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Big Flavors In Little China – Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown

by Tony · 15 comments

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Petaling Street is the main drag in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown and is (in)famous for the street vendors selling pirated DVD’s, the delicious food stalls, and the vibrant mix of tourists and locals.

With little room for new items in our 32 liter backpacks, we’re not big on stuffing our bags… only our bellies!

So in that spirit, let’s take a look at the amazing food that Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown has to offer.

How To Enjoy Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown

1) Street Food Sampling

Street food. A backpackers dream.

Delicious, cheap, and with infinite variety.

If in Malaysia and staying at one of the many hostels or hotels in Kuala Lumpur, you have to visit Chinatown. No visit to a good market is complete without sampling from the many street vendors… and the experienced traveler knows that there is nothing to fear from street food.

It is often safer than restaurant food because you get to witness how it is made. Just be sure to eat from places that see a lot of turnover, serve things piping hot, and have a decent stream of locals stopping by.

Fried Sweet Potato Balls

Everyone we passed upon entering the busy market in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown seemed to be eating these.

Not sure what they were, but knowing we had to try them, we ordered a bag and dove in hoping that it wasn’t something too unique.

Fried Potato Balls In Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

But potato? We would have been less surprised to discover they were fried chicken liver than something as simple as sweet potato.

Fried anything is tasty, so are you shocked to find out that fried potato balls are any different? Crispier than a French fry on the outside, but mushier on the inside… a perfect snack.

Soy Bean Smoothies

Soy Bean Smoothie Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Lots of locals were in line at this stand, so you know we had to try it.

Now here is where I would normally set you up with a “you would think blended soy bean with sugar would be disgusting…” only to surprise you with how tasty it actually was.

But no.

Blended soy bean with sugar really looks, feels, and tastes pretty gross.

Chicken Coins

Chicken Coins Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

It might be from the fond memories of coined themed snacks from all of my friends Bar Mitzvah’s when I was growing up, but I love food in coin form. Chocolate, candy, and now apparently chicken.

Now this pretty much breaks every street food rule that I outlined earlier… but these chicken coins were basically the most tender jerky ever. Marinated in some kind of ginger garlic spice and hopefully jerkified enough to kill all bacteria, these lukewarm treats were AMAZING.

Do yourself a favor and buy a bag of these to snack on while you’re people watching in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.

2) Large Alley With Made-To-Order Food Vendors

Sorry folks, no name on this alley so you’ll just have to follow your nose!

We love finding where locals eat, and while the snacking in Chinatown was fun, it still felt pretty touristy. So when we saw a large alley filled with food stands and small tables to sit filled with locals, we knew we had found lunch.

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown Lunch

Meg grabbed seats at the only open plastic table as I found the waitress and pointed to a few of the dishes I saw other people eating. Despite my severe language limitations, I never seem to have too much issue communicating in food.

Within a few minutes, we had two steaming hot dishes arrive at our table.

This sautéed carp was supremely tender with a ton of flavor in the ginger sauce. The only downside for me was all the bones, but Meg had no problem chowing down like Gollum.

Carp For Lunch In Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

The other dish we shared was this succulent pork with steamed kale. Combining this with the sauce from the carp was perfect and definitely my favorite meal of the day.

Pork For Lunch In Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

We were able to get both of these dishes plus two drinks for under $9! So cheap… And that was definitely the tourist price, as the locals seemed to be paying much less.  Oh well, Meg and I were way too hungry to even attempt to negotiate.

3) A Visit To Madras Lane

Much of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown is street vendors selling Gucci and Addidas knockoff bags. But if you really want to discover what makes this Chinatown so great, you need to visit Madras Lane.

Many of the winding alleys will lead you to it, but for the uninitiated, your safest bet is to find one of the two entrances with the large red sign hanging above (first picture of this post).

It really won’t look like much upon entering, so you’re just going to have to trust us. On our first time in, we passed this butcher with cats in a cage next to the butcher’s block… we didn’t ask.

Cat Cages In Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

But if you follow the labyrinth back into the belly of Chinatown, you will find a bustling food court with amazing noodle and dumpling stands.

There is a very famous buffet style cart named “Madras Lane Tau Fu Stall” that gets rave reviews from others, but we were on a hunt for something else. The “Laksa Man” himself said that we had try Curry Laksa while in Malaysia and we finally found some under a yellow noodle sign diagonally across from the buffet stall.

Kuala Lumpur Chinatown Curry Laksa

Every stall was busy making food to order and every chair was filled with locals.

We ordered our Curry Laksa with my usual pointing and miming technique and sat down to wait.

After a few minutes, out came this steaming soup of fried pork skin, vegetables, hot peppers, and fatty broth.

