Many locals lament the quality of hawker food in Kuala Lumpur has deteriorated.
Like most things in life, the good stuff is right where you know how to find it.
To say farewell to 2017, Mysaucepan and I are spending some time with family and friends in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
There is so much good street food in these two cities but sometimes, the best place to start is right here at my parents’ home. This is because Ah Kum, my parents’ housekeeper of 28 years, is one of the best home cooks when it comes to hearty meals.
I shall kick off Top Twenty Eats Kuala Lumpur 2018 with Ah Kum’s wok tossed loh shee fun and cover some of our all time hawker favourites with a sprinkling of wagyu exuberance at a Japanese restaurant.
In writing this blog post, some of the food featured have been covered in my previous editions of Food Safari Kuala Lumpur, namely the series of 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017). And the important point for doing so is two-fold:
Firstly, many locals complain that KL hawker food is no longer what it used to be. Quality has deteriorated as a result of hawkers hiring foreign workers coupled with rising costs of raw materials etc. This may be true as a general statement but I believe there are still a lot of good hawker fare in KL as long as you are skillful in finding it. This blog post proves that standard has been maintained for some of my all-time favourites.
Secondly, some friends and family members who live in KL recommend “new discoveries” of the same hawker fare in different parts of KL. For me, when I have discovered “one of the best” which has been tried and tested over time, any better, if at all, is only marginal and not worth my effort hunting it down, especially given the crazy traffic in KL. And trust me on this one…when food is this good, there is absolutely nothing wrong eating it multiple times during your trip to KL, or even multiples of the same dish on the same day!
Enough said, I made two trip to Kuala Lumpur in December 2017 and January 2018 and here are some of the highlights that Mysaucepan and I would recommend:
Top Twenty Eats, Kuala Lumpur 2018
- Ah Kum’s wok tossed loh shee fun
So good is Ah Kum’s wok tossed loh shee fun, it is difficult to find its peer in Kuala Lumpur. A close equivalent is the ubiquitous claypot loh shee fun with raw egg served in many local restaurants.
At home, a large platter is usually the standard portion since there is always none left though my parents are generally not big eaters.
Each strand of loh shee fun is firm and wok hei smoky with bits of har mai (dried shrimp), minced pork and crunchy beansprouts. One way to savour these noodles is to eat each slither of noodle one at a time.
Add a dollop of home made sambal belachan with a squeeze of fresh calamansi juice and each mouthful is a taste of heaven. Fortunately for me, this heaven can only be found at my parents’ home.
2. Ah Kum’s chicken congee
Call it comfort food if you will but for me, a chicken congee cooked well is a truly delicious meal to savour, even on its own.
The consistency of Ah Kum’s chicken congee is neither too thick or watery, slowly simmered over a few hours in chicken stock. Add slivers of chicken thigh, julienne ginger, shallots and a few rings of crisp and crunchy youtiao, I take exception to eating this congee in KL’s stifling heat and humidity.
I am not a coffee drinker and don’t crave it at all.
But in Malaysia, having street food breakfast without the local blend of Malaysian coffee is like eating roast pork without its crunchy crackling.
3. Roti canai with fish curry sauce and sambal at Keng Mui Kopitiam
Roti canai can be found just about anywhere around KL but this one is crisp and fluffy. The fish curry sauce is rich with curry powder and spice flavours … truly one of the tastiest and best value breakfasts in town.
4. KL (not Penang) style char kway teow at Kedai Makan Sow Mui, Ampang
This KL (not Penang) style char kway teow mee is simply world class.
Deliciously charred and smoky noodles from a fiery wok are tossed with egg, nuggets of crispy pork lard & plump blood cockles.
Compared to Penang style, KL CKT is darker, does not have lupcheong (Chinese sausage) but plump blood cockles. On each of my trips to KL for about a week, I must have eaten this CKTM on about four occasions.
5. Malaysian style prawn noodles at Kedai Makan Sow Mui, Ampang
While chowing down on my char kway teow, Mysaucepan orders a Malaysian style prawn noodles (also called Hokkien mee in Penang only) RM6/A$2.90 which come in a pretty generous portion of rice vermicelli, shrimp, kangkong (water spinach), beansprouts, slices of fishcakes and a wedge of hardboiled egg in pungent broth of shrimp, pork and sambal belachan.
When it comes to Malaysian style prawn noodles, I prefer to save my calories for other hawker favourites as my own version at home is pretty decadent.
6. Preserved egg and lean pork congee at Kedai Makan Sow Mui, Ampang
I don’t normally seek out congee in the humid weather of KL but was rather curious when I saw diners ordering this preserved egg and lean pork congee.
Wedges of preserved egg are fanned out on a piping hot congee with slices of lean pork and a drizzle of sesame oil. Garnished with chopped shallots, fine ginger shards and crispy golden garlic powder, this is heart-warming comfort food presented fine dining style.
