The Best Eats in Kuala Lumpur Are Served on Plastic Bowls and Metal Trays…
Being based in Bangkok, Thailand with so many countries and cities I can choose to visit frequently, here are some reasons why I chose Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia as the place I go time and time again.
Because Kuala Lumpur always has a special place in my heart. The history, the culture and the food combined together creating one of the most fascinating cities in Southeast Asia.
Where else in the world can a guy like me with a big appetite get authentic Chinese, Indian, Arabic and of course Malay cuisine in one location. And sure, inevitably foods will get crossed and the result is simply magic.
I haven’t been to the country of India yet. I haven’t even really had the chance to explore China yet either. Coming to Malaysia gives me a taste of both. The best of both worlds.
Chinese, Malays and Indians generally get along living together and praying together not far off from each other. And it all began in the 1800’s when the tin mining industry boomed and hordes of workers were needed to work the mines and then some for sustaining the booming population.
It is common to find Hindu Temples within short walking distance to Chinese Temples. Where ever there are devout worshippers their are hungry stomachs.
The Food – It’s What Pulls Me Back To Kuala Lumpur Every Year
I know this is going to sound really crazy. Okay maybe not. If you ask me why I travel to KL every year multiple times my answer is for the food.
It’s that simple. When I tell the local Malays that I love their food their eyes light up. Because they know first hand what I’m talking about. Like a secret hand shake into a secret club. They too share the sentiment, that the food of Malaysia is a national treasure.
But there’s one particular food that I enjoy. And one style of restaurants that I enjoy very much serving what I love. And that’s Nasi Kandar.
Intro to Nasi Kandar
This style of restaurant has its origins from South India which is why you will find a heavy Indian influence which is what I like and enjoy so much. Curries are what I love so much! More about Nasi Kandar below.
These types of eateries remind me of the local pizzerias back in the old days of New York City. It’s where you go to grab some quick bites and chill with friends.
Nasi Kandars are open 24 hours, 7 days a week. The young, the old and everyone aged between can be seen sitting around, having their meals and conversing with friends. Smoking in Nasi Kandars is allowed but because there are no windows and plenty of oscillating fans I’ve never been inundated with second hand cancer smoke.
Now if you want me to put a finger on what I like to eat the most at my favorite Nasi Kandar joint I’ll let you know. It’s something that I can’t get enough of and something I eat every single morning and dream about every night before I go to bed in KL.
Roti Canai and Chicken Curry
I pride myself to be a simple man with simple tastes with a huge appetite.
Some times I stay in KL up to a full week. For my entire stay for breakfast I eat roti canai, curry chicken and hot ginger tea with milk. Even the waiter recognizes me. As soon as I park my ass on a chair all I have to say is “the usual please” and a nod from the waiter is the confirmation I needed to know that in a few minutes something yummy is coming to fill my tummy.
Roti is a simple unleavened flat bread and popular for breakfast choice for the locals that typically eat it with lentil curry called dahl.
What’s the secret ingredient in Roti? It’s the copious amounts of ghee, an Indian clarified butter and lots of it is used to make roti. And I prefer my order of roti canai with delicious curry chicken.
The combination is amazing. The roti when freshly made is so soft, fluffy and chewy at the same time. The ghee is the real key. Chicken for some protein and curry spice combined with the warm roti is a dream combination.
The Basics of Nasi Kandar Restaurants in Malaysia
Nasi Kandars are the greasy spoon dives where you’ll find construction and office workers eating together at any time of the day since they open 24 hours.
Rice dishes at Nasi Kandars cost about 10RM to 15RM depending on how much foods on your plate. Rotis with some curry chicken and a tea beverage will set you back about 10RM.
I’m going to safely assume that Nasi Kandars are cheaper as you head further out of KL central.
So as you can see, if you want cheap but oh so good eats go to a Nasi Kandar. The portions are generous and the price is very affordable. Like I mentioned already these restaurants are built for the working class.
Nasi means rice and Kandar means balance. Back in the days street hawkers used poles balanced on their shoulders with buckets of rice on one end and on the other end an assortment of meats and curry sauces. They served the local population of the time that helped build the city if not Malaysia.
Dining at a Nasi Kandar might be intimidating at first. But down to its basic core it is simply a fast food restaurant. There might not be menu boards with prices but most of the restaurants I’ve been to have menus with English.
Cleanliness could be a concern while dining at these greasy spoons. Most of the foods are cooked ahead of time and not heated throughout the day. Because of the Malaysian weather food won’t get too cold and stays room temp for most of the day.
However, most Nasi Kandar restaurants have microwaves. I’ve eaten at a lot of Nasi Kandar restaurants all around the KL area and I’ve never been sick once.
