Kuala Lumpur – The Melting Pot of Malaysia
Shaped by an array of different cultures, including Chinese and Indian, food in Malaysia is easily some of the best in South East Asia! With a multicultural population living side by side, Kuala Lumpur is one of the best places in the country to sample all kinds of different flavours.
On the streets, you can find Chinese clay pot cooking right next to Indian curry stalls and Malay durian and satay stands, whilst almost every mall is home to countless contemporary restaurants with just about any cuisine you could want. From traditional food, true to Malaysian heritage, to dishes with more modern influences, there is just so much choice in this city! Owing to the overwhelming number of options, it can be difficult to know where to go for a real taste of Malaysia. This is where A Chef’s Tour comes in.
A Chef’s Tour – Good Enough For Chefs
Praised as ‘the best food tours around the world’, A Chef’s Tour offers food experiences run by people who know the local cuisine like the back of their hand – resident chefs and passionate food experts. It began after founders, Luke and Jamie, grew tired of the uninspiring food tours they’d taken part in on their travels, driving them to create something exciting and new and provide ‘food experiences good enough for chefs’.
Their tours are designed to take you on a foodie adventure off the beaten track and into the gastronomical heart of a country’s cuisine, immersing you into the culinary heritage.
They offer tours across the world, from South America to Asia and we would be joining them in the melting pot of Malaysia: the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. To say we were looking forward to our food journey through the traditional Malay neighbourhoods is an understatement and who better to guide us than local Chef Faris.
Faris owns a successful catering company in Kuala Lumpur and is well known throughout the country – catering for huge events and even royalty! He also owned a popular restaurant which he recently sold to give himself more time to focus on other culinary pursuits as well as his family. His knowledge and passion for Malaysian food makes him the perfect guide to lead this food tour through the old markets of Kuala Lumpur.
First Stop: Chow Kit Wet Market
After catching the monorail train to Chow Kit, we met Faris and the other people taking part in the food tour on the street below the train line. From there, it was a short walk down to Chow Kit Wet Market – the largest of its kind in Malaysia! This is where the locals come to get their fresh produce including all kinds of meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. It is definitely an authentic hangout and there was barely a tourist in sight!
We wandered down the road along the edge of the market, taking in the sights, sounds and pungent smells of the meat and fish stalls, watching the owners hose down the floor and the customers haggling prices.
Further down the road, we came across the colourful fruit and veg stalls. Normally, the stallholders bring the produce outside in the afternoons, where they line both sides of the street. We made our way from shop to shop, sampling juicy Asian fruits, some of which we’d never tried before! Our favourites were the spiky pink Rambutan, sweet purple Mangosteen and small brown Logan fruits.
There were so many unfamiliar looking vegetables, so it was lucky that Faris was on hand to answer the hundreds of questions we had about all the different varieties! He also explained how local ingredients such as ginger flower, pandan leaves and bitter bean (petai) were used in Malay cooking – tastes we’d be trying later on.
The First Taste of the Tour – Dessert!
We began our food journey with dessert! The first part of our pudding was Apam Balik – a thick fluffy pancake folded over on top of a filling of black glutinous rice, coconut, sweet corn and sugar. This might sound like a slightly odd combination of ingredients but I can tell you that together they make one delicious pancake!
The stall owner that we visited sells one of the tastiest Apam Balik in Kuala Lumpur. We stood for ages watching him expertly cook and flip over the pancakes on the hot circular pans, it’s certainly easy to see where he got his reputation from!
Whilst we waited for the pancakes to cool down, we made our way across the road for the second instalment of our dessert: Durian Cendol. Durian is one of the most popular fruits in Asia but it leaves travellers divided…it is definitely a love or hate kind of flavour!
With a very strong smell (which you could say is unpleasant!), an even stronger taste and a widespread love amongst locals, it’s definitely something that you can’t leave Asia without trying. Now it was our turn!
On this particular street stall they pair durian with Cendol – a creamy sweet treat made from palm tree milk, sweet palm sugar, pandan jelly noodles and shaved ice; it was really yummy! The durian, however, was unexpectedly oniony and definitely an acquired taste! Saying that 3 out of 4 of us liked it so it can’t have been all bad!
Nasi and Satay in Kampung Baru
With dessert checked off the list, we jumped into the car and Faris drove us to an area of town called Kampung Baru. A small slice of history: Kampung Baru is a rural-style village surrounded by modern skyscrapers but it also offers one of the last true insights into a traditional Malay community in the city. As well as wooden houses on stilts and leafy green trees, numerous Asian street food stalls and restaurants line the streets, making it the perfect place to wander around and sample some classic Malay dishes.
