Ultimate South East Asia Street Food Guide: How to Order Food in a Malaysian Food Court.
I have always enjoyed street food and food courts, not only because that’s usually where you get the cheapest food (although this is probably my biggest reason) but also because it is a much different experience from being seated in a restaurant. The service is quick, the people tend to be more direct, the food is usually shown as pictures by the entrance so that you know exactly (hopefully) what it will look like on your plate. In Malaysia, I have yet to enter a formal restaurant. I have spent my days and nights feeding myself off the streets or in food courts and have enjoyed every single moment of it. However, since different countries do things in different ways, such was my experience in a Malaysian Food Court. On today’s post, I share with you a simple guide to ordering and appreciating food in a Malaysian Food Court and hope that this can help you when it’s your turn!
Enjoy the fan after walking in the burning sun or humid warm evening. Entering a covered space (a fan or an AC is just a bonus at this point) after walking in the Malaysian blazing sun will feel like deliverance. Same applies after sunset, where you might not be hit by the crazy UV but end up drenched by the intense hot humidity. Take a few seconds to relax, collect your thoughts and appreciate life again.
2. Look Around
Go around to see what they have. Once you have cooled down and think straight again, start scanning the room. Chances are you will be overwhelmed with what you see. Do not panic! Take your time and march around strategically thinking about your mental food filters: hot or cold, soupy or dry, rice or noodles, meat, fist or vegetarian, starters or main? Tread carefully and do not cave in. Remember that you are on holiday mode and you can always come back again and try something new the next day (or in 2 hours?). A tip would be to do some research and note the top 3-5 dishes you really want to try during your stay, no matter what.
3. Decision Time!
Once you have made your decision, approach the vendor (chances are they have approached you and are more than ready to take your order by now) and tell them what you want. The most common questions you will be asked, at this point are: “small or big?”, “eat here or take away?” and “spicy?”. Answer them. Something to remember: you do not have to pay yet! So do not worry about counting your RMs and making mental calculations.
4. Find a Seat
Again, it is all about thinking smart. You will want to find a seat that is close to a fan but, maybe, if you like to let your long hair down like me, not directly in front of a fan. I have had many mishaps of hair blowing in my face while I’m slurping noodle soup which is why I now permanently carry a hairband around my wrist (we learn everyday!). This step might be higher on the list depending on the food court you are at. Some food court tables have numbers. So, the food stall vendor will expect you to give them a table number. Either ways, they will most likely find you in the crowd and deliver your food with a smile. They have done this for many years now, they are experts.
5. Surprise Show
Not so much in Kuala Lumpur, but definitely in Penang, there are shows happening during the weekend (and sometimes even during week days!) in food courts. Performers usually include different singers but last night I saw two clowns, so you never know!
6. Order Drinks!
Someone will come see you to ask for what you will drink. Again, the drink choices might overwhelm you. The main things to think about are: hot or cold? Milky or fruity? Flat or fizzy? Some of my favourites include Malaysia’s famous Milo Ice or Watermelon Juice or Sweet Lemon Tea. Remember that you can still get another take away (in a plastic bag) on your way out of the food court. Again, just like the food, you do not pay for the drink when you order. Side note: If you don’t order a drink you might be asked to pay about RM0.50 to use the space for the food. I have seen notices in a few food courts about this but, personally, have never been asked to pay for it when I did not order a drink.
7. Dinner is served!
Food and drinks will arrive and that’s when you will have to pay. Servers will usually have a small amount change on them but try not to make it too hard either. They are serving hundred of drinks and dishes a day and deserve a smooth experience. Have your money prepared already, make it the exact amount or close enough. Say how much you are giving to them so they already know how much change to give back (although they will still count the notes and coins). Once payment has been finalized, it’s time to enjoy your meal!
8. No Picking Up
Once you are done savouring the best, or possibly second best, dish you’ve ever had in your life (yes, Malaysian food is THAT delicious!), do not worry about where to put your empty plate and used utensils. Someone will clean up after you. Once, I picked up my plate and spoon and brought it back to the food stall where the vendor reacted in an almost offended way: “No! You do not pick up, I pick up after!” he said. This made me realise that this was part of the service they offer, and they take that service seriously.
9. Take-way Treat
At this point you might be dreading to go back in the heat, but the food court has got you covered! Just ask for a drink take-away and they will present the delicious cold liquid in a plastic bag filled with ice and accompanied by a draw. They tie it up so you can easily carry it around as well! So simple, yet so efficient 😊 This is probably your best bet at cooling off during your walk back home.
10. The End
Go home feeling happy and already start planning the next meal you will have. Food Courts in Malaysia are usually open til late so you might even consider coming back later the same night?