7. Yong Tau Foo at Restoran Orchard View Yong Tau Foo
Mysaucepan has been craving for yong tau foo ever since we arrived in KL a few days ago and she got her fix for lunch today.
With my mum and brother’s family in tow, there are five adults and two young boys ready to dig into a smorgasbord of stuffed vegetables, fried dumplings, fish balls and tofu puffs.
We tuck into delicious red chillies, okra, tofu puffs and bitter gourd stuffed with fish paste.
One of my newfound favourite is tofu puffs which have been turned inside-out, then stuffed with fish paste and deep fried to a golden crisp.
There is something wholesome and comforting about sinking your teeth into soft tofu that has been soaking in a delicious and flavoursome broth.
I will make it a point to keep track of the number of yong tau foo pieces I eat the next time but safe to say I ate at least twenty pieces today.
8. Mamak style rojak at Rojak & Cendol Din Maju
Rojak & Cendol Din Maju has been selling rojak and cendol off the back of his van for many years next to a disused mining pond.
Now called Taman Tasik Ampang Hilir, this pond has been beautifully transformed into a recreational area with walking and cycling tracks.
The back of Din’s van becomes a prep area when opened on three sides. I like to support food trucks because these small operators take on established restaurants.
Rojak is one dish that is takeaway-friendly because the sauce is separately packed and raw cucumber, jicama and pre-cooked ingredients such as tofu puffs and crunchy deep-fried coconut crullers remain fresh when you get home.
Though it may be hard work, I suspect these operators can turn in decent profit margins if their food is good since the big overhead of rent is minimal.
This location is not close to any big commercial or retail precinct. In fact, it is in the heart of a residential area so Din’s customers are mainly locals who live in the vicinity.
In the comforts of my parents’ home, I tuck into fresh shards of cucumber and jicama tossed with tofu puffs, crisp and crunchy deep-fried coconut crullers ladened with a thick, spicy sweet peanut sauce.
This mobile rojak stall also sells a knock-out cendol and mee rebus as they are all complementary flavours. Highly recommended and one of KL’s best mamak rojak.
9. Har jeong deep fried chicken wings at Soo Kee’s Son (Meng Chuan) Prawn & Beef Noodles
I was previously impressed with the Hokkien style fried noodles at this restaurant in May 2015 but standard is not quite the same this year.
However, on recommendation of the manager, we tried har jeong chicken wings which have been marinated with prawn paste and deep fried to a crisp golden brown.
Though it is very expensive by local standards, it is one of the best deep fried chicken wings I have had in KL.
10. Sang Har Meen at Restoran Setapak Teochew
I have previously blogged about Restoran Setapak Teochew and its signature dishes. This restaurant being 106 years old might well be one of the oldest in Malaysia. And true to form, its signature sang har meen is consistently the best in my books.
We order two portions of sang har meen and they arrive bubbling away in claypots. The style of this broth is soupier than the usual Cantonese style egg sauce.
The noodles with its toothy texture are housemade and truly a marvelous vessel in soaking up the rich pork and prawn broth.
Gigantic fresh water prawns are halved to soak up the all the flavours in the broth. As you can see, I love this dish with lots of fresh chillies and diced raw garlic.
The prawns are big and the way to pile up your bowl is to first spoon some noodles then the broth and top it up with half a prawn.
Let alone the huge prawns, the homemade noodles are fresh with a toothy bite and deserve star status on its own.
Once you finish your noodles, the finale of drinking up the broth is yet another mouth-watering experience.
11. Pak mai fun at Restoran Setapak Teochew
Another signature dish is the pak mai fun or white rice noodles wok tossed with garlic, teochew style fish cake slices, green chillies, cabbage and crunchy bits of delicious pork lard.
Redolent with smoky wok hei, this dry style noodles is among my all-time favourites in this restaurant.
12. Retro style chicken wings at Modesto’s in Royal Selangor Golf Club
Food at private clubs in Malaysia are all halal or kosher, so if you are hankering for some char siew, you’ll need to go elsewhere.
A surprising discovery is a retro-style crumbed chicken wings at Modesto’s operating within one of Malaysia’s most prestigious golf clubs located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
Spending my childhood at the Royal Selangor Golf Club, I fondly remember its retro snacks like Welsh rarebit and crumbed fish and chips.
These wings are crunchy and succulent … truly a delightful snack for whiling away an afternoon.
13. Mamak mee goreng at Modesto’s in Royal Selangor Golf Club
In Kuala Lumpur, a good Mamak style mee goreng will stand its ground anywhere from roadside stalls to restaurants in 6-star hotels.
Modesto’s is known more for their pastas and pizzas but this mee goreng hits the savoury notes with its wok hei and spiciness.
