Prior to leaving Thailand, the country of Malaysia was a bit of a mystery to Jamie and I. We knew that the Perentian Islands (just off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia) were a big draw, but they also happened to be closed at the time we would be visiting due to the monsoon season. That left us with about zero knowledge of what to do or see in Malaysia, other than the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. We had heard that Georgetown on the island of Penang was known for its food scene, and after realizing that Georgetown was only an 8 hour trip from Ko Phi Phi, we swiftly booked our ferry and bus tickets without really knowing what we were getting in to.
A few general notes on peninsular Malaysia that I should address right off the bat. It’s not as well off as Singapore (few places are), but it’s expected to be recognized globally as a fully developed country before 2020. The roads are top notch, the bus system is fantastic, scams are more or less non-existent, and the economy is relatively diversified. Speaking of diversity, the culture in Malaysia is a mishmash of Chinese, Indian, British, Portuguese, African, etc. In other words, Malaysia is most definitely a multi-cultural society. As a result, the local cuisine is among the best I’ve ever had the privilege to sample, and on top of that, it’s dirt cheap.
The Indian Food
Imagine the best tandoori chicken you’ve ever had. Now, fly to Malaysia and get ready to bitch-slap that memory out of your head completely. Restoran Kapitan in Georgetown was the first tandoori that we tasted in Malaysia, and I immediately made a pact with myself to return within the next 10 years and eat it again. Essentially, it was a massive chunk of chicken served on an enormous piece of cheese naan, served with 4 different sauces for dipping. To make it even better, it cost about $4 Canadian. It was the best Indian food I’ve ever had, and it was also – by far – the cheapest.
In Kuala Lumpur, Jamie and I managed to scout out a street-food style restaurant without a name in Little India that also served Tandoori Chicken. It wasn’t as good as Restoran Kapitan in Georgetown, but it was still a massive portion and a hell of a lot better than anything I’d normally get anywhere other than Malaysia. At this restaurant, we also tried a chicken curry. It was quite a bit more soupy than anything we’d get back in Canada, but that wasn’t a bad thing. With a massive piece of garlic naan to dip in to the curry sauce, we cleaned the plate in about 5 minutes flat.
Normally I wouldn’t mention anything that Jamie and I ate while sitting in a shopping mall food court, but Malaysia’s a bit of a different beast like that. While visiting the Petronas Towers in KL, we zipped in to the mall at the base of the buildings to grab quick bite. Of course, we could have picked up a Big Mac at McDonald’s, or a steak and cheese from Subway, but we couldn’t ignore a little Indian restaurant with a bustling line that wound around the corner toward the bathrooms. Food was being handed out at a breakneck pace, and like the rest of Asia, the line turned in to a chaotic swarm in front of the cashier as everyone tried their best to budge ahead a couple spots. We finally managed to get a hold of our food which was a tandoori Naan set, with a side of chicken curry. In addition, we also tried Masala Tea, a combination of chocolate milk and standard tea that’s easily my new favourite drink. This all cost us no more than $3 each, and that was with returning for seconds.
Finally, I have to mention the Indian food that we came across while in Melaka. On our last night in the city (and Malaysia), we only had about $30 worth of Malaysian Ringit left in our wallets and absolutely did not want to return to the ATM and waste $5-$10 on transaction fees. On top of that, we were starving, and didn’t feel like waiting in a line behind 300 Chinese people at one of the three “famous” restaurants in the old town. So, we stumbled in to a dingy looking Indian restaurant near the river called Selvam. We ordered a 3 course set (rice, lamb masala, chicken masala, and three vegetarian sides), as well as masala tea, for about $3.50. Not only was it just as good as any other Indian food we’d had in Malaysia, it came out on a banana leaf. If that’s not the coolest way to eat Indian food, I don’t know what is.
The Chinese Food
Although the majority of what we ate while in Malaysia was Indian food, every bit of Chinese cuisine that we tasted was a hell of a lot better than anything we got our hands on in China. On our first day in Georgetown, I grabbed a bowl of Chinese style breakfast soup that put anything I’d ever had at 4am on Spadina to shame… although, I guess that’s not saying much. Regardless, it was awesome. If you see any breakfast soup offered up while strolling through Malaysia, eat it!
In Kuala Lumpur, it would be an understatement to say that Jamie and I managed to find a good Chinese restaurant. I’ve been known to exaggerate things, but I can promise you that I’m being 100% honest when I say that at Dan Nasam Ayam Kam Kee (a restaurant in the heart of KL’s Chinatown), I had the best Chinese food of my life. We ordered deep fried squid, Spare ribs in Guinness sauce (which isn’t authentic Chinese food, I guess, but who cares?), and lemon chicken. I could sit here and try to describe how good this food was all day, but the fact is that you need to eat here to believe it. If ever in KL, be sure to check out Dan Nasam Ayam Kam Kee. You won’t regret it.
The Malaysian Food
Generally, the food in Malaysia is more about all of the different cultures that make up the country (such as Indian and Chinese) than one singular identity such as Italian food, for example. However, there are a few dishes that are distinctly Malaysian and they were easily some of the tastiest that we came across.
As part of the free breakfast in our Georgetown hostel, we got a taste of Roti Canai, a mixture of Indian roti with a stupidly good gravy like sauce for dipping. I could eat it all day. We also managed to get our hands on this local dish at a street vendor near the hotel where Jamie’s parents were staying. If you’ve visited Malaysia and haven’t tried Roti Canai, you didn’t really visit Malaysia.
The one type of food that never seems to fail in Southeast Asia is soup. Vietnam has pho, Indonesia has Bakso, and Malaysia has Laksa. The Laksa is a mix of noodles, chicken, shrimp, egg, and a spicy broth that’s all usually served up for less than $2 (we managed to grab a bowl on the same day that we only had $30 to spend in Melaka). Easily one of my favourite dishes in Southeast Asia, you’d be crazy not to try some when visiting Malaysia.