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Heading to Malaysia and curious about the food? Check out this food tour.
We’ve traveled to more than ninety countries, but it was our very first time in Malaysia, so as soon as we arrived, we took a food tour. Coming from Singapore and Thailand, we were curious how the cuisine compared. We’ve done more than sixty food tours in over 25 countries, and this top-rated Kuala Lumpur food tour was the perfect introduction to Malaysian food and the local culinary scene.
A Chef’s Tour offers popular, thorough and well-organized food tours throughout Asia and in Latin America. We did their tour of Thai food in Phuket and it was an amazing experience, so doing their Sambal Streets food tour in Kuala Lumpur was a no-brainer. This company specializes in small, local places you’d never find on your own, and this was certainly true in KL.
The Food on our Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
We met our guide, Stephen, near the Chow Kit Market, and there were eight of us on the tour (the maximum), which lasted about 4 hours and covered about 5 km. We tried at least 15 different foods on 7 stops. He gave us each a bottle of water, then implored us to not fill up on it because we had a lot of food to try.
One thing to understand about Malaysian cuisine is that – like Thai food – it contains a ton of palm sugar. This seems to be the base for everything, which is why everything tastes so good.
We started the tour by sampling some local exotic fruits in the market. These included mangosteen, longan, langsat, rambutan, lychee, and snakeskin fruit, and it was nice to get in front of the savory onslaught with some sweetness. (Learn more about these exotic fruits here.) There were three American teens on the tour, so it was fun to see them experience unfamiliar fruits for the first time.
First Stop: Noodles, Tea and Roti
Our first stop was at a small local restaurant where we started with a plate of mee goreng – spicy fried noodles with peppers and a squeeze of lime. We sipped both hot and iced tea with milk. But we didn’t sit for long because we had to make our own roti, or flatbread.
Off we went to the grill where our teacher demonstrated how to do this, first by smearing the dough with oil and smoothing it into a round, flat piece of dough, then by turning it and smacking it flat, stretching it out. It looked quite simple but it proved to be oh so hard! We all thought we understood the motion, but one by one we each made messes of our roti, watching helplessly as it would stick to itself and tear into shreds. Still, getting to do this was a highlight of the entire tour.
We were thoroughly humbled as we bowed to the roti king, who then grilled them for us. It turns out you can’t mess them up too much, as our cooked roti, served with three savory sauces, were warm, flaky and delicious.
Second Stop: Good Fruit, Bad Fruit
Our next stop was a small shop for cendol, an iced sweet dessert that contains droplets of pandan-flavored green rice flour jelly, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup. It may not sound good or look appetizing, but don’t be fooled. It was delicious – sweet and coconutty, especially on a hot, humid day.
At this time, we were offered the opportunity to sample durian, a fruit so odious that hotels and aircraft do not allow them inside. Malaysia is the world’s leading consumer of the durian, so it’s impossible to understand the cuisine without sampling this beast.
I am an adventurous eater (and Mark is also very willing to try most things), so we both tried the durian. I feel like it’s the fruit world’s version of fish sauce – it smells like, well, ASS, but in food it adds umami, an extra layer of flavor. But in Malaysia they eat it by itself so I don’t know. What I do know is this: the taste wasn’t terrible, just very sharp and pungent; the smell was very off-putting; but it was the texture that we didn’t anticipate. It’s soft and creamy (some generously call it “custardy”), but I would liken it to the putrid flesh of a rotting corpse.
Third Stop: Sweet Snack
As we strolled to our next restaurant, we stopped at a stand to try putu bambu – a sweet snack made of rice flour, tapioca flour, pandan leaf, palm sugar and coconut. It was sweet and delicious – and a terrific way to get that durian taste out of my mouth.
Fourth Stop: Satays, More Noodles, and Fish
We arrived at another small family-owned restaurant where we tried a few different dishes. We started with satays – skewers of flamed-grilled chicken with a nutty peanut sauce. These are always delicious. Afterward, they served us a noodle soup with bakso ayam – chicken balls – similar to meatballs. Finally, we had whole grilled fish eaten with a spicy sauce. At this point, we are all getting verrrry full.
Fifth Stop: Street Burger!
The ramly burger (aka street burger) is a big part of Malaysian city life and there are many stands that churn these out in the thousands each day. The small stand we went to wrapped the beef patty with a thinly-cooked egg, then slapped it on the bun with a savory sauce. It was pretty unctuous. Afterwards, we headed into Kampung Baru, to one of the last remaining undeveloped districts in Kuala Lumpur.
