Eating in Malaysia is a national sport and in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, it's an obsession. With thousands of restaurants, hawker stalls and roadside stands to get fixated over, here are 10 great things to try.
1. Wantan Mee at Yulek
The wantan mee at Yulek is a revelation. The noodles are bouncy and light, dressed with a soy-based sauce and oil infused with garlic and shallots. But above all, the char siew (barbecue pork) and siew yuk (crispy roast pork belly) are stellar. The wantans themselves almost seem like an afterthought with just three little dumplings floating in a small soup bowl, but therein lies the genius – this is all about the barbecued meats.
Restoran Yulek Wan Tan Mee, No. 19, Lorong Durian, Taman Cheras, 016 243 6221
Kaya toast and coffee at Yut Kee. Photo: Adam Liaw
2. Kaya toast at Yut Kee
Yut Kee is a throwback to the Hainanese coffee shops that were once all over Malaysia. Hainanese chefs were known for their fusion of Chinese, Malaysian and colonial culture, with dishes such as kaya toast, Hailam noodles, and chicken chops with brown gravy. Yut Kee keeps the faith and its food is as authentic as it comes. I should know – my grandfather was a Hainanese chef in Malaysia and this was food my family grew up on. Yut Kee is no longer in its original location (from 1928), but it's bigger, better and busier – and the food is still great.
Yut Kee Restaurant, No. 1, Jalan Kamunting, 03 2698 8108
There is no better way to cool yourself in the Malaysian heat than with a shaved ice dessert. The king is the Ais Kachang or ABC (Ais Batu Campur, meaning "mixed ice"). It's a mountain of shaved ice with sweet beans, palm seeds, coconut milk, green rice noodles and sweet syrups. If you're feeling hot and see one of these ice shavers on the side of the road, pull over.
Hakka mee at Toast and Roast. Photo: Adam Liaw
4. Hakka mee at Toast and Roast
It's hidden on a quiet street in Petaling Jaya, so you might wonder why anyone would seek this place out. One bite of their incredible char siew and Hakka mee and you'll wonder no more. The pork is sticky sweet and the noodles handmade and perfectly al dente. Make sure to order the noodles with crispy fried fish floss as well.
Toast and Roast, No. 20, Jalan SS2/72, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, 016 682 2249
5. Rendang (and the rest of the buffet) at Rebung
Chef Ismail is one of Malaysia's best-known chefs and if you want to explore the Malay side of his cuisine, the buffet at Rebung is a great place to start. The go-to dish is beef rendang, served traditionally at room temperature and fragrant, rather than spicy.
Restoran Rebung Dato Chef Ismail, No. 4-2, Lorong Maarof, Bangsar Park, 03 2282 4776
6. Bah Kuh Teh at Under the Bridge
Klang, just outside Kuala Lumpur, counts bah kuh teh (literally "pork bone tea") as its greatest culinary export. A combination of pork (obviously) and fragrant medicinal herbs, it's wonderful. I like to order ribs and have them with rice, stir-fried lettuce and crispy Chinese doughnuts.
Seng Huat Bak Kut Teh Restaurant, No. 9, Jalan Besar, Klang, 012 309 8303
Roti canai at Valentine Roti. Photo: Adam Liaw
7. Roti canai at Valentine Roti
Valentine Roti makes the bold claim of having the city's "best roti canai". Whether it actually does is a matter of hot debate, but regardless it's damn good. Freshly made, pillowy and crispy, it doesn't get much better.
Valentine Roti, 1 Jalan Semarak, Kuala Lumpur, 016 232 2275
8. Hokkien mee at Mun Wah
I love KL-style hokkien mee. For my family, KL hokkien mee was our regular ritual on our first night back in Malaysia for holidays. It should be thick and black, cooked in pork lard and dotted with flecks of chu yau cha (fried pork fat).
Kedai Makanan Mun Wah Hokkien Mee, 155, Jalan Maharajalela, Kuala Lumpur City Center, 03 2144 7404
9. Satay anywhere
I've never had a bad satay in Kuala Lumpur. I know people from Singapore who will drive here, eat their fill of satay and pack plastic bags full of them to take home and freeze. KL satay is uniformly excellent but, be warned, most vendors don't start firing up the coals until after 5pm, so don't come early.
10. Tropical fruit stalls (specifically durian)
When I was young in Malaysia, we'd pick up huge stalks of rambutans for about a dollar and slowly eat them on my grandmother's porch. Stalls of tropical fruit can be found all over Kuala Lumpur, packed with what's good and in season. If you see it (or smell it), try durian. Some say it tastes like heaven but smells like dead bodies. That's a bit of an exaggeration and, thankfully, there are new varieties that aren't so stinky. At Inside Scoop in Bangsar, you can try durian ice-creams made from different varieties of the fruit.
Inside Scoop, No. 9, Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, 03 2202 0235
Three tips for eating in Malaysia
Bring tissues and wet wipes. Many hawker stalls won't readily supply tissues and even if they do, they won't be the best quality.
Don't travel too far for food. Traffic is legendarily terrible. Stay close to home and get a local traffic or GPS app like Waze to help you get around without getting stuck.
Prepare yourself. Eating abroad always has its risks, particularly with street food. See your GP beforehand to make sure you're well prepped.