What do you do when you’re at an Indian restaurant and no one brings you a fork or spoon? Wash your hands, of course. Cause you’ll be diving into that food with your right hand.
Although expecting to stuff my face with as much Indian food as possible during my last stay in Kuala Lumpur, what I did not anticipate was the mood it put me in. I began by buying Indian clothes, watching a three-hour Bollywood movie I’d been putting off for too long, and falling in love with the entire soundtrack. Then I found myself at a banana leaf restaurant eating by hand, all the while watching Bollywood music videos.
If you’re a foodie, the best area to stay at in KL is Bukit Bintang. Beltif Hotel is quite good, offers free breakfast, and is ideal for the budget traveler. Not to mention it’s within 3-5 minutes walking distance of a killer Egyptian restaurant, a deliciously cheap hawker on the corner, and at least 3 convenience stores including 7-11.
If I hadn't known what to expect from Malaysia, I would have been a bit overwhelmed. So here are the 10 commandments of any Malaysian culinary adventure:
- So, what types of food can you expect to find in Malaysia, anyway? Namely, Chinese, Malay, and Indian make up most of the local cuisine. Of course, you can find other varieties as well, from Middle-Eastern to Western.
The cheapest food can be found at food courts which also called hawkers. Hawkers are the best choice for those culinarily adventurous.
- For example, my favorite Malaysian meals were handpicked side dishes served with rice. In this case, you pay for what you pick--specifically, more for meat dishes.
- If you eat by hand, be sure to use your right hand. In Indian culture, the left hand is considered unclean, so you may only use it when necessary.
Banana leaf is commonly eaten by hand. If you're having difficulty, use roti or naan to scoop up the curries. If this method doesn't seem like your cup of tea, ask for utensils. The restaurant will have them! (:
- There's about a 90% chance that your drink order will not be delivered correctly. So learn the lingo, if possible. (Kopi o = black coffee; masala = chai tea, plain yogurt smoothie = lassi, etc.)
- Stay AWAY from liquefied cendol (the most disgusting thing I have ever tasted). Otherwise, the traditional cendol dessert is okay, although not one of my favorites.
- If you're a clueless foreigner like me, you may find yourself wondering where to eat during Ramadan. During Ramadan, most Malaysian places and even many food courts will be closed until evening. Except, I discovered, in touristy places. Try Central Market (food court inside or restaurants and food carts nearby) or Ampang Park mall.
What's for breakfast? If you want the full Malaysian experience, opt for nasi lemak. This meal consists of fragrant coconut milk rice, small fried fishes, fresh cucumber, hard-boiled egg, and sometimes additions on the side. (It's more delicious than it sounds, trust me. I craved it so much back in the States that I cooked nasi lemak for my friend--and she loved it too.)
- Where is happy hour? Be careful, don't offend too many people when asking around. Do keep in mind that Malaysia is a Muslim country, and that Muslims don't drink. If you simply must have your happy hour, there are plenty of choices in the KLCC and upper Bukit Bintang areas.
PS--The best ice floss ever is the calimansi flavor at kopitiam in the Central Market food court. Peach flavor is a close second.