Would I call myself a foodie? Meh. I don’t know. I obviously enjoy eating and drinking, and food is awesome, but I’m also a pretty picky eater. I like what I like and I rarely go out of my comfort zone. Moving to Korea has definitely helped me open up a bit; never in a million years did I ever think I’d eat kimchi almost daily. I’ve slowly started to eat seafood, and my tolerance for spicy food has increased ten-fold. Still, I’m pretty particular about what I eat.
I made a vow to myself that when I took the trip to Malaysia and Singapore that I would step out of my comfort zone and try at least 1 new (to me) dish per day. No hamburgers, no pizza, no pasta, no fast food. I did a lot of research, and wrote down the names of all the food that I wanted to try, and the best hawker stalls or restaurants to get them from.
Let me be the 34095437 person to say that the food in Malaysia is absolutely incredible. Seriously. We never once had a bad meal. From hawker stall meals at 1am, to Indian food, to eating in alleyways…everything was fantastic. It was really, really hard trying to narrow down my top meals. Sigh. If you have any other questions or would like other restaurant recommendations, shoot me an e-mail or write a comment. So without further ado, here are my favorite dishes from Malaysia!
A trip to Malaysia wouldn’t be complete without a banana leaf meal. A quick Google search will let you know that THE place to go for an excellent banana leaf meal in Kuala Lumpur is Restoran Sri Nirvana Maju. And like most google reviews said, the place is packed and busy all day, but 1000% worth it. Almost as soon as we sat down, a man with multiple silver pails filled with steamy curry goodness came by and asked which ones we wanted. Johnny and I both opted for chicken. Swoon. The spiciness of the curry mixed with the cool, crunchy cucumber and okra was just heavenly. The typical way to eat this type of meal is with your hands, although no one batted an eyelash when we asked for spoons. And the best part?! The meal for the both of us, including two lassis was around 14,000W/$13USD. YES!
Restoran Sri Nirvana Maju
43 Jalan Telawi 3
59100 Kuala Lumpur
Now, I ate a lot of food in Kuala Lumpur, but by and large my favorite meals in Malaysia were in Penang, aka the food capital of Malaysia. The food in Penang was just….I don’t even know how to describe it without going into a food coma. Let’s look at my faves!
One of the rituals Johnny and I have before we go to a new country/city is to watch ‘No Reservations’ episodes of the places we are traveling to (Anthony Bourdain is the 5th love of my life). Naturally, we watched the one for Penang. One of the restaurants featured was a nasi kandar eatery called Line Clear. Nasi Kandar is a Northern Malaysian dish that consists of rice, various curries, and side dishes such as eggs, prawns, fried chicken, etc. Line Clear is probably the most recognized and popular nasi kandar restaurant in Penang. Open 24 hours, you can expect a line almost any time of day. It’s literally in an alleyway, covered with tin and plastic to keep the rain out. Adds to the ambience!
On our first night in Penang, we were starving and didn’t really know where to go, so we just started walking. Imagine my surprise when I saw a sign roughly 3 minutes from our hotel “LINE CLEAR ——–>”. We decided to just go for it, and man, we were not disappointed.
How it works: You stand in line, and there is a wall with various curries and side dishes. You tell the men what side dishes you want, they just throw some curry on top, and BAM! Nasi Kandar. To be honest, I’m still not exactly sure what I ate the two times we went to Line Clear (Yes, we went twice because it’s just THAT great). The first time he asked me if I wanted it spicy, I said no, and I received what’s in the first picture. The second time we went, I decided to be a bit more adventurous, so I ordered a giant prawn (seriously…like the size of my freaking palm. It was insane), and the spicier curry.
I know it may not look like the most appetizing thing, but let me tell you that it is absolutely fucking delicious. Don’t let the pictures fool you! There’s something sort of fun about not really knowing what you’re eating, but letting the flavors mesh together while you try to figure it out.
177 Jalan Penang, Georgetown
Is there anything better than a hawker center that features performances by drag queens?! The answer is a big, fat no.
Red Garden Food Paradise was my favorite hawker center in Georgetown. It features food from all over: Malaysian, Western, Thai, Korean, Filipino, etc. We loved it so much, we went two nights in a row. From the laid back atmosphere, to the drag queen performances, to the excellent food, I highly recommend it! It’s located in the heart of Georgetown, and is open from about 5:30/6 until 1am. Beware, it gets SUPER crowded, and you may end up sharing a table, which is what Johnny and I had to do the second time we went.
The first time we went, Johnny went full “I’ll try anything once” mode and ordered the fish head curry. I’m not a big fan of seafood, and I’m definitely not a fan of seeing a giant fish head, eyes, teeth and all, sitting in a giant bowl. But after seeing Johnny take a bite and seeing his entire body go into a sort of euphoric melt down, I just knew I had to try it.
I can’t even begin to tell you just how incredible it was. I’ve never in my life had fish that was so soft, so flavorful, so mind-blowingly delicious. I had ordered satay and char kway teow (yummy fried noodles), but I felt myself staring longingly at Johnny’s dish. This never happens. Let me be the one to tell you that if you go to the Red Garden Paradise, order the fish head curry. You won’t be disappointed!
No. 20, Leith Street
10000 Penang, Malaysia
After hours of deliberating…staring at pictures and referring back to my journal notes, I have decided that my favorite meal in Malaysia was at Teksen Restaurant in Penang. We found it on a whim, not realizing how insanely popular it is in the blogosphere. We had been wandering around Georgetown, starving and basically delirious from the heat, and popped into the first place we saw with a restaurant sign. And man oh man am I happy we did.
From the outside, Teksen looks like a little mom and pop restaurant. It’s pretty bare bones. But rest assured that the simple decor does not equal basic ass food.
Teksen offers incredible Chinese food from various regions, including Cantonese and Peranakan food. We ordered the suggested favorites: sautéed spinach with eggs, Mapo tofu, and chicken covered in plum sauce.
All three dishes were amazing, but I think my favorite was the Mapo Tofu. I eat tofu fairly often, but it has never, ever, EVER tasted this great. The tofu was actually quite spicy but something about the way the flavors blended together made the spiciness tolerable for me. The plum sauce chicken was the perfect balance to the tofu, as the sauce was very sweet. This was one of those meals where Johnny and I sat in silence, marveling over how 3 simple dishes could taste so fantastic. This is the meal that I still dream of. The one regret I have is that we didn’t order more food! Sigh. If you’re ever in Penang, you definitely have to make a trip.
18 Lebuh Carnarvon, Georgetown
It’s pretty impossible to compare food from around the world because everything is so vastly different, but I have to say that Malaysian cuisine far surpassed all of my expectations. It now holds the number one place in my heart. TAKE ME BACK NOW!!!