FEATURE

My Kuala Lumpur Is Better Than Yours

Moving to the capital of Malaysia inspired writer Robyn Eckhardt to launch EatingAsia, a blog that explores Kuala Lumpur through its food. For a city filled with people who live to eat, we just couldn't ask for better guides than Robyn and her photographer husband.

Another feel-good spot we frequent is Ikan Bakar Asli Pak Din. We're not sure if it's the turmeric-marinated, crisp-charred whole red snapper or the friendliness of Pak Din and his staff at this Malay restaurant in the Lake Gardens, but eating here just makes us happy. It's the same at Yut Kee, a kopitiam (coffee shop) run by gregarious second-generation owner Jack Lee and his son, Mervyn. Do yourself a favor and try the coffee and the grilled toast covered with kaya, a house-made coconut-and-egg spread.

While Sek Yuen started off as a '50s-era Chinese wedding-banquet spot, locals now come for Cantonese-Malaysian favorites like fragrant five-spice pork belly with taro and chicken stir-fried with black beans and bitter gourd. The kitchen, which is still fueled entirely by wood, turns out a sublime sweet-and-sour fish, consisting of crispy battered boneless fish chunks cloaked in a light sauce that's the perfect balance of sweet and tart.

While there's plenty to see and eat in the city center, it's also worth the 20-minute cab ride to explore Petaling Jaya's Section 17. We like to arrive mid-morning for the market and then lunch on the hawker food sold in three coffee shops facing the stalls. Head to Weng Kee for sticky, smoky char siew (barbecued pork) and ginger-spiked duck-liver sausage, venture over to Restoran Hong Seng for coconut-curry noodles, and stop in at Kedai Kopi Wah Cheong for pan meen (wheat noodles) with soy, chopped pork, and those ikan bilis anchovies.

As much as we love Malaysian food, we crave a change at times, so we're thankful for Chiaroscuro Trattoria Pizzeria's wood-oven-baked pies and the desserts at Bisou Bake Shop. If you order one thing, make it the banana-chocolate-caramel delight known as banoffee pie.

  • Imbi Market Jalan Melati between Jalan Melur and Jalan Kampung
  • roti canai stall Lorong TAR, roti canai 25¢
  • assam laksa stall Madras Ln., Petaling St. Bazaar, large assam laksa $1, closed Mon.
  • Peter's Pork Noodles Mayflower food court, 144A Jalan Vivekananda, pork noodle with egg $1.25, closed Mon.
  • Ikan Bakar Asli Pak Din Stall No. 5, Tanglin Food Court, Jalan Cenderasari, fish from $1.25, closed Sun.
  • Yut Kee 35 Jalan Dang Wangi, 011-60/3-2698-8108, coffee 40¢, toast 60¢
  • Sek Yuen 313-315 Jalan Pudu 011-60/3-9222-9457, fish and rice for two $8.75, closed Mon.
  • Weng Kee Jalan 17/27 (St. 27 in Section 17), char siew with rice $1.25, closed last Sun. and Mon. of the month
  • Restoran Hong Seng Jalan 17/29, curry noodles $1.25, closed Mon.
  • Kedai Kopi Wah Cheong Jalan 17/29, pan meen $1.25, closed Thurs.
  • Chiaroscuro Trattoria Pizzeria 30 Jalan Bedara, 011-60/3-2144-8006, chiaroscurokl.com, pizzas from $5.25
  • Bisou Bake Shop Asian Heritage Row 58, Jalan Doraisamy, 011-60/3-2697-0131, bisou.com.my, pie $3, closed Sun.

Shop

In hot, often wet KL, malls beat out street-side stores as the shopping venues of choice. In the past few years, Malaysia's economic growth has fueled a hunger for luxury goods, international designers, and brand-name chain stores. Every month seems to bring a new shopping mall, each bigger and glitzier than the last. But for us, Sungei Wang Plaza is better than any of the fancy newcomers. This stalwart of the Golden Triangle (the city's commercial district) may be low on glamour, but it's a favorite trawling ground for KL's hip younger set. A couple of hours of hunting can yield souvenirs you're unlikely to find elsewhere: clothing and accessories by on-the-verge local designers, limited-edition T-shirts, and quirky Malaysian kitsch.

For many years, Suria Kuala Lumpur City Center (Suria KLCC to abbreviation-mad Malaysians), an upscale shopping center adjacent to the Petronas Twin Towers, was the grande dame of KL's malls. It may be 10 years old, but it still holds its own thanks to a collection of stores selling unique items. The Malaysian outpost of Australian brand Crumpler sells its own brightly colored nylon camera bags, backpacks, and laptop cases that are incredibly sturdy, and washable, too—just the thing when you've dropped your purse in outdoor-market muck (it happens!). Pucuk Rebung is one of the few stores in KL to display genuine antiques and upscale Malaysian crafts, such as textiles from the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. Not everything is for sale—the store is also technically a gallery—but it's worth a browse. We can spend hours in the aisles of the Japanese chain Kinokuniya, a huge book and stationery emporium with its own coffee shop. This is where to find the city's best range of Malaysian cookbooks in English.

INSIDER'S KUALA LUMPUR

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