Sixth Stop: Fish Paste in Kampung Baru
A small stand in the Kampung Baru was a purveyor of otak-otak, a piquant paste of grilled mackerel which is blended together with a sambal and served on a banana-leaf. By now we were full, and this was a little too pungent for us. Still, it was interesting!
Last Stop: A/C and the National Dish of Malaysia
Our final stop was a large and very popular local restaurant with a special air conditioned room. The place is known for its fragrant coconut-steamed nasi lemak (“fatty rice”), which we ate with rich chicken rendang, chicken cooked in aromatic herbs and creamy coconut milk. Our guide supplemented this dish with fresh, cold mango smoothies, complete with big chunks of fruit. A few people in the group had been to this restaurant before, so they also supplemented with their favorite discovery: soft buns filled with rich chocolate (which usually sell out). They were delicious!
Conclusion and Final Thoughts on this Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
We’ve done over sixty food tours, and one thing we really appreciated about this one (especially since there was so much food) was having the option to share dishes as we saw fit. Often, when we each get a dish, we feel obligated to eat it all because it’s delicious, but also because we don’t want to waste food. Then we get ridiculously full, which takes away from the last few dishes and makes us feel miserable. Opting to share dishes along the way allowed us to eat less while minimizing the waste. Genius!
Where We Stayed in Kuala Lumpur
We spent two weeks in KL, and stayed at the Ascott Star KLCC, a luxury serviced apartment hotel just 8 minutes from the Petronas Twin Towers. It opened in May 2022 and has beautiful amenities like a large gym and two infinity pools. This aparthotel would have cost ten times as much in Singapore but here it was quite affordable and very comfortable.
Our Favorite Non-Malaysian Restaurants in Kuala Lumpur
We occasionally cooked in our kitchenette and shopped for groceries at Mercato, an upscale supermarket on the first floor of Pavilion Kuala Lumpur. Although Malaysia is mostly Muslim, alcohol is fortunately readily available at grocery and convenience stores and in restaurants.
While we ate Malay food on occasion, we also mixed in other types of cuisines. Here are some of our favorites:
Easy Lunches and Dinners
- Nando’s – A chain known for their peri-peri chicken available in varying degrees of spiciness, with delicious sides like chips (fries) and corn on the cob.
- Kenny Hills Bakers – Breakfast, lunch and dinner options with multiple locations; we went for brunch and coffee and really enjoyed it.
- KFry – Highly-rated Korean fried chicken place at Suria mall offers fried chicken wrapped with melted cheese, plus bulgogi beef or chicken, bulgogi tater tots, etc. Delicious but very indulgent.
- Suki-Ya – All-you-can-eat sukiyaki and shabu-shabu. This was the closest we came to a healthy meal – iced green tea, chicken and beef but thinly-sliced, miso broth with vegetables and sauces. We didn’t even add noodles but we did have some rice.
- Paris Baguette – Parisian-style café with limited breakfast and lunch items and really delicious pastries.
- Din Tai Fung – This is a dumpling chain found around Asia. Be aware that DIN by Din Tai Fung is their HALAL variant (no pork).
- Miss J – New café at Star Residences near Ascott Star KLCC – nice egg mayo croissant sandwich, excellent kimchi fried rice and gorgeous, delicious pastries.
My New Favorite Restaurant in KL
Yaki Soul Izakaya
Opened in April 2023, this beautifully designed Japanese izakaya was a great find. They specialize in Japanese sand-grilled seafood and yakitori (skewers) but offer so much more. We started with a couple of ice-cold Kirins, then eased in with skewers of wagyu beef, grilled okra (okra!), unagi (eel) and chicken-wrapped longan, then had some salmon rolls, wagyu beef gyoza, and teppanyaki vegetables with prawns. Everything was amazing! I literally shrieked with delight when I saw unagi fried rice – two of my favorite things! – so that was a no-brainer. Unctuous! We finished with sand-grilled miso cod and thought we had died and gone to heaven. We have a week left in KL and we are going back one more time.
- Les Bouchons – Opened near the end of 2023, this restaurant is a French bistro specializing in steak and frites. We got Australian Angus filets prepared medium rare and they were tender and delicious. The fries were crispy and flavorful.
- Altitude – Located on level 53 of the Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur, this restaurant offers a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavors, as well as a decadent afternoon tea, with breathtaking views of the city (including Merdeka 118, the second-tallest building in the world).
- Willow – On the 8th floor of the W Hotel, Willow is a lovely, elegant space festooned with cherry blossoms and popular for special occasion dining. We started with cocktails, then did their 3-course tasting menu, and every bite was amazing. We had live music as well – a lovely singer and pianist – which was a nice touch.