This time next week I will have just touched down in the UK.
With no delay I would hope to be through customs without any interrogation as to why I have a bag full of spices, dried anchovies and fermented shrimp paste…
First port of call is home, a hug with family and a good bacon sandwich or a slice of extra mature cheese on toast. Perhaps a pint of bitter once it reaches an acceptable time… 11.30 am?
But the prospect of visiting home has got me thinking just as much about my time here, as it has the comforts of home.
By next week I will have been in KL for 15 months. Just over 450 days.
If you hadn’t already realised, this time has been an intensive induction into everything edible in town.
I often get asked where the best places in town are to eat. I actually have a whole document dedicated to this, however four and half A4 pages of recommendations is probably a little dry for this format.
So, I’ll distil it.
24 hours. Full power.
A perfect day in KL.
Don’t even bother with a hotel breakfast.
You’re in Malaysia and I’m already struggling to fit 10% of the food recommendations I want to in this post. Don’t you dare fill up with dry toast and defrosted mini-pastries before we start!
Breakfast in Malaysia, as with much of Asia, is often indistinguishable from any other meal. Spice, rice and/or noodles. They don’t muck about.
I recommend starting with 2 of Malaysia’s biggest hitters – Nasi Lemak & Laksa.
I’ve written about both at length on this blog. However, for the uninitiated, Nasi Lemak is pandan infused coconut rice served with a spicy sambal and Laksa is a spicy and aromatic noodle soup, with multiple regional variations.
There are dozens of places that do fantastic versions of each, however as we only have 24 hours, I would recommend visiting Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock Kopitiam in Petaling Street.
Run by a Malay (Ali), Indian (Muthu) and Chinese (Ah Hock), they do a great selection of food from across the full spectrum of Malaysian cooking, including a great Nasi Lemak and Nyonya Laksa.
Nasi Lemak is the national dish, beloved by all creeds. Alternately Nyonya laksa is a variation specialised by the Nyonya people, literally born out of the intermarriage between Chinese traders and local Malays.
A fitting introduction to the kaleidoscope that is Malaysian cuisine.
Whilst food is undoubtedly the highlight of this, or any, tour. You’ll need to walk off breakfast to create more space… fast.
Take a walk through the historic centre of KL. North from Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock is Chinatown, which is centred around the bustling market on Petaling Street, selling knock-off everything. Continue round, through Central Market for more tat / cultural wears and over to Masjid Jamek.
Here you find Kuala Lumpur’s name sake, the muddy confluence between the Gombok and Klang rivers. Yes… KL literally means “muddy confluence”.
Head over to Merdeka (independence) square, interestingly focused around the old cricket pitch, and it’s massive flag pole.
Then walk over to the National Mosque, through the grounds and onto the Islamic Arts Museum to wonder at the geometric domes and intricate Qurans.
I hope so.
To the west of the city is arguably my favourite restaurant – Sambal Hijau.
This is a little out of town, but so worth the 20-minute ride.
A Nasi Campur restaurant (literally Mixed Rice), this is the ultimate Malay buffet.
The plates are the size of steering wheels. Grab one and ask the lady for rice, then get stuck in.
There must be 60 different dishes here to try. Pile on as much as you want.
Delicious Rendang, curries, grilled fish, fried chicken. Tofu, tempeh, eggs. A host of vegetable dishes from green beans to banana flower. A broad selection of different sambals and fresh herbs.
I can’t begin to explain how good the selection it.
Fill your plate and find a place to sit. A waitress will come and tally up your bill (before you destroy the evidence). The most ridiculously massive meal will likely cost around RM15-20 (£3-£4), however you could easily keep that to RM5 (£1) if you are able to show restraint…
Have a lie down.
Seriously. I know this is called “24 Hour, Full Power” but it’s 33 degrees and 80% humidity almost always here. If you’re on your feet the whole time, you will pass out.
A lie down by a pool or even a nap. You won’t regret it!
After this, you’ll be reinvigorated and ready to head to Batu Caves in the late afternoon. Just north of the city this is a Hindu temple in a cave, accessible via 272 steps painted in all the colours of the rainbow. An obvious insta-trap, however for good reason. Here you will also find a gang of monkeys, fleecing all unsuspecting visitors of their water/bubble tea/sunglasses. Great entertainment, provided you’re not on the receiving end.
Probably not yet, but head to Bangsar and warm up for dinner with a few mugs of cheap happy hour beer.
It’s important to warm up as unfortunately traditional food and alcohol in KL don’t generally go hand in hand. However, I’m willing to wage that after lunch you won’t be in too much of a hurry to get to dinner…
It’s a shame that beer isn’t served with food here as dinner is the ultimate beer food – curry.
Banana Leaf Rice comes from the Indian Malaysian community but is loved by all Malaysians, irrespective of culture.
Bala’s in Bangsar is one of the best in town.
Order and you’ll be given a large banana leaf as a plate. This then gets piled high with rice, 4 different vegetarian dishes, poppadoms, salted chillies and topped with curry sauces of your choice (usually chicken, mutton, fish and/or dhal).
You can also order meat curries which are shared in the middle of the table. I recommend mutton varuval, chicken chettinad and fried sotong (squid).
Tuck in using your hands.
I swear this adds 10% additional flavour, though it might just be the residual feeling of childhood rebellion.
Spend 5 minutes scrubbing the curry from your hand…
You’re now ready for a drink.
Fortunately for you, the speakeasy scene in KL is excellent.
I have a theory that this is because it’s actually illegal for Muslims to drink in Malaysia, so hidden bars offer an inconspicuous watering-hole away from prying eyes.
Though this may only be partially right (or completely wrong), its undeniable that there are some great cocktails here.
Though far from a speakeasy, start with a quick drink at the Wet Deck . On the 12th floor of the W Hotel, this is directly next to the Petronas towers and offers unbeatable views of KL’s most recognisable landmark.
Then head to Pahit. Hidden down a quite side-street this bar is dedicated to all things Gin. I’m guessing they have close to 100 gins and a great selection of cocktails. The barman Wei is also a legend.
Next stop PS150. This is a proper speakeasy, hidden inside a faux toy-shop in what apparently used to be a brothel. For many people this is the best bar in KL, I won’t argue. It’s painfully cool, however backs it up with a really bloody tasty cocktail list and a great repertoire of off-menu classics.
PS150 would be a great place to see out any day.
However, time as come to make a decision… we’re going out-out (this is 24 hours after all).
Just around the corner from PS150 is Rentak. A new bar dedicated to good drink and great music, playing anything from soul classics, Japanese city pop, Nigerian disco or even Malaysia’s own excellent Soul/Disco/Funk from the 70s and 80s.
The crowd is usually pretty cools, however it’s decidedly high brown… you may want to kick it up a notch.
Though I’m often fairly ashamed to admit it - Changkat in Bukit Bintang is an option.
Never a good sober idea. Rarely a good drunk idea.
It's decidedly low brow... yet I keep coming back.
A road of identikit bars promoting happy hours and towers of tiger beer. It’s crowning glory is Havanas, situated at the top of the road. Here you will find one of the best/worst parties that wouldn’t be out of place in any university town in the UK. It’s fair to say I have a love/hate relationship with this place.
However, it does have one redeeming feature. It's just around the corner is Jalan Alor – KL’s late-night street-food market.
Roll out of the bars at 2-3am and you can head for some late-night dim sum, noodles or even better the excellent chicken wings from Wong Ah Wah.
Tired. Full. Tipsy.
Stagger into your hotel room, remove your food stained clothes and collapse to bed.
Knowing you’ve taken all that KL has to offer.
24 hour, full power.