In multiracial Malaysia, every type of cooking from southeast Asia can be tasted. Malay food concentrates on subtleties of taste using a blend of spices, ginger, coconut milk and peanuts. There are many regional types of Chinese cooking including Cantonese, Peking, Hakka, Sichuan and Taiwanese. Indian, Thai and Indonesian food is also popular. International cuisines are also varied, from Middle Eastern to Italian, to Japanese, but are almost exclusively served in restaurants that are mid- to high-priced. Although the country is largely Islamic, alcohol is widely available.
Malaysians are very proud of their cooking and most towns or even villages have their own delicious specialities such as Penang char kway teow, Kajang satay, Ipoh bean sprout chicken, Sarawak laksa, Kelantan nasi dagang, Sabah hinava, and a lot more. Most of them rely on word of mouth for advertising and are frequently located in the most inconvenient, out-of-the-way places so you might want to try asking the locals for their personal recommendations.
As eating is a favourite 'past time' of Malaysians, the majority are adept at using the chopsticks regardless of race. Noodles and Chinese dishes typically come with these, while Malay and Indian food can be eaten by hand, but nobody will blink an eye if you ask for a fork and spoon instead. When eating in a group, serving dishes are always shared, but you'll get your own bowl of rice and soup. Set lunches, usually with four courses, are excellent value for money.
Places to Dine
In Kuala Lumpur, you'll be able to find the entire range of Malaysian cuisine as well as cuisines from around the world. Dining out is fairly inexpensive with the exception of a few of the hotel and trendy restaurants you'll come across in the city. Just head to the roadside stalls and what Malaysians call "coffee shops" (kedai kopi in Malay; kopitiam in Chinese) – a shop which operates like a food court with many stalls selling a variety of food. The food can be exciting to taste and, at open-air restaurants or stalls, exciting to watch being prepared.
Some coffee shops offer street side dining by placing their tables on the pavements of roads. Coffee shops are found on virtually every street in Kuala Lumpur, but Chinatown and Jalan Alor in the Golden Triangle have some of the greatest concentration of coffee shops and stalls. There are various famous food and restaurant streets in Kuala Lumpur, but Jalan Alor is by far, the most famous of all. All afternoon, vendors start wheeling their various cooking stations into place and setting up plastic chairs and tables along a street that has seen similar action for decades. Most of the food served here is Chinese although there are a few Malay stalls.
Rivalling the coffee shops in terms of numbers, as well as the price of food, are what Malaysians call "mamak shops" – food outlets run by Indian Muslims. They can also be found at almost every street corner in Kuala Lumpur; food served here is halal. The street side version, called the "mamak stall" is also popular. One famous collection of street side mamak stalls is at Jalan Doraisamy near the Heritage Row.
Food courts in shopping malls can also provide you with a good opportunity to sample Malaysian food in more hygienic conditions, although the prices will be a little higher than coffee shops. Lot 10 shopping mall in the Golden Triangle has a collection of 20 street vendors who were invited to relocate in the food court. While there are some international choices, the speciality here is Chinese.
Kuala Lumpur has a good number of restaurants, some of them offering better food than others. The Golden Triangle, Bangsar and Mid Valley, Heritage Row and some areas in Damansara and Hartamas are the usual places for people looking for a restaurant meal.
In terms of ethnicity, Malay food can be found in Jalan Masjid India, Chow Kit and Kampung Baru areas in the Tuanku Abdul Rahman district. Chinatown is the best place to search for Chinese food, although all kinds of Chinese cuisine, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, can be found all over Kuala Lumpur. Head to Lebuh Ampang in the city centre and Brickfields for Indian food, especially the banana leave rice. Bangsar has many high-end restaurants offering Western food. If you are dying for Korean food, head to Ampang Jaya. A lot of Arab and Middle Eastern restaurants have mushroomed in Bukit Bintang and Cyberjaya.