One day in Kuala Lumpur will never be enough time to eat your way through this fantastic food-loving city, but unfortunately that’s all that most travellers on a stopover allocate to the Malaysian capital, on their way to somewhere else.
One day in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, is all most travellers allocate to a city best known for its shopping and that was all we scheduled on our first trip there, almost twenty years ago, that was primarily taking us to Malacca and Penang.
These days we know better than to limit our stay to one day in Kuala Lumpur and plan for at least a few days to slurp our way through this fantastic eating city, famous for its street food as much as its shopping malls.
Eat streets, food courts, culinary tours, a flourishing third wave coffee scene, and cosmopolitan restaurants and bars prove that there’s so much more to KL than the Petronas Towers, as stunning as they are, and shiny shopping centres.
Follow our flavour-packed one day in Kuala Lumpur itinerary and experience the KL the way we love to experience it, and you’ll be guarantee a deliciously satisfying stay – especially if you’re a food lover.
One Day in Kuala Lumpur Itinerary for Foodies – Where to Eat, Snack, Spa, Drink, and Dine
Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur
Check into Kuala Lumpur’s only heritage hotel, The Majestic, ideally located for exploring old Kuala Lumpur, centred around Merdeka Square, the Selangor Club and Sultan Abdul Samad Building. The Majestic was built in 1932 and favoured by colonial elites for weddings and parties. While the Sunday curry tiffin lunches and tea dances stopped long ago, the hotel still oozes history. The 253 rooms in the Tower extension are modern, so book an historic Straits Room in the original Majestic Wing, which has timber floors, Art Deco furnishings, and bathrooms with black and white floor tiles and claw-foot bathtubs.
Alternatively, Villa Samadhi, with its salvaged timber, thatched grass and earthy tones, is the perfect antidote for travellers with an aversion to the shiny soaring skyscrapers that are most Kuala Lumpur hotels. Hidden behind high walls and concealed by towering bamboo, this boutique urban resort in the affluent embassy district is only ten minutes from eat street, Bukit Bintang. The pick of the 21 individually decorated rooms that curve around a lagoon pool is The Loft with an attic bedroom and courtyard plunge pool boasting Petronas Towers views.
Breakfast in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur’s best breakfast is the messy-looking but incredibly delicious roti banjir – roti canai topped with curry, dhal, sambal and two soft gooey eggs – and it’s best tucked into at Brickfields at Mansion Tea Stall on Lorong Bunus Satu, off Jalan Masjid India. Brickfields is Kuala Lumpur’s Little India, home to Hindu temples and shrines, churches and mosques, and the city’s oldest ashram. After breakfast, work up an appetite on a stroll around Brickfield’s streets, dotted with Bollywood music stores, blind massage centres, yoga studios, sari shops, and ‘banana leaf rice’ restaurants, where Indian thalis are served on banana leaves and eaten with your fingers. The area was home to the handsome, almost century-old Hundred Quarters, a row of charming 1920s heritage buildings on Jalan Chan Ah Tong, which were long slated for demolition and finally gutted.
Coffee in Kuala Lumpur
Hop in a cab and make a beeline for hip Bangsar Village. Kuala Lumpur’s third wave coffee movement has exploded and the epicentre is here at APW, the former Art Printing Works at 29 Jalan Riong. Popular with locals and expats alike, Singaporean coffee specialist Papa Palheta’s cafe Pulp has a coffee bar repurposed from a paper-cutting machine where staff make cold press coffees, and serves a quintessentially Australian avocado on toast, above. Opposite, white-tiled Breakfast Thieves, opened by three young Malaysians, is a sister to Melbourne’s Fitzroy café of the same name, offering more Aussie-style breakfasts with Asian touches, such as eggs Benedict with braised beef cheeks and yuzu hollandaise. Try the Magic, a double ristretto with steamed milk.
