Malaysia: food, glorious food

Next up after Japan came Malaysia (19-27 November). This started off in planning as a stop over on the way from Japan to Sri Lanka, where we would be visiting Alex’s cousin and his family. But the more we read about Malaysia the longer we wanted to spend there, and in the end we spent more time on the Malaysian “stop over” than we did at the Sri Lankan destination!

Petronas Twin Towers

Kuala Lumpur

We started our 9 day visit to Malaysia with 3 days in KL. We stayed at BackHome, a hostel with a very cool and modern interior design. We booked a private double room with aircon and it was spacious, comfortable and incredibly cheap. They have a partner cafe next door called LOKL Coffee which has a similar interior style and some pretty tasty food on offer, and you get a 10% discount if you’re staying at the hostel.

Most of what I read about KL wrote it off as a shopping destination, and while we did spend a reasonable amount of time in malls recovering from the oppressive humidity outside there are other things to do in KL apart from shop:

  • Malaysia Heritage walking tour. If we’d been a bit more organised we would have arranged to go on this tour but it requires booking in advance by at least one day. It sounds like a great overview of the city but make sure you take plenty of water!
  • Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. “The world’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary” is a great place to spend half a day and put your camera’s fancy zoom lens through its paces. Don’t miss the highly entertaining bird show!
  • Petronas Twin Towers. One of KL’s iconic landmarks. We didn’t go up to the viewpoint (pricey) but there’s quite a good mall at the base with a Kinokuniya and a cinema showing the latest blockbusters (and some Asian films) for 14 ringgit a ticket (~AU$4).
  • Berjaya Times Square. Another huge shopping mall – so big that it contains an indoor theme park complete with roller coasters! Incidentally, this is also a great place to get a bargain haircut (around 40 ringgit – less than AU$13), no appointment necessary.

Flamingos, KL Bird Park

Kuala Lumpur eats

You have to try a little harder in KL to hunt down tasty cheap eats than you do in Penang. Our top three spots would be:

  1. Kak Som, Kampung Baru. Kampung Baru is apparently one of the last remaining Malay pockets left in KL. It’s quite central so it’s incredibly valuable real estate but the original occupants don’t want to sell out. Visit Kak Som and order nasi kerabu (blue rice), then pick and choose your own toppings such as fried chicken and fish. Depending on what you add you can feed two people (two mains and two juices) for less than 20 ringgit (~AU$6).
  2. Soong Kee’s Beef Ball Noodles. A quick and tasty meal for 5-6 ringgit per person (less than AU$2).
  3. Little India.  You can get some tasty thosai, roti canai or any other number of Indian dishes in KL’s Little India. There are also some Chinese-style hawker stalls nearby on Jalan Thambipillay.

In Little India

Penang

When I was researching how much time to spend in Penang the results consistently replied, “Well, how many meals do you want to eat?” Since one of our greatest travel joys is enjoying local food, reading about the food haven that is Penang was terribly exciting. And it did not disappoint!

Food is definitely the number one reason to visit Penang but there are also lots of interesting things to see while you’re digesting in between meals:

  • George Town. The core of Penang’s capital is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s filled with historic buildings such as the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (otherwise known as The Blue Mansion) and Chinese clanhouses such as Khoo Kongsi. Along the water’s edge some are the famous Clan Jetties.
  • Penang Hill. Ride the funicular railway to the top on a clear day for a panoramic view of George Town.
  • Kek Lok Si temple (white pagoda) and Wat Chayamangkalaram temple (reclining Buddha). Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit either of these temples but if you do they look spectacular.
  • Batu Ferringhi. Hit the beach across the road from the Hydro Hotel (less touristy) during the day and central BF in the evening to soak up the atmosphere of the night market. On the opposite side of the road from the market there’s a plethora of cheap massage parlours – we enjoyed (powerful!) 60 minute massages for 50 ringgit each (less than AU$16).
  • Teluk Bahang National Park. Entry is free but you need to register how far you intend to trek before you go in. You’ll probably see monkeys near the entrance and if you’re lucky you might see monitor lizards and turtles inside. The walk does get pretty heavy going after the second bridge though, especially in the heat.

(All of these are easily accessible by public bus but the buses only pass by every 20-30 minutes so it’s not as convenient to pop back and forth all over the place, especially if you’re staying  outside of George Town and need to make all your connections at KOMTAR. As with the Greek islands or Malta, try to avoid doing too much in one day.)

The beach, Batu Ferringhi

Penang eats

Right. Well. First off, head to the tourist information centre to pick up the latest copy of their Food Trail brochure. This lists recommended restaurants and hawkers stalls, but more importantly it lists all the specialty dishes that make Penang famous. We basically used ours as a “to do” list and tried to tick off as many of the dishes listed as we could.

Penang food hunter tips! The dishes are usually not overly big, which is great because it leaves more room to try more dishes. If you’re travelling with a friend or partner, order different dishes and go halves with each other so you get to sample more. When you visit a food court you don’t have to order all your dishes from the one stall – feel free to order as many as you have room for from as many different stalls that tempt you!

You can’t really go wrong with where you eat on Penang, but our three top recommendations are:

  1. Gurney Drive. A huge, super cheap open air hawker’s food court. A great place to tick lots of dishes off your “to eat” list! There are several stalls doing yummy fresh juices too for only ~2 ringgit / AU$0.70.
  2. Line Clear Nasi Kandar, George Town. Nasi kandar is one of Penang’s most famous dishes and Line Clear is one of its most famous restaurants. Join the line and when it’s your turn you can ask for “kari campur” (mixed curry) then choose any meats or veg to be added on top (I recommend the fried chicken). Wash it all down with a refreshing glass of “teh o ais limau” (iced lemon tea without milk).
  3. Seafood restaurant, Teluk Bahang. I’m not even sure what it’s called but you’ll come across it within about a 5 minute walk after leaving the national park. We went there to eat crab. The price depends on the market but when we were there we enjoyed two whole crabs for 26 ringgit each (~AU$8).

Gurney Drive open air food court

Malaysia in a nutshell: cheap, delicious and highly recommended!

[more photos]

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6 thoughts on “Malaysia: food, glorious food

  1. Pingback: Singapore stopover | dinosaurs can't knit

  2. Pingback: 38 countries in 2.5 years | dinosaurs can't knit

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