Our first stop was Nasi Lemak Wanjo, one of the most popular places to get Malaysia’s national dish: the delicious Nasi Lemak! Faris piled our plates high with fragrant rice, dried anchovies, boiled eggs, spicy red sambal and a huge serving of Malaysian chicken rendang curry. We tucked in, washing it all down with a local drink of iced calamansi juice.
It was an amazing plateful and the entire Nasi Lemak only cost 20 Ringgit (under £4/$5), which just goes to show that good food doesn’t always have to cost a lot! After we’d polished off several helpings of Nasi Lemak, the next thing we tried was Sate Ayam or Chicken Satay. These grilled skewers served with crunchy peanut sauce were instantly up there with one of our favourite dishes of the evening!
Even More Nasi and Satay!
We’d eaten a lot but we weren’t full yet and our next stop was Kak Som Restaurant, just down the road from Nasi Lemak Wanjo. Since 1991, Kak Som has been serving Kelantanese (east Malaysian) classics to the locals of Kampung Baru and Kuala Lumpur and now it was our turn to try out their famous nasi dishes.
We had three dishes here and they were all delicious! Number one was Nasi Kerabu – a dish made up of blue rice coloured by butterfly pea flowers (bunga telang), topped with dried fish, beansprouts, ginger flower and other salads and of course, sambal. On the side was a chilli stuffed with minced fish known as solok lada.
Dishes number two and three consisted of even more tasty seafood. One was Nasi Dagang, which was a delicious steamed fish with tuna curry and red rice. This was one of our favourites of the food tour! The second was Sambal Udang Petai – a dish made up of a local vegetable we’d seen at the market: bitter bean (petai), mixed with prawns (Udang) with a spicy tomato sauce, which again, was also really yummy!
By this point, we were starting to get a little full but we definitely aren’t ones to turn down amazing food! Our last stop in Kampung Baru was a tiny stall called Satay Padang which serves a dish of the same name.
This was another plate of chicken satay but unlike the first, it originates in Indonesia, giving it a completely different taste and texture. This time the satay sauce was thick and smooth, made from finely ground peanuts instead of roughly chopped ones. It was also sweeter and had soft rice cakes underneath. This dish was clearly popular with the locals as the stall had a stream of never-ending customers!
Filling Our Bellies with Murtabak and Teh Tarik
We’d devoured as much delicious Malay food as we could in Kampung Baru but the Chef’s Tour wasn’t over yet! Soon after the satay, we were back in the car and driving through the nighttime streets of KL, passing the illuminated Petronas Towers along the way.
Soon we arrived at Alam Berkat. Famous for its Indian Muslim food, Alam Berkat is a busy restaurant overflowing onto the street, with tables on the pavement full of people eating their fill of this wonderful cuisine. We ordered a huge Lamb Murtabak and a round of the typically Malaysian Teh Tarik from the friendly owner and tucked into what would be the final dish of our tour (we were all too full to carry on)!
The Murtabak was made of two layers of savoury pan-fried bread sandwiching a mixture of lamb and spices in the middle and it would probably have been at the top of the list with our other favourites if we’d had room in our bellies for more than a few bites! As for our drinks, if you’ve ever had Thai Tea, Teh Tarik is similar in taste but is browner in colour and sweeter. It is a hugely popular Asian drink and the perfect thing to end the tour with!
An Insider’s Perspective Through a Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
This foodie adventure with A Chef’s Tour was easily one of the best food experiences we’ve had in Asia. Not only were the all the dishes we tried incredible (except maybe the Durian but that’s a matter of opinion), but it was all local food that we would never been able to try if we’d been exploring by ourselves.
Sometimes it takes an insider’s perspective and knowledge to show you where to find the best places to eat and which dishes are must-tries. That is exactly what we got when taking part in A Chef’s Tour with our local chef and guide in Kuala Lumpur, Faris.
There is no doubt that his knowledge is unparalleled and his passion for food is inspiring. He was a great guide and we had a wonderful time exploring the traditional neighbourhoods and trying some classic Malay cuisine with him. We would definitely recommend this tour for anyone who wants to delve into the food culture of KL. There is a heck of a lot of flavour hiding behind the glass skyscrapers and mall food courts.
If we’ve tickled your tastebuds, book your food tour here – you and your belly won’t regret it!