Kuala Lumpur is a mesmerizing blend of traditional and modern, and dizzying contradictions. And the best way to experience it is through its local cuisine. Most visitors might not know it but the city offers inexplicable variety of food worth trying. Satisfy your hunger pangs with our 3-day suggested foodie itinerary of Kuala Lumpur, while learning Malaysia’s history and cultural heritage. If this is your first time in the city, you may fine tune this itinerary to include some tourist attractions in between the suggested foodie destinations.
Things to consider before traveling to Kuala Lumpur:
Language – Bahasa Melayu (Malay) is the national and official language of Malaysia. English is taught in schools and is widely used in Malaysian cities, so do not worry about not knowing local phrases or words. It is, however, recommended to learn some Malay if you are heading towards rural areas.
Money and costs – Malaysian Ringgit (RM) is the official currency of Malaysia. Exchanging money is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Asia. You can exchange currency at the airport, hotels, malls, local banks, and money changers throughout Kuala Lumpur. ATMs are plentiful, all accepting international credit cards and debit cards, so it’s easy to withdraw your money in Ringgit. Credits cards are commonly accepted in most mid-range to high-end restaurants and hotels.
Etiquette – Despite being open to foreign influences, Malaysia remains a fairly conservative nation. Handshakes are common when meeting someone. Avoid touching someone’s head as the head is considered sacred in eastern culture. When visiting mosques and temples, it is recommended to dress modestly. Removing your shoes is also required before entering. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter a mosque during prayer time although it is okay to stand outside and look around. Chinese and Hindu temples are open to visitors, but it is also required to remove your shoes.
Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Malaysia. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Although most visits are trouble free, remain vigilant because petty crimes like pick pocketing, snatch and grab, and theft do occur.
Where to stay – There are 3 main areas of Kuala Lumpur that makes great places to stay for tourists – Buking Bintang, KLCC and Chinatown. Bukit Bintang is where you will find the trendiest shopping and entertainment districts, as well as many options of budget to luxury accommodation. KLCC, on the other hand, is the heart of Kuala Lumpur, where you will find some of the most iconic landmarks in Malaysia like the Petronas Tower. It is a good area for shopping, sightseeing and nightlife. Rooftop bars and fine-dining restaurants are also aplenty in this area. Chinatown, located in Petaling Street, is great for budget travelers and for people who want to stay in a historical area. This area is well-known for its hawker food and dirt-cheap goods.
Hotels to consider in Kuala Lumpur:
Getting around – Kuala Lumpur is a busy city and traffic can be terrible, but with an extensive network of Light Rail Transit, Monorail, buses, and taxis, getting around this modern city is easy. KL Sentral, the main transportation hub of Kuala Lumpur, offers connection to and from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) with the service of KLIA Expres and KLIA Transit. Bus connections to and from the airport, like the Skybus, are also available. Light Rail Transit and KTM Komuter trains serves the city and the suburbs.
Detailed day by day: What to do in Kuala Lumpur… if the belly takes over the tourist in you
Start the day off exploring the areas showcasing Kuala Lumpur’s cultural mix. But before that, grab some breakfast. Obviously, the first meal of every trip should be solid. So, we recommend some Nasi Lemak, the de facto national dish of Malaysia. It is the centerpiece of any good Malaysian breakfast, which consists of rice cooked in coconut oil and garnished with hard boiled eggs, anchovies, roasted peanuts, cucumbers and succulent savory samba sauce.
After breakfast, head to Sri Mahamariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia. Founded in 1873, the temple was dedicated to Mariamman, also known as Parvati, the South Indian mother goddess. Then travel to the Islamic Arts Museum, home to one of best collections of Islamic decorative arts in the world. From there, make your way to Thean Hou Temple, a famous Chinese temple, dedicated to Thean Hou, the heavenly queen.
For lunch, get some Banana Leaf Rice, originally a South Indian speciality that became a Malaysian one. This dish is made from steamed white rice wrapped in a large piece of fresh banana leaf with addition of fried chicken or friend fish. It is complemented by various other ingredients like pickles, vegetables and fried papadum crackers. Then, a generous amount of aromatic curry will be ladled over the rice. Some of the best restaurants to try this dish are Devi’s Corner in Jalan Telawi, Moorthy’s Martha Indian Rice in Jalan Vivekananda and Raj’s Banana Leaf in Jalan Telawi.