Curry Laksa In Kuala Lumpur Chinatown

Utterly delicious.

We devoured our Curry Laksa without speaking. The sweat beaded on our foreheads as the heat of the day combined with the spice of the dish.

Stuffed from the Curry Laksa, exhausted from the spice and heat, we paid our $3 ($3!!!) and ambled on back to our hostel.

There isn’t great signage for finding your way around Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, so if you’re interested in visiting some of these delicious places, shoot us a note and we will try to direct you. You’ll be in for a treat if you can get there!

About Tony
Quit his job to try actually following his dreams for once... and is currently loving it. He is working hard to to make this life-style permanent by writing about his adventures and brainstorming money making opportunities with his partner-in-crime, Meg.

Magz October 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm

I’m sorry… I was drolling over the fried sweet potato balls and in a jealous haze until I read that line about cats on the butchers block?!?? Ohhhh my…

Glad you survived your day of street food :)

Tony October 24, 2012 at 1:48 am

hahaha we always survive our days of street food! We have each gotten food poisoning once on this trip and neither were from street food…

The fried potato balls were glorious, but the Curry Laksa is where it is at! Kind of a Malaysian version of Pho.

Adam October 24, 2012 at 7:41 am

That pork with kale looks delicious! And the fried sweet potatoes look good to me, too.

Tony October 25, 2012 at 4:07 am

That’s the problem, Adam… it all looked so good. Not really a problem for us, though. We just ate until we couldn’t walk!

JR October 26, 2012 at 9:02 am

Utterly amazing. I agree with Magz though about the CAT. Are you sure the curry Laksa with pork skin was actually pork :) You two have iron stomachs and iron will to try all of the different food. loved this article.

Tony October 26, 2012 at 10:42 pm

That would be a great name for a food blog… Iron Stomach & Iron Will.

Whatever we ate… it was delicious! As long as what you eat is hot and from a busy vendor, street food is beyond healthy. Much better than most restaurant food we would find over here…

Michael @ Changes In Longitude October 31, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Gotta love the cats next to the butcher. Were they still there later in the day?



Tony November 1, 2012 at 6:14 am

hahaha Great question! We were afraid to look… the best suggestion someone had is that maybe (hopefully) they are let out at night to chase/eat rats? That’s what we choose to believe at least…

sharon khoo March 19, 2013 at 11:41 am

hi there…read this topic cause its talking abt my country’s food…actually there are lots more food to offer in malaysia other than the ones u guys have tried…. Plenty of it…cause we are a multi racial country : malay, chinese, indian, portugese, sikhs, sabahans (from sabah) and sarawakians (from sarawak) hope u can travel again to malaysia and sample more of our variety of different culture food… Glad u love the sweet potato balls as much as i do…hehe

Tony March 19, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Sharon –

We wish we could have seen more of your beautiful country! We had such a great time eating in KL, but have heard from friends that there are much better places to go eat. There are so many different cultures represented that I am sure we could have spent a whole year just trying all of the different food!

Those potato balls were so good… Maybe next time we’re in Malaysia you can show us around!

sharon khoo March 19, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Hi Tony,

That is alrite…malaysia will always welcome u both…i will be gladly to take u all around and sample the various food malaysia can offer…and places to go…especially our beaches and historical places in different states…u can spend 2 or the max 4 months to go around Peninsular and East Malaysia…plenty of beautiful beaches for Meg to explore, but stay away from travelling to malaysia during the monsoon season as it will be rainy season from October onwards…just keep me posted on ur travels and i love to read abt ur travel blog..really inspired me to go travel around… keep it up ya! :)

TY January 29, 2014 at 2:08 am

Hi, a note about the cats in cages. A lot of vendors keep them around, and usually in pairs. When you entered Madras Lane you would have seen the vegetable seller with their two cats too. Apparently the theory is that the scent of the cats will keep the rats away.

The pork butcher used to have a sign above his cats saying, “Not For Sale.” A lot of people must have wondered if the kitties were headed for the chopping block too. I’m happy to report they are alive and well. The white one in the picture is still always napping. And the black one in the other cage is very friendly; if you stick a finger through the bars you will be rewarded with a very enthusiastic cat.

Tony January 29, 2014 at 10:52 am

So glad to hear!

After a lot of discussion post trip, we came to the conclusion that maybe they were released at night to hunt the rats. Never would have guessed that the smell alone kept the rats away!

It was the proximity to the butcher block more than anything else that gave us pause… Glad to hear the definitive scoop! We couldn’t find anything else online that would tell us what was happening :)

Thanks for sharing!


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