Kuala Lumpur Diaries: Top 3 food courts to enjoy your meal in Kuala Lumpur
And I am back after a long, long hiatus! A lot happened in my real world and just let me say here that I am happy to be alive! Let’s hope those days don’t come back to haunt me again.
On that happy note, let’s continue our Kuala Lumpur series, shall we?
Now, I had said this before and I will say this again – one of my main objectives in KL was to savour the region’s delightful cuisine. I already knew some of the famous dishes and places to dine, browsing through various food channels and articles on the net. Or so I thought. Because when I landed in KL, my memory bank emptied itself and suddenly I did not know what to eat and where to eat.
My hotel was located quite close to the twin towers and on the first day I roamed around aimlessly in search of food as I did not want to have the hotel buffet. I came across a curry house on the same street as my hotel but felt completely lost when it came to ordering. I observed the others and was quite astounded to see the amount of food they piled onto their plates. For people who were pencil thin, their metabolism must be remarkably high!
My first meal, which I could not muster the courage to photograph, was a very hesitantly ordered plate of rice, fish curry and lamb curry. Yes, you heard it right – fish and lamb both poured together on the rice! My original order was just rice and fish curry but I made the mistake of casually pointing towards the lamb to ask what that was and the server immediately scooped that up and put it over the fish curry. Later, I saw that it was the norm in a curry house – you can opt to add as many curries you want with your rice.
Anyways, after that first hiccup, my food adventures went quite smoothly and I relished each and every dish that I had in KL. Here are my top three places to have food in KL, in no particular order:
1. The Hutong food court at Lot 10 shopping mall, Bukit Bintang
I fell in love with the place the moment I stepped into it. Tucked away on the lower ground floor of Lot 10 mall, the food court has apparently been designed to look like an old Beijing village with narrow alleyways linking various stalls. Instead of a central seating area, as one would find in most food courts, here tables and chairs are placed around the food stalls.
Stalls at Lot 10 Mall, Bukit Bintang
This award-winning gourmet food hall houses more than 20 stands, comprising popular KL and Penang hawkers who have been handpicked to set up shop. I later came to know that prices are a little steep here by food hall standards (between RM10-RM18 for a meal) but the experience is worth every penny spent.
As I made my way through the neon green-lit stalls, awed by the fare on display, I forgot for a moment that I was in an upmarket KL address. The smoky interiors, laden thick with the aroma of roasting meat and stir-fries, can easily disorient your senses and resolve in case you were planning on sticking to a diet. Among all the delicacies, I spied rows of roast ducks, their caramelized skins glistening, and made a bee line towards the Duck King stand. On closer look, I found that they had a set meal which consisted of rice, slices of roast duck and char-siew pork, along with a bowl of clear soup.
Roast Duck and Char-siew Rice
The dish was quickly put together and I could not wait to dig in. When I did, I thought I had died and reached heaven. The roast duck was every bit as moist and succulent as was the char-siew, a sweet dark sauce accentuating its flavours. The dish came with a delicious chilli sauce, reminding me of our chilli chutney served with momos. I mixed the chilli with the rice liberally before skewering a bit of meat and popping the whole forkful into my mouth. Bliss!
While there were a hundred more dishes to sample from the food hall, I was absolutely won over by Duck King and stuck to the same dish for two consecutive nights, although one night I gave into temptation and packed a roast chicken rice for midnight snacking.
Roast Chicken Rice
2. Food Republic at The Pavillion Mall, Buking Bintang
We had a car at our disposal to gallivant around KL. One of the drivers (his name escapes me at the moment) turned out to be quite proficient in English and knowledgeable about his city. We chattered on about almost everything that the city had to offer, right from property rates to foot massages. He was delighted to know the foodie in me who relished the cuisine of his land. Since we were to be busy with IIFA Awards the next few days, he suggested the food court known as Food Republic at the Pavillion Mall, located bang opposite the JW Marriott where the IIFA events were taking place. He could not have been more right.