Never seen rodents or roaches at a Nasi Kandar. Oddly enough not even flies. I’m in KL mostly around August, November and February. I’m sure there are pests like most major cities around the world have but perhaps these restaurants are really good at keeping them at bay.
But if cleanliness is really your concern you can head over to Pavillion Mall’s food court in the basement level. Look for Food Republic. Food will cost more but it’s a clean place to enjoy this type of food.
Ordering and Paying for Your Food at a Nasi Kandar
In essence when it comes to dining at Nasi Kandar, if you’re going for the rice dishes you either order it at counter where you pick what you want and a server scoops it up for you.
Or you scoop up your own food typically starting with the rice first. Confused? I thought so. But it’s not complicated. See the photo below.
If it’s an open area like the photo pictured above then you can go and scoop up your own portions. It’s all self serve. Notice the microwave on the top left corner. Make use of it if you’re scared of getting sick and squirting out from both ends, while huddling on the floor in the fetus position of your hotel room.
There are waiters who will gladly assist in case you don’t know what’s what. But usually, it’s chicken, beef, mutton and fish on the bottom shelves. There’s no pork as these restaurants have Muslim roots. The servers will also help you chop up fried chicken for easy eating.
Vegetables are all on the top shelf. Just in case some strict vegetarian will complain that the meats are fouling the veggies. You all know who you are.
Once you get the hang of self serve you’ll be fine like you’re at a buffet. How much to scoop? That’s up to you but I can honestly tell you be generous to yourself because from what I see the locals seem to pile stuff on their plates like there’s no tomorrow.
It goes with out saying don’t be a jack ass and fill your plate with so much food you can’t finish. And it’s obvious the waiters will charge more per plate if they see you piling up a storm of food on your plate.
Once you sit down with your plate of food a server will ask if you want anything to drink. Sodas, teas, water, smoothies you name it they’ve got it. Once your drink is brought to you a waiter usually writes down the price of your food on a receipt and tucks it under your drink cup or plate.
Now there’s more foods served in Nasi Kandars then simply rice, curries and roti. They also have a mix of Malay and Chinese foods also that are cooked to order so you can order it from their menus.
You can eat with your hands like the locals mainly do. Or you can eat with the forks and spoons provided on the table. For the rice dishes and also the roti canai I use fork and spoons. If you want to go native, all Nasi Kandars have wash basins to clean your hands.
Nasi Kandars are also great restaurants to indulge in naan and tandoori chicken. They serve buttered, garlic, cheese and of course plain naan. And the tandoori chickens are heated right up to order.
Okay so I could be considered one sick individual. Just like I eat roti canai with chicken curry every morning I eat buttered naan with tandoori chicken just about every night. And don’t forget the hot ginger tea with milk to wash it all down. Can you blame me? It’s so good. But so bad for my waistline.
The cost, 11.80RM for all 3 items or about $3US bucks. Here’s another dirty little secret. Although the portions are quite generous, if one night I am particularly hungry I’ll head to another Nasi Kandar just a short distance from this one and order another set of naan and tandoori chicken.
So, pretty much all Nasi Kandar serve the same stuff but for myself some very good naan and tandoori chicken can be found at Restoran Mohamed Nazar Curry House in Bukit Bintang.
The Other Options…
And there are so many. I just touched on the tip of the iceberg on Malaysia’s food culture. But to keep this post short I recommend trying out Chilli Pan Mee which I wrote about here.
If you’re short on time and you don’t want to run around like a headless chicken in search of some good eats in Kuala Lumpur than might I suggest heading over to the Lot 10 in Bukit Bintang.
I’ve eaten in some fancy restaurants in my life time. And I can tell you if I played the “Last Meal Game” I wouldn’t say it would be had at a fine wine and dine restaurant with expensive porcelain plates and silver ware.
I would choose to have my last meal where the food is served on cheap plastic bowls and large prison issued aluminum trays.
Eating at a Nasi Kandar – To Sum it All Up
- Nasi Kandar meny prices range from very cheap to cheap. Rice dishes cost about 10RM with a meat and vegetable side. The most I spend is about 15RM and I’m a big eater.
- Because this is Malaysia English is spoken. Not all wait staff can speak it but some one working inside will be able to communicate with you.
- For Nasi (rice dishes) go choose your own selection. Find an empty chair and sit.
- Forks, spoons and tissue are provided especially when they know you’re a tourist.
- A waiter will come for drink order. Once drink is delivered to you a total will be written down and handed to you. If it’s a magnetic card your total is stored in the card. Don’t lose the hand written bill or the card.
- To pay, go straight for the cashier, you’ll usually see a sign or simply a cash register. It’s typically cash only.
- There’s no need to tip at Nasi Kandar restaurants. Unless you really really want to.