In the late afternoon check out Chinatown at Petaling Street where you can go shopping. You may also check out several Chinese and Indian Temples in this area. Then, grab some late afternoon snack at Chelo’s Appam Stall, known for their delicious appam (coconut milk pancakes).
For dinner, head to Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintangfor some fantastic Malay-Chinese cuisine. There are mostly Chinese restaurants in this unassuming street, where you can sit down on plastic stools along the pavement. Some of the must try foods are oyster omelette, roast lamb, dimsum, deep fried durian, and barbecued satay and scallops. Another must try is Lok Lok. It is a type of communal hot pot where the plates with various ingredients skewered on sticks are placed around a central pot of boiling water. If you still have the energy for cocktails, head to the Sky Bar on the top floor of Traders Hotel.
On your second day, rise early to get to the Batu Caves, just north of the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Set on a massive limestone hill, Batu Caves is an iconic and popular tourist attraction in Selangor. You will be greeted by a 43 meter-tall golden statue of Lord Murugan, before you climb the 272 steps up into the shrine. Inside, there is a Hindu Shrine lined with different deities. Though it is easy to get around by yourself, availing a tour of the Batu Caves is recommended to learn its history and significance.
One of the culinary influences of Malaysia is South Indian Cuisine. So for lunch, after your visit to the Batu Caves, make your way to Dhivya’s Cafe Restaurant. This restaurant offers a variety of traditional Indian food like roti, banana leaf rice, chapati and samosa.
In the afternoon, make your way to Merdeka Square (Independence Square or Dataran Merdeka). From here, head to Bintang Walk for some shopping. If your accommodation is nowhere near Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC), then you can go for dinner in this area. There are plenty of things you can do here, from shopping to dining. You can also get an amazing view of the city from Petronas Tower.
When temperature soars in Kuala Lumpur, we can’t think of any other summer treats than Cendol. It is a popular shaved ice dessert topped with with red bean, grass jelly strands, palm sugar syrup, coconut milk, creamed corn and and green cendol strands. Get it at Grandmama’s at Pavilion Kl, Uncle Cendol at Brem Mall or Baba Low’s 486 at Jalan Kurau.
It’s dinner time! Our suggestion is Hokkien Mee, black-colored charcoal-fried noodles. This aromatic and flavorful noodle dish is another favorite of the KLites, and can be found almost anywhere in the city. Along with a delectable soup base, Hokkien Mee’s ingredients are prawns or pork, bean sprouts, noodles and half boiled egg. Hawker stalls also allow customers to put various add-on toppings like pork ribs, pork legs, pork belly and fish balls. The best places to try this dish are Kim Lian Kee at KL Chinatown, Lian Bee still at KL Chinatown, Setapak Teochew at Setapak and Sentul Ah Yap at Sentul.
For your final day in Kuala Lumpur, get a one last whirl through the city to take in other attractions that you might have missed. For a wide range and reasonably priced locally made handicrafts, you can explore the Central Market. This charming old art deco market building has souvenirs and gifts of different colors, variety and quality. There are also a number of eating places inside for a much needed pit-stop between shops.
If you’ve got a few hours to spare before departure, then you may consider joining a traditional cooking class, wherein you will learn how to cook the most popular Malaysian dishes and know its history and origin. You will also be introduced to traditional Malay flavors and learn the simplest way to cook them. There are plenty of tours offered online, so make sure to read reviews first before you make your reservation. LaZat Malaysian Cooking Class, Sarang Cookery and Jen’s Homegrown Cooking Academy offer some of the best cooking classes in Kuala Lumpur based on TripAdvisor reviews.
Have you been to Kuala Lumpur, Melaka or anywhere else in Malaysia? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: An unidentified YOUNG woman sells traditional Chinese dumplings in Jalan Alor street famous with budget restaurants of various cuisines (withGod / Shutterstock.com)