Where to get the best of Kuala Lumpur away from the tourist trail
From home-grown farms to private dining experiences and local hang-outs, these are the best places to visit to see the more offbeat side of the Malaysian capital.
- August 2019
This city may be famed for sights such as the Petronas Towers and Batu Caves but get off the tourist trail — wide-open spaces, an evolving culinary scene and cultural gems are waiting to be discovered.
There’s so much more to KL’s food scene than its world-famous hawker fare. Get a taste of the myriad flavours the city has to offer.
The modern Malaysian restaurant
Long-lost ancestral recipes — some of which date back over two centuries – are given a new lease of life at fine-dining restaurant OpenHouse opens in new window.
These include the Pais Barramundi, which is slathered with a turmeric-based rempah (spice paste) and wrapped in daun lerek (a hard leaf indigenous to Malaysian rainforests); and the Venison Rendang Minang, which is slow-cooked in a mix of local herbs and spices.
A 40-minute drive from KL, A Little Farm on the Hill opens in new window is a six-acre plot in the Janda Baik forest in Pahang. Here, husband-and-wife team Pete Teo and Lisa Ngan grow an array of organic herbs, fruits and vegetables; they also smoke meats, make jams and tend to their own fishes.
The supper club
Dapur Mekwa Grub Club opens in new window is a supper club held in a private home in Taman Melati. Here, you’ll be seated alongside fellow guests at a communal table, while your host regales you with intriguing stories about the food being served.
Tuck into dishes such as Ayam Percik Bonda (roasted chicken with coconut and spices) and decadent treats like Lompat Tikam With Gula Melaka (pandan rice flour cake drizzled with palm sugar).
Do like the locals do and shop at Imbi Market. At this popular indoor wet market set within the ICC Pudu Building, you’ll find row upon row of stalls selling fresh produce, from fish and poultry to vegetables and condiments.
There’s also a food court on the ground floor. Locals flock to Ah Weng Koh Hainan Tea & Coffee for their morning fix of kopi and kaya toast. For a hearty lunch, try the char kway teow and wanton mee stalls.
Address: ICC Pudu, Jalan Kijang, Pudu
The hard-to-get-into restaurant
Soon Heng Social Club opens in new window is open only on Friday and Saturday nights. No walk-ins are allowed — the only way to snare a seat is through a DM to their Instagram page. And if that isn’t enough to pique your interest, the location of the restaurant is revealed only when your reservation is confirmed. Oh, and there’s a three-month waiting list.
For art and culture
From ancient traditions to contemporary art, indigenous villages to modern theatres, KL is a veritable cultural hub.
The cultural village
An hour’s drive from central KL lies Mah Meri Cultural Village opens in new window, which is home to one of 18 indigenous tribes in the country. The Mah Meri are sometimes called the “Masked Men of Malaysia”, thanks to the colourful disguises they don during their elaborate dance rituals.
They’re also renowned for their woodcarving skills, and their works can be admired at the village museum. Call in advance to book an English-speaking tour guide, or to arrange to see demonstrations of traditional rituals.
Set in the former family home of architect and avid art collector Mohamad Pital Maarof, independent gallery Rumah Lukis foregrounds the process of making art — not so much the end product.
Here, you’ll find rudimentary sketches and playful doodles displayed alongside completed masterpieces, highlighting the growth of the artist in question. Local creatives who have exhibited here include renowned painter Jalaini Abu Hassan and urban sketch artist Paul Nickson Atia.
Address: 11 Jalan AU5D/4, Lembah Keramat, Selangor
The arts hub
Once home to a Chinese clan association and frozen foods specialist, The Zhongshan Building opens in new window is now a creative hub with a markedly different set of tenants. Customise colourful risograph posters and name cards at A Good Reason; browse and buy original vinyl at Tandang Record Store; soak up live music at Fono; and discover the history of rock ‘n’ roll in Southeast Asia at The Ricecooker Archives, to name a few.
Catch a performance at the Istana Budaya opens in new window, which has staged some of the most famous productions in the world including Swan Lake and The Phantom of the Opera. The building itself is a sight to behold, with a series of soaring pitched roofs inspired by Malay architecture. Inside, its 1,412-seater auditorium is as modern as they come, with high-tech stage lighting and a top-notch sound system.