifacts from the artists or from the in-house store.
- Do not limit your food choices to Malaysian fare – there is food beyond the Ayam goreng, Nasi Lemak and Char Kway Tow. Explore the various regional Chinese specialties, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese joints, the several Middle eastern places and a handful of Italian and French places that dot the city (though always check if the owner is a native)
- Remember, in KL, expensive is not always equal to good food. Explore places where you see more locals crowding up.
- Street food in Malaysia is much safer than that in Thailand. Their kitchens are way cleaner. Have an open mind, safely try and explore street food or random restaurants that appeal to you. Do try the steamed cockles, fried oysters, Bak kut teh and the steam boats.
- Finally, have a plan. Read up and plan out where you want to go, what you want to do, food joints around those places – if you want to save time on a packed vacation and get the most out of it.
And with this, I finally conclude the entire series on my Malaysian vacation. We had also visited Penang and Cameron Highlands, travelogues for which can be found at: