With billions of dollars of planned construction projects and millions of jobs in the pipeline, Malaysia’s economy is booming. To learn more about settling in in the region’s capital, we caught up with Kuala Lumpur local Vivian Lee Wei Xin, AKA Miss Happy Feet. Here are her tips for eating your way around the largest city in Malaysia.
Tell us about Kuala Lumpur.
It’s an urban jungle: crazy but fascinating. Throughout Malaysia, children are taught to “study hard so that one day we will be able to work in Kuala Lumpur.” If I were to compare it to an American city, I would pick Chicago: we have sophisticated, wide roads; it’s fast-paced but at the same time everyone is very friendly; and we share the same passion for food.
Tell us about Kuala Lumpur’s food scene. Are there any foods expats might find particularly exotic?
Petai are long, flat, bitter peas. I admit they stink, but according to studies they have a lot of health benefits, including helping with anemia, depression, high blood pressure and morning sickness. Durian is another stinky delicacy, but don’t be fooled, we don’t call it the “king of all fruits” for nothing! We also deep-fry many fruits, which may seem weird, but you will miss out if you don’t at least try a fried banana fritter. Fried fruits are classic Malaysian snacks. Other than banana, try deep-fried cempedak or deep-fried jackfruits, which are equally heavenly!
Best date-night restaurants?
The Atmosphere 360 Revolving Restaurant at the Kuala Lumpur Tower is a sophisticated place to go for a date. Here you can enjoy a classy international buffet and an unobstructed view of the skyline in an elegant rotating dining area. For a more casual date, the tiny Parque Cafe is at the top of my list, despite the 40-minute drive from KL (that’s what locals call Kuala Lumpur). Finally, Tamarind Spring is an Indochinese restaurant hidden in Ampang’s natural forest reserve. How about ending your date night with a drink on a helipad? HeliLounge Bar at Menara KH will make that a dream come true.
Is breakfast a big deal in KL?
Yes, especially on weekends and holidays. At Yut Kee, just a short walk from Dang Wangi Station, you can enjoy Roti Babi, a white bread sandwich dipped in eggs and deep-fried, stuffed with minced pork, crabmeat and onions, and served with Worcestershire Sauce. The Kaya toast with half-boiled eggs, Hainanese pork chop, Belachan fried rice and marble cake are also worth the trip. If you happen to be here for brunch, order the 11 a.m. roast pork rolls, which are only available during weekends.
What are some of the best markets in town?
I think it’s best for newcomers to stick to the grocery shops before venturing into the wet markets. We have many familiar brands here, including the British chain Tesco and 7/11. Other markets include AEON, Giant, Cold Storage, Sam’s Groceria, Jaya Grocer, Village Grocer, Jason’s Food Hall, Ben’s Independent Grocer (BIG) and Presto Grocer. Once you’ve gotten the hang of life in KL, buy your food from a wet market. It’s cheaper and fresher. Or better yet, do your grocery shopping from your couch. Tesco, Food World, and other companies offer grocery delivery services.
What’s the best locals-only food experience?
Mamak stalls are where locals go for a late-night supper and to gossip with friends about politics while watching sports. We don’t ask for a menu; standard orders include mes goreng and teh tarik. Teh tarik translates to “pulled tea.” It’s tea mixed with condensed milk. To mix it properly, the mixture is poured from a high point into a cup on the table. It’s delicious and frothy.
What is the best thing about living in Kuala Lumpur? What is the worst?
The best thing is the public transport. Buy a MyRapid/Touch N Go card to save time navigating the LRT, commuter rail, Rapid Bus, KTM and monorail. Other than that, you will never go hungry due to the fact there are so many food stalls, kopitiam and hawker centers everywhere. The worst part is the roads, which combine three terrible things: Malaysian drivers, the struggle to find a parking space, and the evil traffic jams on Jalan Tun Razak.
Any logistics and shopping tips for helping people settle into KL?
For moving services, check out TheLorry.com. This website provides instant quotes on trucks and movers. To shop for furniture, I recommend Ikea, Sundays, and DESIGNation. Finally, navigating the city is easy with Waze, the undisputed best community-based navigation application. The best thing about Waze is it provides us with multiple route options, real-time traffic updates and timely notifications about speed traps and police blocks.