Eating Out in Kuala Lumpur

From roadside hawker stands to gigantic indoor food courts, Kuala Lumpur is home to one of the world's most vibrant and interesting culinary scenes. With a population that's truly obsessive when it comes to food and a national cuisine that blends the best of three different cultures, Kuala Lumpur is undoubtedly one of the world's best cities for eating out.

Malaysian food is regarded, not just domestically but throughout Southeast Asia, as one of the top cuisines in the region. A unique blend of Chinese, Indian, and native Malay dishes, Kuala Lumpur enjoys one of the world's best domestic cuisines. Along with famous Malaysian dishes, a variety of international foods are available, with Thai and Japanese foods the local favorites.

At the heart of Kuala Lumpur's food culture is the hawker stand. Hawker stands – and their larger counterpart, the hawker center – are scattered throughout Kuala Lumpur's street corners and major meeting places. Serving up Malay, Chinese, and Indian food are incredibly low prices, they're the first place any Malay worker will visit when they're in need of a cheap, delicious meal.

Many of Kuala Lumpur's hawker centers are owned and operated by Malay Indian families, and the food that's offered generally follows the center's ethnic ownership. Indian dishes, including tandoori chicken and other grilled meats, are a staple of Kuala Lumpur's cuisine. Curries, of both the Indian and Malay variety, are another staple meal of Indian-owned hawker centers in Kuala Lumpur.

Throughout the central city, and particularly around Ampang and Bukit Bintang, you'll find a great deal of 'all-purpose' hawker centers. These centers rarely specialize in a certain type of cuisine, but will instead offer the best of Malay, Chinese, and Indian food. Dishes like kuay teow and rojak can be ordered from the counter, while pre-cooked curries and grilled meats are available all the time.

For the most part, hygiene in hawker centers is much the same as it is in shopping centers and other restaurants. Meat dishes are kept in warming plates and are generally turned over quickly in popular food centers. The Malay custom of eating entirely using your hands – often for rice and noodles – is bound to catch visitors off guard. You're welcome to use a knife and fork set, and most waiters will give them out intuitively when they see a foreigner sit down to order food.

Keep in mind that you'll need to pay for extras like water and tissues in many of Kuala Lumpur's food stands, particularly those located in Chinatown. The best hawker food is generally found in central Kuala Lumpur around Jalan Alor, in Chinatown around Petaling Street, around Ampang Park LRT Station, and in Little India around Jalan Masjid India and the surrounding area.

While hawker centers offer great food at the lowest prices, they're not a great option for visitors that want to escape Kuala Lumpur's legendary heat. For an air conditioned alternative, pop into any mall in Kuala Lumpur and search for the basement or top floor. Malls like Berjaya Times Square have a selection of hawker stands set up on the top floor that are perfect for finding cheap local snacks.

In higher-end malls like Suria KLCC and Pavillion KL, you'll find great food courts priced just a little bit above their street side counterparts. All malls in Kuala Lumpur will have the standard fast food available – local favorites include McDonald's, Kenny Rogers Roasters, and KFC. Prices for fast food are slightly below Western levels, although still expensive compared to local cuisine.

Kuala Lumpur's best high-end restaurants are found in two places. The first is in hotels, where many of the city's best restaurants are located, generally on the rooftop floor. Traders Hotel by Shangri-La and Grand Millennium KL are both home to fantastic restaurants, although the prices are far from the city's baseline.

Likewise, areas close to the high-end hotel chains, including Bukit Bintang and Golden Triangle, are packed with high-end restaurants specializing in both Malay and international cuisine. Around Bukit Bintang, you'll find high-end French restaurants like Frangipani, which offers great cuisine in a setting that's surprisingly quiet and relaxing for nighttime Kuala Lumpur.

Other romantic dining options include Le Midi, a rooftop Mediterranean restaurant in Bangsar, a popular nightlife district located slightly outside the city center. With an incredible view of KL's skyline, it's the perfect place to dine at night. For a very different setting, Subak, a jungle-themed restaurant in Bukit Lanjan, is a great place to relax in tranquil, natural surroundings.

Kuala Lumpur's dining culture is much the same as elsewhere in Malaysia. Tips are appreciated but are never expected, and restaurants that expect to be paid for service will generally add it to the bill on their own with a warning clearly indicated in the menu. Service in most KL restaurants can be a little 'hands off,' although high-end restaurants generally have very attentive staff.

Finally, visitors seeking vegetarian food will have very few difficulties getting by in Kuala Lumpur. While most Malay food is meat-heavy, Malay-Indian restaurants will always have vegetarian dishes available. Eggs are frequently used in Malay cuisine, as are sardines, making it somewhat difficult for vegan travelers to get by in many of the city's food courts and hawker centers.

From street food to high-end fare, Kuala Lumpur is one of Malaysia's best cities for eating out and enjoying yourself. With inexpensive yet delicious local food, a wide selection of great restaurants, and one of the most varied and diverse cuisines in Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur remains one of the region's food capitals and undoubtedly one of Asia's best cities for dining out.