where to eat in Alor Setar

Where to eat in Alor Setar

Zakaria's laksa teluk kechai is a popular variety of laksa from the northern Malaysian state

Zakaria’s laksa teluk kechai is a popular variety of laksa from the northern Malaysian state

Laicikang, a delicious cold sweet treat just like the Philippine's halo-halo

Laicikang, a delicious cold sweet treat just like the Philippine’s halo-halo

Zakaria Laksa. I’ve tasted laksa in Sentosa (Singapore) and really, the creaminess and spiciness is something that can be memorable. But that heavily curried dish was just one of the many varieties. In Alor Setar, there’s one that many attest, to be one of the best laksas in Malaysia.

Laksa is a soupy noodle dish that is found in Malaysia and Singapore. In Alor Setar, there’s a unique variety that was started by Don Laksa and carried on by his in-law, Zakaria, laksa teluk kechai which is named after the place.

Home made rice noodles with a thick gravy made from sardines, onions, lemon grass and other local ingredients. A coconut sambal is also added that makes this dish truly special. It’s really different from the curry based laksa that I’ve tried in Sentosa and in other eateries in Singapore.

Other than this, I also had pulut sambal, stikcy rice mixed with spicy fish floss and wrapped in banana leaves and laicikang, a sweet and cold dessert with lychees, barley, gelatin, shaved ice and sugar syrup. This is akin to our very own halo-halo.

Tandoori chicken at an Indian restaurant

Tandoori chicken at an Indian restaurant

Naan with various dips, tandoori chicken and a glass of soda

Naan with various dips, tandoori chicken and a glass of soda

Tandoori Salam is a popular Indian restaurant in Alor Setar. What attracted me to this place was their tandoori chicken that, until that time, haven’t tasted it yet.

Food cooked inside the tandoor, a kind of Indian cylindrical oven is considered to be healthy as less oil is used. The marinade used to prepare the chicken consists of yogurt and spices and, the spiciness depends on the locality. Turmeric is also used to give the chicken that reddish color.

The complete dish consisted of the tandoori chicken with a siding of calamansi and chopped onions with coconut milk. In another plate is a buttered naan with three dips/sauces: mint, honey and curry. At first, I didn’t know how to eat it but observing locals, eating with their hands, I followed suit.

The tandoori chicken was just so good and flavorful but what surprised me were the different naan dips. The mint was cool but very new to my tastebuds. Of the three, I really liked the curry dip, which was familiar. For a hot and humid evening, a can of soda completed the meal.

Nasi kandar salam with its mint sauce, a piece of fried chicken and rice fried with tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar and chili

Nasi kandar salam with its mint sauce, a piece of fried chicken and rice fried with tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar and chili

The frothy teh tarik

The frothy teh tarik (pulled tea)

Eateries near the bus terminal. I just arrived at the Shahab Perdana Bus Terminal in Alor Setar and was famished from the trip. A few meters across the road are a series of stall selling food, mostly Malay.

Now, I always liked nasi goreng. Having tasted it in my first visit to Malaysia a decade ago. With the many options and versions available, I chose nasi kandar salam.

Nasi kandar salam originated in Penang and is a popular rice dish in northern Malaysian states. Here, the rice is fried with tomato sauce, tomatoes, chili, shrimps and sugar.

A piece of fried chicken was served, a mint sauce and a small bowl of soup. I just love the explosion of flavors once eaten!

A cold aloe based drink

A cold aloe based drink

After eating the nasi kandar salam with teh tarik, I wanted something cold as the afternoon was quite humid. Then I saw these school girls sipping on something and got curious. I asked the diner attendant what it is and he told me that it’s a cold drink made with aloe. I got one and drank the semi sweet liquid with jelly like (aloe) bits in a sea of ice.

A stall that is setup at night time, at the side of The Leverage Hotel in Mergong

A stall that is setup at night time, at the side of The Leverage Hotel in Mergong

During night time, small food stalls are setup around Alor Setar. Just beside The Leverage Business Hotel in Mergong, where I stayed, a wide open space near the main road canal, several of these were put up. There are a variety of food being offered: Malay, Chinese, Western (mostly burgers and hotdogs), Indian (roti johns) and Thai.

What I like about these stalls? Other than the cheap food, its the colorful lights and little decors make these interesting as they jazz up their food karts. People usually eat infront of these stalls where a table and several chairs are arranged.

Because of language issues, don't really know what this noodle dish is. It has different types of noodles, a somewhat sticky sauce and some meat and vegetables

Because of language issues, don’t really know what this noodle dish is. It has different types of noodles, a somewhat sticky sauce and some meat and vegetables

Iced coffee for a hot and humid evening

Iced coffee for a hot and humid evening

Chinese restaurants. I was hungry and tired after covering the 9 Emperor Gods procession, and have walked for around two hours within the main streets of Alor Setar.

While I passed by several small Indian and Malay stalls along the road, I opted to dine at Chinese restaurant where many people were eating. There was no signage but it was within the main highway.

Because I was too tired from all the walking, I just motioned to the cook to have the same thing as what he is cooking. Communication was a problem and I wasn’t able to get the name of the dish.

The hot steaming plate arrived. It has different types of noodles with green vegetables, a few pork and shrimps and then swimming in a sticky sauce. I paired this one with iced coffee.

Wrapped sticky rice cakes at the Pekan Rabu market

Wrapped sticky rice cakes at the Pekan Rabu market

Desicated coconut treat in edible packets

Desicated coconut treat in edible packets

Pekan Rabu, one of the oldest and popular markets in Alor Setar, especially for native products, ingredients and goods, is also a good place to eat traditional Malay food and delicacies.

There are stalls selling packed dried fish, sweets and crackers. Outside, there are stalls selling meals as well as interesting rice cakes. One thing that got my curiosity is a plastic case containing pink desiccated coconuts in a thin edible pouch. Bought it and, well, its a little sweet but too dry.

These are just a few of the many restaurants and eateries that can be found in Alor Setar. There are Chinese, mamak, and Thai cuisines on offer too. Just ask your taxi driver/guide where to best eat for a particular dish.

This trip made possible by Tourism Malaysia and AirAsia Zest.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

2 Comments

  1. Alexis Ng
    September 29, 2015 @ 0:01

    Hi there! Came across your blog while I was googling for interesting places to eat in Alor Setar.

    The noodle dish that you mentioned in your blog it’s called ‘Char Hor Fun’ in Hokkien, or rather in Penang. It literally means stir fry flat rice noodles with a mix of vermicelli.You can have this dish with or without egg.

    As for the wrapped sticky rice cakes, we call it ‘ketupat’ in Bahasa Malaysia.

  2. estan
    October 1, 2015 @ 20:10

    Thanx Alexis for the info! Will be back in Kuala Lumpur two weeks from now and looking forward to the delicious food 🙂

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