There’s little wonder why the tourist hordes have, for so long, diverted their gastronomic attention away from western countries to the cheap and cheerful culinary offerings of South East Asia and its plethora of scrumptious, delicious, saliva-inducing food fare. Malaysia is no exception to this and offers simply some of the best food to be found anywhere in the world. From Malay and Nonya dishes to practically every permutation of Chinese, Indian, South East Asian and European, the choices for dining are endless to suit every single traveller’s budgets. Listed below are three of the most amazing street dishes that you cannot leave Malaysia without trying.
3rd: Jalan Alor (Alor Street), Kuala Lumpur
Third place belongs to no particular street food stall, however of the dozens of hawker stalls that ply their trade along Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur are worthy of mention. Simply follow the crowds and sit yourself down at one of the plastic tables and chairs in front of the busy ‘restorans’ and you’ll be soon swarmed by waiters who are quick to take your order.
We opt for the safe bet of char kway teow, which is a popular noodle dish made famous from its origins in Penang, made from flat rice noodles, stir-fried in very high eat with light and dark soy sauce, chilli and served with whole prawns, bean sprouts, chicken, egg and chives. However, the big one you must try is the grilled stingray - pricier than what you would expect to pay for other dishes but well worth its weight in gold. The flesh comes off in shreds and each side is coated in a spicy satay paste and drizzled over yourself with a bit of lemon or lime. Great tasting dish, particularly if you love fish!
2nd: Soy Chicken, Bean Sprouts & Hor Fun at Lou Wong, Ipoh
I never thought it was possible for anything to beat the simply mouth-watering plate of soy chicken and bean sprouts offered at Lou Wong in the sleepy little iron town of Ipoh. It’s home to some of the highest concentrations of Chinese-Malays in the country and where there’s the Chinese, there’s good food. We arrived in Ipoh on the week of Chinese New Years and were surprised to find that it was still running and with a near-capacity restaurant, we were lucky to find ourselves a little table in the corner of the restaurant, just in time for dinner. The kitchen is literally only double the size of a hotel kitchenette (not much, in other words, depicted above) and we were approached hurriedly by who we believe to be the boss by the way he was barking orders and randomly yelling in Hokkien, little to our understanding. I asked him in Chinese what they served, completely oblivious at the time, that they in fact only did two dishes - Ipoh’s famous bean sprouts and their soy chicken, served with either a bowl of fragrantly steamed rice or a bowl of light broth noodles (hor fun).
I told him to serve us up with whatever everyone else was having and in a quick flash, the bean sprouts found their way to our table in no time. The chicken took a little while longer but that may have been attributed to how chaotically busy they were as we had to grab the attentions of a few wandering waiters, drenched in sweat, to check up on where our chicken was. The wait was worth it and it is simply some of the most succulent and most amazingly tasty chicken I’ve ever had! The bean sprouts complement it perfectly, with Ipoh’s high-mineral water, having a huge influence over the almost incomprehensively sweet and juicy taste. The only thing missing is a bowl of bubbling hot hor fun:
1st: Penang’s Assam Laksa
In the wise words of Anthony Bourdain, the best and most amazing food tends to eventually be served in one piping hot bowl of noodles served in a ridiculously delicious broth. Penang’s Assam Laksa tops the country’s must-eat foods. Not just any Assam Laksa, look specifically for the old geezer hunched over a humungous pot of boiling hot broth opposite the Ayer Itam Markets in Penang, constantly pouring and emptying bowls of laksa broth over and over again to ensure that they’re served up at its maximum temperature. There is no stall, no big old sign, simply a few round tables, stools and a bench top as their ‘kitchen’, serving up some of the best bowls of food I’ve ever tasted.
Throw your perceptions of the milky, coconut and mildly-spicy laksa image in your head out the window. The assam laksa is the real deal - a dish of thick rice noodles served in spicy and sour fish broth using mackerel flakes and the key ingredient - tamarind, giving the broth its sourish flavour. On top of that, chillies, galangal, coriander, prawn paste and thinly sliced onions are prepared before its handed over to the genius (above) to weave his magic. So good is their food, Bourdain recently found himself at this very stall a day after we had left Penang to eat that exact same bowl of goodness. You simply cannot go past this and it still stands as the single best dish I’ve had in all of Malaysia despite all the amazing food it had to offer. If you find yourself in Penang, after a visit to Kek Lok Si, make your way back down the hill to find these guys daily serving up the same thing all day, everyday.