Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Eating Out

Kuala Lumpur is the melting pot of the best in Asian cuisine. If you are not fussy, food in all forms, shapes and sizes can be found anywhere, sold throughout the day – from street vendors and hawker centres to fast food joints like Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King's, Nando's, Pizza Huts and McDonald's to posh restaurants.

You will notice that when you are in Kuala Lumpur, there are three major food outlets - the Malay, Indian and Chinese food operators. And within these three, you can sometimes find something interesting to suit your tastebuds.

We will not delve into the nitty gritties where food is concerned but as a guide, we will take you through some of the common items on the food list of an average cityfolk.

Generally there are three types of dominant cuisine influenced by the three major races in Malaysia – Chinese, Malay and Indian food.



Noodles (dry or soup)
Flour dumplings (pao)
Meat dumplings – called dimsum
Fritters – yow char kuay
Rice – known as bak kut teh or rice eaten with meaty soup and Chinese tea.

Note: Generally pork is used but there are some 'halal' Chinese restaurants offering cuisines that conform to the religious requirements of Muslims. Always look out for a 'halal' logo or ask the proprietor if the food is 'halal' if you are a Muslim.

Kuih-muih – traditional cakes which can be sweet or spicy
Rice – in various types such as nasi lemak (rice steamed in coconut milk), nasi kerabu (spicy herbal rice), nasi goreng (fried rice)
Noodles – usually fried


Sugee dumplings – known as idli, eaten with curry dips
Leavened breads eaten with curry gravy – made either of flour or fermented rice such as roti canai (flour), capati (wholewheat flour) and thosay (fermented rice flour).

Breakfast beverages:
Common beverages include Chinese tea, tea, coffee and Nescafe (powdered processed coffee) but here is no hard and fast rule. A common phenomenon is ‘teh tarik’ where prepared tea is poured from a height to aerate it. It is supposed to add flavour to the beverage while cooling it. Another is the ‘si’ adjective added when ordering beverages such as coffee or tea – called kopi-si or the-si. This ‘si’ thingy is to imply that you want unsweetened evaporated milk - healthier alternative.

Rice makes up the main menu for the three races although what you can find for breakfast can usually be extended into the lunch or even dinner, especially where Chinese cuisine is concerned.The most common lunch fare of the three major races is the mixed rice (called chap fun by the Chinese and nasi campur by the Malays), where you are given a plate of white rice and you pick your own dishes. You pay according to the number of dishes you pick.

Dinner fare is almost similar for the three major races and can sometimes include somehing from the breakfast fare.


KL never sleeps and this 'supper' phenomenon was probably started by Kuala Lumpur cityfolk. Eating goes right into the night and sometimes into the wee hours of the morning - which is why you can find 24-hour restaurants practically everywhere. Supper time is one of socialising with friends after work, exchanging office tales or simply enjoy a game of football on HBO or a drama on TVB.

What can you expect at the food outlets in Kuala Lumpur? Generally these are the main types of food operators:

Hawker Stalls - these are single operators, located at any nook and corner of Kuala Lumpur, compirising hamburger stalls, satay stalls, and tea-stalls where you can get a quick bite. Comfort level is basic. You order your food, which comes quite cheap, have your meal and be on your way.

Hawker Centres or Food Courts - these are one-stop centres for a quick meal in Kuala Lumpur and prices are usually quite competitive. It caters to the middle class, usually office workers. Over the years, these have evolved into much more comfortable eateries - some with airconditioning or demisters. Prices can be slightly more than your usual hawker stall meal but you get variety all within walking distance. If you are a first-timer to Kuala Lumpur, check out the food courts and hawker centres here.

Fast Food Outlets - these modern franchised outlets such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Nando's, Pizza Huts, Burger King, McDonald's, Kenny Rogers Roasters, and other 'migrant' food joints need little introduction. Pricewise, they can be pretty competitive and all are airconditioned. In Kuala Lumpur, you may find some homegrown varieties such as Jake's Place, Marrybrown, etc. Check them out, too, and you will be surprised at how good they are.

Restaurants - these are categorised according to Chinese, Indian and Malay food, halal, non-halal, etc. Quite a number of foreign restaurants have also made their way into the Kuala Lumpur food scene, so don't be surprised to find a kebab, pasta and biryani joint located amidst a row of local restaurants. For the comfort and specialised menus, food can be a little bit more expensive and bills may include service and Government tax.

Mamak Restaurants - You can't miss them when you are in Kuala Lumpur - their yellow and bright signages say it all. The Mamak (Indian Muslims) Restaurants are the pioneers of 24-hour dining in Kuala Lumpur. They usually serve 'halal' food for breakfast, lunch, dinner and suppers. Comfort level is basic and food is cheap. In Kuala Lumpur, you find many of them sporting giant TV screens for their diners to watch the latest news or sports programme. During major soccer tournaments, these restaurants are packed with soccer fans throughout the night to watch live telecasts on satellite TV. Note that beer and other alcoholic drinks are not served here.

Vegetarian Meals in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is a food haven even for the vegetarian. Typically, there are two major types of vegetarian food, or rather restaurants. They are Chinese and Indian vegetarian restaurants. The former serves a wide variety of 'mock meats' (items made using gluten flour dough and resembles various meats), vegetables and soya products. The latter, usually features lentil, vegetable, nuts and other bean and soya products.To help you, we have included a new section on vegetarian food available here.

Halal Food in Kuala Lumpur
MUSLIMS visiting Kuala Lumpur can rest assured that eating out will be no problem as halal food can be found in many places - from hawker stalls owned by Muslim vendors to restaurants operated by Muslims and Indian Muslims (fondly known as Mamak Restaurants) to most international fastfood chains.

If in doubt, look out for the symbol which certifies whether an outlet serves food that are prepared according to Islamic religious requirements.If you have any query on halal food, you may visit the Islamic Development Department (Jakim) website. There is a directory of premises and food manufacturers which have been certified Halal operator. You may also check the status foodstuff which carries the Halal Logo by checking its barcode status.

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