Little Black Book

Kuala Lumpur. It's Like Eating in Ten Countries at Once

by Nicole Najafi
The The RuMa Hotel and Residences. Photo courtesy of The RuMa Hotel and Residences.

Get a taste of Kuala Lumpur — hot culinary destination, botanical gem, cultural melting pot, and chill (affordable) Malaysian capital.

KUALA LUMPUR - Inside the Southeast Asian tourism triangle of Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Singapore sits the secret foodie mecca of Kuala Lumpur. Often referred to as the affordable sister city to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur has quietly and quickly become one of the hottest up-and-coming culinary destinations in the world. Malaysian culture is one of diverse influences. Once a major maritime hub on the ancient spice route, the country is a convergence of Chinese, Indian, and indigenous Malay culture. Add touches of Thai, Javanese, and Sumatran influence, and you start to understand why Malaysian cuisine is so layered and complex. This cultural melting pot makes for a unique travel destination where it feels like you're visiting ten countries in one.

Local architecture. All photos by Nicole Najafi.
Perdana Botanical Garden.

Eat


My favorite restaurant in Kuala Lumpur easily sits with top meals I’ve had in culinary juggernauts like Tokyo and New York. Owner Andrew Wong's approach to the menu is to send every member of his kitchen staff home. Their task? Find the best recipes, ingredients, spices, and culinary traditions. The result: A showstopper of a restaurant in an east-meets-west dining room designed to the nines.


In the melting pot that is KL, you'll find a plethora of outstanding restaurants serving non-Malay cuisine. Lucky Tora is a modern Japanese spot making chirashi and lychee cocktails on par with hipster Tokyo's finest. Their mantra is "modern Japanese delights, cocktails, and good times," a perfect summation of the vibe. Fun fact: Charles Dance (a.k.a. Tywin Lannister) dined here just days before I did.


As far as hotel restaurants go, this one nails it. Vancouver-born executive chef Tyson Gee cooked for Prince William and Duchess Kate on their royal Canadian tour, and now does a perfect modern Malaysian menu for the RuMa Hotel. Wellness enthusiasts will also enjoy the breakfast bar with chia pudding, coconut flakes, flax seeds, walnuts, muesli, and every other fixing you could ever dream of for your morning breakfast bowl.


A former brothel-turned-Instagram haven. Situated on Petaling Street, the bustling Chinatown main drag that is turning into a major hipster food destination thanks to Chocha and sister establishments, Merchant's Lane and PS150. Enjoy iced oolong tea with refreshing jackfruit ulam salad and crunchy prawn fritters against the backdrop of degradé walls and mint green tiles. Your Instagram (and belly) will thank you.

Perdana Botanical Garden.
Open House.

Do

Batu Caves
Climb up the 272 candy-colored steps to this holy Hindu shrine, one of the most visited Tamil shrines in the world. Wild monkeys roam the 400-million-year-old limestone caves. If you're visiting in January or February, you'll have the pleasure of seeing the festival of Thaipusam, a pilgrimage for worshippers to honor the Hindu god Murugam. The Batu Caves are located just seven miles outside the city, so you can make a short day or half-day trip out of it. Two tips: Hold on tight to your bags, the monkeys will grab whatever you're carrying, and don't try to pet them. This is a place of religious worship, and you are required to cover your arms and legs. Dress smart, as it's also hot and humid, especially climbing the tall steps.


An expansive, lush public park. Check out the waterfalls, hibiscus garden (it’s Malaysia's national flower), rows of Dr. Seussian bonsai trees in the topiary collection, herb garden, and very scenic bamboo pavilion overlooking a river. The Botanical Garden also houses the KL Bird Park, a 20-acre aviary that is home to 3,000 wild birds, including peacocks, flamingos, and even owls, who will naturally be sleeping while you're there during daylight.


The tallest twin towers in the world and a local landmark. Take the elevator all the way up to the 86t-floor observation deck for unparalleled views of the city. For the best vantage point to see the towers themselves, head to SANTAI at the RuMA or SkyBar nearby. I recommend going in the evening when the towers light up the city.

Chocha Foodstore.
The RuMa Hotel and Residences.

Sleep


A five-star, ultra luxe hotel that somehow still feels like home — if your home were an architectural wonder complete with full staff anticipating your every want and need. The name of the hotel, RuMa, comes from the Malay word for home or "rumah." It informs the hotel's mantra of hostmanship — the notion of being hosted in someone's home rather than a guest in a hotel. A few favorite details include the sublime rooftop pool with views of the Petronas Twin Towers (it feels like you're swimming in the sky among the skyscrapers); an English barber shop straight out of Savile Row; and the ability to check-in and out at any time – no matter how late or early.

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