I subsequently tried another mee goreng at the Main Lounge which is cooked by the club’s kitchen and Modesto’s is decidedly superior.
14. Packet nasi lemak at Kedai Makan Sow Mui, Ampang
Each morning the sight of packet nasi lemak can be found in every mamak hawker stall all over KL.
This packet nasi lemak is prepared by the nasi lemak stall holder within Kedai Makan Sow Mui.
The rice, cucumber and egg are fresh and the sambal packs a real punch without being overly sweet like many others. Ikan bilis and peanuts complete the deal and for RM1.20, this must surely be one of the tastiest and best value meals in KL.
15. Japanese wagyu beef at Kampachi Pavilion KL
I am having lunch with my parents and siblings today because it is mum’s birthday and she has brought us to Kampachi Pavilion to sample the best wagyu money can buy.
I grit my teeth on learning the price but mum was adamant she should give our family a treat on her birthday.
We order a 400gms piece of Japanese wagyu sirloin cooked both ways – teppanyaki and ‘chef’s style’. The meat is so tender, it melts in the mouth though our unanimous opinion was the chef’s style’ with its smoky dry finish is better than the teppanyaki which came with a slightly sweet sauce.
16. Curry laksa at Madras Lane Curry Laksa
One of the best curry laksa haunts which I have been frequenting for years is found in the back of Petaling street at Madras Lane.
There are two curry laksa stalls selling exactly the same thing with almost identical ingredients. For some reason, I have always ordered from the stall closer to the meat butcher and have never been disappointed.
The broth of this curry laksa is gritty and spice flavours well balanced. I normally prefer not to have long beans and eggplant but forgot to tell the stall owner today.
The eggplant and fried tofu puffs are pillowly soft, acting like little sponges soaking up the piquant curry broth. Curry chicken on the bone is like having a meal on its own. Topped off with plump juicy raw cockles, this is curry laksa at its very best.
17. Chee cheong fun at Madras Lane Rice Noodles
Next to the curry laksa stall is Madras Lane Rice Noodles and this humble dish of chee cheong fun with sesame seed, chilli and hoisin sauce is one of life’s simple pleasures.
18. Char siew at Restoran Soo Kee, Ampang
Like all food in KL, every man and his dog has his own opinion on which is the best in town.
For me, the char siew at Restoran Soo Kee, Ampang is the benchmark. Let alone the fatty bits, the lean meat tender enough to be melting in the mouth.
There were just too many eye-closing moments on this plate of sheer decadence.
19. Soon hock fish (Marble goby) at Restoran Soo Kee, Ampang
Steamed soon hock fish with special soy sauce is truly one of the classics of Cantonese cuisine.
The flesh of this fish is sweet and the texture is firm, yet silky smooth and toothy on the bite. I suspect it is texture more than taste that makes this one of the most expensive fish in Malaysia.
20. Beef ball noodles at Restoran Soong Kee
Last but not least, I round of this blog post with one of my all-time favourites – Soong Kee’s beef ball noodles at Jalan Tun HS Lee (previously Jalan Silang)
Another stalwart which have stood the test of time, this restaurant has been around for more than seventy years when it first started in 1945.
Ladle a few spoonful of broth and mix the meat with the noodles like you would a spag bol and you have another orgasmic taste of savoury KL dancing on the tastebuds.
So dear readers, among so many dishes, which ones are your favourites and can you share your own favourite haunts in KL?
Kedai Makan Sow Mui
1, Lorong Awan 8, Kuala Ampang, Selangor
Tel: +60 3 4256 1037 Opening hours: Daily 6.30am – 9pm
Restoran Orchard View Yong Tau Foo
621, Jalan Merdeka, Kampung Baru Ampang, Selangor
Tel: +60 3 4291 7808 Opening Hours: Daily 8am – 5pm
Rojak & Cendol Din Maju
Taman Tasik Ampang Hilir
Tel: +6 014 266 5485
Soo Kee’s Son (Meng Chuan) Prawn & Beef Noodles
Medan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +6012 325 5218 Opening hours: Thursdays to Tuesdays 12 – 3pm, 5pm – 12am. Closed on Wednesdays.
Restoran Setapak Teochew, Kuala Lumpur
283 Jalan Setapak, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +60 3 4023 8706 Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 7.30am to 4pm. Closed on Sundays.
Royal Selangor Golf Club
Jalan Kelab Golf, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +6 03 9206 3333 Opening hours: Daily 8am – 12am
Kampachi Pavilion Kuala Lumpur
Pavilion, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +6 03 2148 9608 Opening hours: Daily 10am – 10pm
Restoran Soo Kee
373- 1 4th Mile Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603 4257 0767 Mobile +612 905 4607
Restoran Soong Kee
86 Jalan Tun HS Lee (corner of Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin), Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +60 3 2078 1484