What are the best local dishes in Kuala Lumpur?

Answers from Our Experts (1)

Emma Johnston

Malaysian cuisine is an intriguing (and sometime confusing) mix of many influences – there’s a heavy Chinese presence, as well as Malay, Indian, and Portuguese. KL food is often on the receiving end of some gentle ribbing from our neighbours in Penang, who claim that KL food is watered down and inauthentic. Whatever the case, you can sample a huge variety of cuisines in the city, and the best place to do so is in the local coffee shops and hawker stalls.

Nasi lemak
Widely claimed to be Malaysia’s national dish, nasi lemak (literally ‘fatty rice’ in English) is composed of rice cooked in coconut milk and flavoured with pandan (screwpine) leaves, accompanied by crispy fried anchovies, crunchy peanuts, half a boiled egg, a few slices of cucumber and a generous helping of sambal, a sweet and spicy sauce. These components alone make an excellent breakfast, but can be supplemented by a variety of dishes – the most common is chicken curry, but also stir-fried green vegetables, eggs sunny side up, squid braised in curry, fried fish… the possibilities are near endless.

Char kuey teow
Char kuey teow is a hotly debated dish – Penang people claim the noodle dish for their island, and they’re probably right. Flat rice noodles (kuey teow) are fried in a searingly hot wok with prawns, bean sprouts, chives, sliced Chinese sausage, egg and plenty of garlic. It’s an incredibly aromatic, incredibly unhealthy dish that is absolutely delicious.

Roti canai
No one knows where roti canai came from – some claim that ‘canai’ is a reference to Chennai, others claim that is a wholly Malaysian invention. The roti canai, or just roti to regulars, is a flaky flatbread found in mamak restaurants across the country. It starts as a simple lump of dough before being kneaded and then flung expertly in the air to create paper thin layers that are folded back on themselves. The result is like a multi-layered pancake, best enjoyed with copious amounts of dahl (lentil curry) and piquant fish curry.

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