Expect to queue at both cafes, or put your name on a list and go explore. APW is a wonderful, creative, collaborative community space and also houses AA+ (formerly called Agak Agak), a hospitality/F&B industry training facility with a focus on sustainability and social enterprises; retro barbershop 52 Barbers for bespoke haircuts and beard trims; and was also the site of the sadly now-closed Jungalow-style bar Case Study, which concocted some of KL’s most creative botanical-based cocktails, including The Terrarium in a glass bowl.
Snacking in Kuala Lumpur
A one day in Kuala Lumpur itinerary for foodies would be remiss if it didn’t include Malaysian street food. The best thing you can possibly do is sign up for a four-hour Kuala Lumpur Street Food Tour with local culinary guide Pauline Lee of Simply Enak, KL’s first street food tours. Pauline will ensure you learn the secrets to making char siew pao (pork steam buns) from the last handmade pao maker in Kuala Lumpur and taste the best renditions of local specialties such as laksa, char kuew teow (stir fried rice noodles), Indian roti, and teh tarik (pulled tea). Lee also hosts a Flavours of Malaysia tour where you get to sample authentic murtabak, pan mee, satay, and roti canai, as you discover the country’s diverse cuisines in off-the-beaten-track neighbourhoods such as Chow Kit.
Lunch in Kuala Lumpur
You probably won’t need lunch after your street food tour with Pauline, however, this wouldn’t be a complete one day in Kuala Lumpur itinerary for food lovers if I failed to mention the upscale hawker centre Lot 10 Hutong (Lower Ground, 50 Jalan Sultan Ismail), home to outposts of beloved generations-old food stalls and pushcarts. Start with the slippery wanton noodles and sticky char siew at Ho Weng Kee, established way back in 1945, whose founder started Petaling Street’s first food stall in 1930, then sample the bouncy pork ball soup made from Mr Lee Yuen Song’s original recipe from Imbi Road Original Pork Noodles, dating to 1969. Don’t leave without buying the quintessential KL edible souvenir that is a bottle of Malaysia’s finest sesame seed oil from 150-year old Ghee Hiang.
Afternoon in Kuala Lumpur
Because you can’t eat all day…
Learn a Craft
If, like us, you’re also a lover of experiential travel and prefer to learn something rather than traipse around shopping malls or lie by a hotel swimming pool, then pop up to Free Art Space at Japanese department store Isetan in the refurbished Lot 10 Mall. They offer workshops on everything from mini wagasi and mochi-making to ikebana and calligraphy, along with rotating exhibitions of art. Inspired to take in some art?
Head over to the superb non-profit Galeri Petronas in the sleek Suria KLCC shopping mall at the base of KL’s shimmering twin Petronas Towers to take in outstanding Malaysian art by local and foreign artists in one of their rotating art exhibitions. More great art spaces in KL include the National Art Gallery (2 Jalan Temerloh, Titiwangsa), which is brilliant, but a bit of a trek (take a cab); the Wei-Ling Gallery on 8 Jalan Scott, back in Brickfields, which is one of KL’s best contemporary art galleries; and MAP @ Publika Level (Block A5, Dutamas, 1 Jalan Dutamas), which is another excellent art space, but tricky to find so, again, take a taxi.
Indulge at a Spa
Alternatively, spend an hour or two of your afternoon luxuriating at a spa. There’s no better way to reward your tired body after a sweaty day out eating and exploring in a Southeast Asian city than with a steam, massage, soak or wrap – or all of the above. Spas are dotted all over KL and come in many different forms, from bungalows in fashionable Bangsar to hilltop retreats in the jungle just outside the city.
The Spa Village at the Ritz Carlton Hotel has a beautiful blue swimming pool surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and elegant treatment rooms with garden courtyards. For the ultimate pampering, try the Chinese Peranakan Package, which includes a milk nectar meditation, pearl and rice facial, traditional egg face treatment, mulberry leaf eye clarity treatment, and a rattan tapping Qi-Gong and oil massage.
