Tag Archives: teh tarik

Eating in Kuala Lumpur: Murtabak & Teh Tarik


I didn’t know what to expect from Kuala Lumpur. Multiple friends described the city as unwelcoming, difficult to navigate, and unremarkable. More than a few people looked perplexed when I told them I would be visiting KL.  Luckily for me, the skeptics were wrong.  While KL is not the most picturesque city, and does not have many conventional tourist destinations, it has a rich blend of cultures that is perhaps best experienced through its vibrant cuisine.

Malaysian food reflects its diverse cultural heritage: it has the sweet-sour flavors of the Malay, paired with the wok-frying techniques of the Chinese and intoxicating spices of India, all of which combine to create a truly distinct cuisine.  And despite mounting ethnic and religious tensions, there is one unifying characteristic that transcends these differences: Malaysians love to eat.  No matter what time of day, every restaurant, street stall, night market, and kopitiam is full of customers, happily devouring the house specialty.

One specialty that I still dream about is murtabak — a less well-known cousin of Malaysia’s more famous breakfast dish, roti canai.  Murtabak is a paper thin wisp of a pancake, fried until crispy and light.  But unlike roti canai, which is dipped in curry, murtabak envelops a spicy-cumin filling of ground mutton or chicken, eggs, and onions.  It’s served with a rich coconut gravy and red onions pickled in rosewater, which provide much-needed relief from the murtabak filling, whose heat grew more intense with each bite.  It was my first meal in KL, and perhaps one of my best meals there, perfectly encapsulating the many cultures and flavors that define Malaysia and its cuisine.


Another ubiquitous Malaysian specialty is teh tarik, or pulled tea.  Sweet condensed milk and black tea are pulled back and forth between two glasses, creating a pleasantly frothy concoction reminiscent of chai, minus the spices.  It’s available hot or iced at pretty much any restaurant or street stall, and every version tastes different.  Though I did not witness the acrobatic display that is mamaks (a.k.a. tea masters!) pulling teh tarik, it is a hallmark of daily life in KL — so much so, that it inspired a hipster local clothing line.

Excellent murtabak and teh tarik can be found at Restoran Fathima (10, Jalan Bangsar Utama 1, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur 59200), located on a quiet corner in the expat friendly Bangsar neighborhood.  The restaurant is no-frills and unassuming, which in my experience, signals a good meal is in store.

KL is not for the faint of heart, or for travelers expecting guided tours.  But those who are willing to venture off the beaten path and explore Malaysia’s diverse culture and cuisine — preferably with an open mind and empty stomach — are in for many rewarding experiences and epic meals.

Memorable Malaysian at Sabah Restaurant

I’m somewhat of a novice when it comes to Malaysian cuisine. As a result, I was thrilled to find out that Hong Kong has several Malaysian restaurants, with authentic dishes catering to homesick Southeast Asians. I’ve quickly come to love laksa, kaya toast, and hainan chicken while exploring this diverse cuisine.

Perhaps the best Malaysian meal I’ve had in Hong Kong was at Sabah Restaurant in Wan Chai. Coincidentally, Sabah happened to be the first Malaysian restaurant I visited and offered a memorable introduction to some classic Malaysian dishes. With a long queue outside, I knew it had to be good.

With the weather being so hot outside, I ordered an iced pulled tea ($30 HKD) to cool off.  Pulled tea is very similar to Hong Kong-style milk tea, but differs in how it is made.  After the tea is brewed, the tea maker  pours it back and forth, which mixes and adds frothiness to the tea.  You can see pulled tea being made in this video.  Sabah’s version was light and not too sweet–very refreshing on a hot and humid day.

For our entrees, my friends and I started with the nasi goreng. Considered the national dish of Indonesia and very popular in all of Southeast Asia, nasi goreng is basically a spiced fried rice, served with a perfectly fried egg on top. I thought the dish was tasty, but not outstanding. It reminded me of an upscale version of Panda Express fried rice, if that offers any insight.

Next, we ordered the stir fried morning glory.  Normally I don’t gush over greens, but Sabah’s was excellent.  Lightly coated in fish sauce and shrimp paste, and sprinkled with dried shrimp on top, the morning glory were crisp and not at all greasy.  Each bite was packed with flavor.

The star of the meal, however, was the beef rendang.  Tender, lean chunks of beef are slowly stewed in coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger, and tons of other spices, to create a rich sauce that is even more heavenly when scooped up with some roti bread.  Though it’s not the most visually pleasing dish, a simple presentation belies complex flavors.

For an authentic and delicious taste of Malaysia, follow the queues and check out Sabah Restaurant.

Sabah Restaurant

G/F., Shop 4-5., 98-102 Jaffe Road, Wan Chai

852 2143 6626