At first glance, Food Republic, comprising around 30 stalls, looked like a busy, upscale restaurant with its dark wood furnishings, ambient lighting, silvery-grey tables and white plastic chairs. It was located on the first floor and served some of the best local Asian hawker and restaurant fare at affordable prices in an integrated open dining concept.
I browsed through the menus of a few stalls and finally decided that it was time to order the national dish of Malaysia – Nasi lemak, a delicious concoction of coconut milk-infused rice served with chicken, boiled egg, anchovies, peanuts, cucumber salad and a spicy-sweet gravy. As the flavours of all the components burst in my mouth, I knew that this was the perfect comfort food. No wonder this dish was a staple of the local people.
Nasi Lemak - the national dish of Malaysia
Raw Papaya Salad
Deepa, who was accompanying me, ordered the same and also a plate of papaya salad. Fresh slivers of papaya, topped with a sweet dressing and crunchy peanuts, paired beautifully with the spicy Nasi lemak.
Food Republic, having met our approval, became our regular lunch spot for the next few days. However, the Curry Mee that I had on one of the subsequent visits turned out to be quite greasy. Curry Mee is otherwise a scrumptious noodle dish with a spicy coconut milk curry and served with a choice of tofu, seafood or chicken.
3. The food street at Jalan Alor, Bukit Bintang
I wanted to dine where the locals ate. And I wanted to taste all the unique delicacies of Malaysia. I relayed exactly these words to our aforementioned driver. I guess he was taken aback at first. Then he grinned and said that he would take us to the best place that fitted my request – Jalan Alor.
Jalan Alor typifies the diversity that puts together Malaysia and its cuisine. Located in the heart of KL, the street is a far cry from the adjacent swanky malls and office buildings. Come sundown, and the street changes from a sleepy old neighborhood to a bustling food centre. The sidewalks are lined with plastic tables and chairs and rows of hawker stalls appear on both sides of the road, offering some of the best culinary delights of Malaysia.
Night scene at Jalan Alor
As I sat down at one of the tables, my senses were overwhelmed by all that I could see and feel. Brightly lit festoons hung overhead while hawkers tried loudly to attract customers to their stalls. There were large groups of foreigners who had come to taste the local food, besides the native residents.
Stalls showcasing their culinary delights
I skimmed the menu, illustrated helpfully with pictures accompanying the names of dishes, and settled for something that was very tame, compared to the other delicacies. We had a very late lunch that day and besides, I saw a look of apprehension cross Deepa’s face as she read names such as frog legs stew. I did not want to horrify the poor girl much and ordered a Hainanese Chicken Rice, something that I had wanted to taste for a long time. As an afterthought, I also ordered a plate of Hokkien Mee, another dish that piqued my interest.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
The Hainanese chicken rice was an absolute delight, though many may find it quite bland. The steamed chicken was very tender and not stringy as I had expected. A light fragrant broth sat underneath the chicken and made a nice accompaniment for the rice, along with the chilli sauce.
The Hokkien Mee that came after the chicken rice completely blew me over, though at first look, I must admit, it did not appear too appetizing. The dish was a whole meal in itself and consisted of stir-fried egg noodles with egg, slices of pork, prawns and squid, vegetables and a small bowl of sambal sauce. The thick dark soy suffused noodles were awfully soft and absorbed the flavours of the various elements into their fold. I could just live on bowlfuls of this noodle dish and nothing else.
And so, these were some of the beautiful food that I savoured in KL. The photographs taken with my mediocre phone camera are horrible and believe me, the food tasted much better than they look here.
The best advice that I can impart to you, in case you plan to visit KL, is to bring your appetite along. And not reservations. Go ahead on a culinary journey and taste everything that comes your way. Bon appetite!
PS: I had won an all-expenses paid trip to Kuala Lumpur by dint of a blogging contest held by Tourism Malaysia in association with BlogAdda.