At The Spa at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, you can book a customised experience – let the therapist know your needs and how much time you have and she’ll recommend a bespoke package of treatments – or try one of the signature experiences, such as the 140-minute Tropical Rainforest Package, which begins with a foot spa followed by tropical body treatments that embody traditional healing and beauty rituals from Malaysia. The Asli massage, for instance, is inspired by the aborigines of Borneo and uses aromatic oils infused with Malaysian herbs and spices.
An hour too long for you? Then try the 80-minute Red Eye, which is ideal for travellers weary from long distance travel and tight stopovers (!), or the Digital Wellness Escape, which concentrates on the head, eyes, neck, shoulders, hands, and feet, is a restorative treatment aimed at those who spend far too much time on their digital devices.
Early Evening Snack in Kuala Lumpur
Relaxed and rejuvenated, make a beeline for the eat street of Jalan Alor, which if you weren’t so chilled after your spa treatment, might be a tad overwhelming. Lined with food hall-style eateries and hawker stalls, Jalan Alor is undeniably touristy, but nevertheless remains popular with Malaysians. Malay, Chinese, and Thai cuisine feature heavily along the strip, with everything from satay to char siew style barbecued meats. Our favourite spot is the soup and noodle stand on the corner beside the malodorous durian stands called Alor Corner Curry Noodle / Jalan Alor Curry Mee, ran by the same woman for over 30 years, helped out by her daughters each day. Here we order the best curry mee in Kuala Lumpur that we’ve ever tasted: aromatic, intense, and rich in spices. She also does a deliciously minty, tangy Asam Laksa, and they’re just RMB 6 each!
Drinks in Kuala Lumpur
For Kuala Lumpur’s best cocktails, hightail it to Troika Sky Dining (Level 24, Tower B, The Troika, 19 Persiaran KLCC). Here you’ll be mingling with well heeled Malaysians and expats as you toast to a successful one day in Kuala Lumpur with creative cocktails crafted from premium spirits at the dramatic Coppersmith bar.
Dinner in Kuala Lumpur
If you feel you’ve consumed enough Malaysian food for one stay, end your one day in Kuala Lumpur by getting a taste of the city’s cosmopolitan dining scene. After cocktails at Coppersmith, head outside to the breezy terrace of Fuego for breathtaking views of Petronas Towers, a buzzy vibe, and creative Latin American tapas, including several different Mexican guacamoles made table-side including a zingy guac with anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes and preserved lemons.
Alternatively, jump in a cab and head back to Bangsar to Mercat Barcelona Gastrobar (51G Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar), where the pared-back mess hall-like interior with hawker-style plastic sauce bottles and napkin holders on bare tables belies the beautiful Catalan cuisine that comes out of owner-chef David Caral’s sparkling kitchen. Don’t miss the boquerones en vinagre (anchovies in white wine vinegar) served with roasted red capsicum and almond cream and name your gin from a carefully-curated selection on a mobile cart and snack on Iberico ham croquetas while you wait for mains.
If you can’t begin to even contemplate the idea of eating anything but Malaysian in Malaysia, then just in a cab and make a beeline to Bijan (3 Jalan Ceylon). Malaysians will tell you that the best Malay cooking is in the home, which is why many locals like to eat other cuisines when they go out to dinner, not to mention that there’s a dearth of Malaysian fine dining restaurants where you can order a good bottle of wine to wash down your food. But if you can’t score an invitation to a local’s home, Bijan (which is Malaysian for ‘sesame’) is the next best thing. Dishes are based on family recipes passed down from generation to generation, some cooked the way they’ve always been, other’s given a modern twist. Order Malaysian classics such as beef rendang (a rich, aromatic, spicy, dry beef stew) and ayam percik (super tasty barbecued chicken). Don’t leave without devouring the creamy durian cheesecake.
Book Kuala Lumpur Tours and Activities
Are you a foodie who has visited or lived in KL? What’s your idea of a delicious one day in Kuala Lumpur itinerary? What have we missed?