KL's food trends of 2017

From nasi lemak everything to cocktails, the Time Out KL team reviewed the past year’s food trends in the city to see which ones took off, and which ones failed to launch
By Time Out KL editors |

If there's one thing you're bound to remember from 2017, it's the bastardisation of our national dish. Some fully embraced the trend, putting a nasi lemak twist to every dish they could think of; some stuck to their purist guns, declaring war against anything other than the real deal. But KLites did more than transform nasi lemak this year; there's the booming poké bowl trend which sees no end in sight so far, the failed attempt to introduce kombucha to our diet, dozens of Korean fried chicken joints mushrooming across the city, and more. Read on to see KL's other hit-and-miss food trends in 2017.

Photo: Daniel Chan

HIT: Kakigōri

The shaved ice dessert was bound to be a success: what better way is there to beat the KL heat than with freezing cold sweet treats? Besides, anything Japanese-related will undoubtedly find fans in this city (we’re looking at you, Japanophiles). Digging a spoon into mountains of ice, layered with syrups and purées, topped with unique additions the likes of rose espuma, Kyoto matcha, ginger syrup, Japanese pumpkin and more is – to put it simply – a delight. You can get your kakigōri fix at Kakigōri and Mykōri.

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myBurgerLab nasi lemak ayam rendang burger

HIT & MISS: Nasi lemak everything

Let us count the ways we have shown our love for nasi lemak in 2017: as gelato; as a burger; as a limited edition KitKat flavour; as a flavoured condom; as a smoothie; as a cake; as a Miss Universe costume. While we did love some of them – MyBurger Lab’s Nasi Lemak Burger clearly knocked the socks off Singapore’s version – we may have gone a bit overboard on a couple of occasions: the cake was unnecessary, and the gelato is a novelty more than anything else (granted, we’ve yet to try the flavoured condom). We wonder what will be next – nasi kandar, perhaps?

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Generic kombucha

MISS: Kombucha

Kombucha – fermented black or green tea – might have taken Hollywood by storm because of its ‘healing qualities’, but it didn’t have the same impact in KL. True, many cafés – like Commoners Space and Real Food – have started to sell kombucha and even some cocktail bars like PS150 have tried mixing it into their drinks, but most KLites who aren’t into yoga and health trends are likely to think it’s the ancient name for Cambodia. Why didn’t it take? Maybe it’s because we already have our fair share of drinks with ‘medicinal properties’ like tongkat Ali and teh kacip Fatimah.

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The Fish Bowl poke bowl

HIT: Poké bowls

It’s easy to see why the poké bowl trend boomed – it’s wholesome, grease-free, fresh, tasty and filling. What’s essentially a Japanese chirashi don that has been Hawaiian-ised with loads of raw vegetables, spices, mayo and pineapples, poké bowls pack in a lot for a price tag of under RM20. Early proponents like Paperfish, The Fish Bowl and Fin kicked off the fishy trend, and a number of outlets have started offering their own take that includes beef or chicken – at which point you have to wonder where the line is drawn between a nasi campur and a poké bowl.

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Kind Kones

HIT: Vegetarian

There was a time when most KLites couldn’t imagine a life without their favourite fried chicken, mutton curry or pork noodles. That time seems to have passed. Over the past couple of years, the city has seen a number of vegetarian-friendly or vegan restaurants opening such as Goodness Greens, Kind Kones and Simple Life which offer worthy (read: tasty) alternatives to our staple foods. Craving dairy-free ice cream? Kind Kones has over 20 flavours of vegan ice cream. Even purists who stand firmly on the opinion that good nasi lemak should always come with ikan bilis will be satisfied with Sala’s vegan version. Really.

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Botak Liquor
Photo: Bryan Ong

HIT: Cocktails

When bars like The Locker and Loft, Omakase+Appreciate, PS150 and Coley opened up a couple of years ago, little did they know that they were laying the foundations for a fast-maturing cocktail scene in the city. These days, it’s not enough that bartenders know how to make a perfect Old Fashioned or Negroni – they’re starting to create signature cocktails using local ingredients like bunga telang, limau purut, pandan and hibiscus flowers. And there are now more specialist bars in KL than ever with Pahit putting all their focus on gin, and JungleBird on rum. Then you have more recent additions like Botak Liquor, that really pushes the envelope on concept cocktail bars with their farm-to-glass approach and botanical-based cocktails. Expect bigger things from the bar scene next year.

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Chicken Up
Photo: Bryan Ong

HIT: Korean fried chicken

Just when you think our love for fried chicken couldn’t get any more intense, here comes Korean fried chicken – extra crispy pieces of chicken wings glazed with a choice of sweet, salty or spicy sauces made from Asian ingredients like soy sauce, sesame seeds and gojuchang (Korean chilli paste). The difference between this KFC and the Colonel’s is more than just the variety of sauces – the batter is made to create an eggshell-thin crust that crackles and crunches when you sink your teeth into it. Sure, it costs more than your regular fast-food joint, but it’s worth the splurge. Hit up Korean fried chicken specialists like KyoChon 1991, Chicken Up, 4Fingers and Nanda for your fix.

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