THE search for authentic Malaysian food began early in the morning when I woke up in a shared room of a small backpackers’ inn. I arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport the night before with a thirty-liter backpack and some friends. The turbulent plane ride had drained our energy. We hopped on a public bus from the airport into the city center but it was past midnight when we arrived and there was no time to look around for good food. All we wanted was to take a warm shower and sleep.
But like a sweet dream cut short with a loud thunder, the sound of our cell phones’ alarm jolted us from our slumber. A little recharged, we prepared ourselves for a full day of exploring Kuala Lumpur. There was no option to throw a tantrum. We were in the capital of Malaysia, a bustling gem of cultural diversity. It logically followed that a hodgepodge of great food awaited our craving palate, and we chose Bukit Bintang to formally welcome us in this part of Southeast Asia.
Our personal research on where to eat in Kuala Lumpur directed us to Bukit Bintang. This is the shopping and entertainment center of Kuala Lumpur, fondly called Bintang Walk or Star Hill by locals and foreigners alike. Bukit Bintang is famous for its commercial vibe with its line of shopping centers, night markets, outdoor cafes, classy bars and hawker-style food markets. That morning, our minds, or rather, our tummies were all set for an authentic serving of Malaysian food.
We stepped out onto the sidewalk of busy Chinatown just outside our accommodation. The sun was just beginning to break on the horizon but there were already men and women, most of them in their later years, sweeping the streets and busy setting up tables and cook sets, probably preparing for the morning market. Armed with a tourist map of Kuala Lumpur, which we got from the airport, we decided to walk towards our food destination.
We strolled along the main road towards Bukit Bintang, slowly immersing ourselves with the local crowd. After several minutes of turning left and right, we figured we were lost. We may have interpreted the map from a different perspective, or we were just so busy snapping away with our point and shoot cameras. At this time, the sun had already burst into a warm yellow like an egg cooked sunny side up. We scrambled to get to our destination fast.
We were determined to reach Bukit Bintang for our first meal in Kuala Lumpur. We needed help so we asked a local for directions. After crossing pedestrian lanes and sightseeing along the way, we finally saw big, blue signage with the words ‘PASAR BARU BUKIT BINTANG’ which means “new markets star hills” in direct English translation. We had arrived.
It was a joyous morning! Wide, colorful umbrellas protected seated customers from the impending heat of the sun. Plastic tables were covered with red cloth giving them an appetizing look. Vendors called out to potential customers and showed off bowls and plates of noodles, seafood and vegetables. Steam from large pots and sizzling pans created a warm welcome for hungry visitors eager to try authentic Malaysian cuisine. It was a beautiful exchange of sounds and aroma.
We did not stand there for long. We picked a vacant table on the side near a beverage stall. A man wearing an apron asked what we’d have then suggested his menu. After hearing the options I decided to try a bowl of noodle soup with pieces of wonton, green leafy vegetables, and thin slices of pork. It was flavorful and steaming hot, perfect for an empty stomach. My companions tried its other variant, this time without the soup and wonton, which was a little spicy and salty. We ate slowly, savoring the rich aroma that smelled like a mixture of different herbs and spices. Our breakfast looked so simple but it was definitely bursting with flavor.
To quench our thirst, we tried fresh hand-squeezed lemons with cold water mixed with hot brewed tea. It was little bit challenging to drink but the bittersweet flavor was just too good to put to waste.
After that we bought some colorful, sticky rice cakes packed in Styrofoam containers. The sweetness was just right to overpower the concoction we had tried earlier.
Searching for the Bukit Bintang food market paid off. Getting lost had all been part of the adventure and had only added to the excitement. We had a satisfying, local food experience that definitely fueled us for a day of exploring Kuala Lumpur.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to find out more about traveling to Malaysia, please visit the Tourism Malaysia website.