Malaysia is a nation of contradictions. Vibrant character effervesces from its Chinese, Malay and indigenous Bumiputra communities — never more apparent than in its cuisine.
Whilst KL may be more famous for its bustling street food scene — described by The Independent as “more a way of life” — for those whose constitution isn’t equipped to handle heaping bowls of glossy, yellow (mee), noodles and perilous sauces, there is sanctuary. Here are six such oases, offering those with even the most cumbersome dietary requirements the chance of a good meal.
Pioneers of purity: Ashley’s champions the healthier future of Malaysian dining. Sprouted tapas and a list of raw, if not living, ingredients pack a nutrient-dense punch and even the richest Malaysian favourites are given a lighter touch. Heavyweight Hakka cuisine is transformed by crisp sautéed vegetables, tofu, and fragrant genmai green tea. And brown rice vermicelli steeped in spiced almond milk broth replaces traditional laksa on the menu. For those sensitive to gluten, there is plenty of choice. It’s the field-to-fork ethos behind Ashley’s menu that sets an example of how food ought to be holistically considered. Following the chain from seed, to sprout, to mouth.
The setting may lack the ambience of some of the standalone health food spots, perching two floors up in the middle of the Bukit Bintang shopping mall. But what it lacks in character it makes up for in a bold, conscious, and coeliac-friendly menu. The founder, one enigmatic Madam Tracy Ngo, has three organic recipe books to her credit and Simple Life lives and dies by its mantra of “No MSG, no whites (white flour, sugar), no trans-fats and no preservatives”. The Organic Lei Cha is an exemplary illustration of freshness and texture that’s perfectly balanced, and the claypot dishes bring that Malaysian flavour to life without the gloop.
No trip to KL would be complete without an Indian banquet. Especially since Indian cuisine is, by and large, gluten-free. And North Indian Ganga Cafe is fresher and less oil-heavy than one often finds; focusing on delicate balance over pungent flavour. Lavish thalis, crunchy, spiced, okra curry and aloo gobi should satisfy even the biggest of appetites. And so long as you take care to avoid the bread — or the temptation to order something crisp out of the frier — you can enjoy the expansive list of vegetarian/vegan options with no fear of repercussions. If “crisp” is what you seek, try any of the non-rava thosai. Money’s on the masala.
The Good Co creates natural wholefood dishes, deliciously free from preservatives and refined sugars. Most of the menu comes in pots or jars — a tad gimmicky but then how else could you see all those rainbow layers? All of the dishes are plant-based, organic, and locally sourced and there are more than a few options on the menu for those who can’t stomach gluten. Native Malaysian classics like the Nasi Lemak and Nyonya curries receive a healthful makeover, and smoothie bowls and cold-pressed juices keep the Western deli-goers content. The Good Co believes in “Honest Food” and mindful eating. Something we could all do to bear in mind.
You’ll have walked right past this place before you notice it. Set up above the bustle of the shops and cafes in the hip Bangsar district. You’ll be glad that you kept looking for it though. Serving delicate floral beverages and cakes that you’d never guess were “free from” (almost everything sinful); even if you only pop by for elevenses, you’ll leave happy. If you can stay, though, they have poke bowls, whole grain dishes a-plenty and a delicious cauliflower rice pilaf.
An overdependence on mock meat in Asian vegetarian cooking serves to uphold the out of date notion that no meatless dish can be complete without something that at least resembles beef or chicken. Here’s a myth that Chef Low is working to dispell; transforming the humble pumpkin and mushroom into a celebration of natures perfect provisions. Segway-ing dubious—and often gluten-filled—fake flesh altogether, dishes are flavourful, exquisitely textured and wholesome. Placing fresh organic produce front and centre. Probably the reason that this Kitchen is frequented by those in high places.