Pandemic Travel Update: Malaysia largely is closed to foreign nationals. If you are not in Kuala Lumpur already, be sure to check current government orders regarding who is and is not allowed to visit before planning your travels. If you are interested in a specific restaurant listed below, double check to make sure it is open for the dates of your visit, too.
In the 1970s, Kuala Lumpur sprawled in all directions along newly constructed freeways, but toward the southwest — in Subang Jaya — it grew dramatically as vast rubber plantations were redeveloped by Malaysian property company Sime Darby into a number of different subdivisions.
Some subdivisions were better designed than others, but travelgasm.com's favourite in the area is SS 15. Nowhere near the tourist trail at the time we first penned this piece, and often written either with or without a space — SS 15 or SS15 — this science-fiction worthy district name is an abbreviation for the 15th subdivision of the matter-of-fact Sungei Way-Subang.
Although SS 15 originally was car-dependent entirely, it was designed with a tight, orderly grid and shophouses with covered sidewalks in front. It could be better, but it is quite walkable for Kuala Lumpur. In 2016, SS 15 received its own LRT station (KJ29) and this addition made the area far more attractive as a place to visit or live.
SS 15 is famous in Kuala Lumpur for its schools, most notably INTI International University and ALFA International College, but there are dozens of secondary, English language, and cram schools in the neighbourhood, too. As you might expect given this concentration of students, SS 15 is a hip, young area and well known among locals for its budget friendly restaurants, bars, cafes, and coffee shops.
A Future Vision for SS 15
We like SS 15 not only for what it is but also for what it has the potential to be.
Rubbish collection is much better than it once was, but there still are merchants and residents who store parked cars, piles of inoperable motorbikes, construction materials, and other junk between shophouses in wide corridors that were intended to be walkable but are blocked. Other merchants have recognised the value in these spaces and have instead made them pleasant — and profitable — with walkable throughfares that showcase their products for sale as well as outdoor seating for live music and dining. At least when a pandemic is not raging, people eating and drinking generate more revenue than inoperable motorbikes and junk.
Already, there have been some efforts in SS 15 to charge for street parking and shift to district parking — consolidating parking for the entire area in multi-story car parks toward the periphery — but locals commonly grumble about parking while idling one to a car while stuck in traffic. Parking enforcement — even of double parking — is lax, and it is not uncommon to see cars scattered haphazardly all over the place. Of course, you can avoid most of this vehicle-based mayhem by just using the LRT.
In addition to correcting inappropriate sidewalk usage and eliminating double parking through adequate law enforcement, it would make us quite happy to see SS 15 improved with wider sidewalks and street trees. It also would be worthwhile to have a reduced number of street parking spots at higher prices to encourage usage of district parking, mass transit, and walking.
What would really make the district special, though, would be to create a "pocket" for people next to the SS 15 LRT station and convert Jalan SS 15/4b into a walkable, tree-lined, people-only street from the station to the Subang Square mall. This enhancement would help to refocus the district and give it more of a sense of place. It also would significantly increase SS 15's LRT usage and the value and safety of the area while reducing parking problems and traffic.
The bones of the district are good and the retrofitted LRT station was well located. With a bit more effort and care, SS 15 very well could be a world-class neighbourhood.
Best Food in SS 15 Now
One of the best reasons to visit SS 15 now is to eat or hang out in one of the area's restaurants, bars, cafes, or coffee shops. Whether or not you ponder the future of the district is up to you. As is common for university areas, it wakes up late, so generally the best time to visit is noon or later.
Seven well-known, inexpensive eateries include:
- D'malai - Right by the LRT station, this cafe sells durian infused drinks and desserts. For those who enjoy Southeast Asia's pungent king of fruit — like us — it is a must visit. Those who don't like durian will want to keep walking.
- Soi 55 - It might be heresy for one of your favourite restaurants in a neighbourhood in KL to be Thai food rather than Malaysian. Nevertheless, we especially appreciated Soi 55, not just for its food and decor, but also for its pleasant usage of its outdoor space. If all of the outdoor spaces in SS 15 were as well utilised, the district would be quite a bit nicer.
- Ooi Noodle House - Established in 1988, this breakfast and lunch spot is locally famous for its pork noodle soup diligently prepared one bowl at a time. Be ready to wait regardless, but the queues likely will be shorter in the mornings.
- Oregi - This reasonably priced — simple, but clean — Arabic restaurant is open until 2 AM and popular with a late night crowd.
- JIBRIL - This speakeasy style lounge and restaurant has earned a well deserved reputation for its tasty butter chicken.
- Palate - Slightly upscale interpretations of stir-fried rice and pasta dishes at still modest prices complete with a pleasant interior design. It's not as well known as some of the others, but we really liked this one. Closed Sundays.
- Peppercorn Cafe - Popular with students for its inexpensive Western breakfasts as well as set lunch options that generally include a generous slathering of spicy pepercorn sauce. Open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, too.
Best Bubble Tea in SS 15
In the last few years, SS 15 has become a popular haunt for Taiwanese bubble tea (boba). In fact, one street — Jalan SS 15/4 — sometimes even is referred to as Bubble Tea Street, although tea shops continue around the corner on Jalan SS 15/7, as well.
If you have been to Taipei, you will recognise that the shops in SS 15 mostly are major Taiwanese chains and franchisees rather than local stores, though. We don't believe there is anything particularly Malaysian about most of these bubble tea options, but given how trends often spread among students from one Asian city to another, it is not surprising to see bubble tea become popular in this part of Kuala Lumpur, too. Although the pandemic hit the area hard, many of the more committed shops survived and new ones likely will emerge, too.
Much as it is in Taipei, one of the most popular bubble tea options is vaguely tea — or sometimes not tea at all — but rather brown sugar pearls and milk tea or just milk. Some of the most visited shops in SS 15 are international chains The Alley, Daboba (熊黑堂), Gong Cha (貢茶), and Chawanjia (茶丸家) all of which offer a brown sugar option.
Generally, brown sugar bubble tea is served so that the pearls on bottom are hot and the milk tea or milk on top is cold. It is common to see customers immediately shake or stir them together, but we think this more-or-less makes it taste like lukewarm, melted vanilla ice cream. Following the advice from a boba tea seller in Taipei — a bobarista, if you will — we think brown sugar bubble tea is best if you drink the hot pearls through the cold liquid because the interplay between the difference in temperature and texture is more interesting.
We have tried just about all of these bubble tea options, either in SS 15 or in Taipei, and personally, we prefer a more balanced flavour where it still is possible to taste the tea. Commonly, we even choose to order bubble tea with pearls and milk but without sugar at all, but this is fairly atypical. Because these bubble tea places are all bunched together in the same area, it is easy to pick and choose to find your own favourites. You certainly don't have to share our boba tea preferences.
Below, we've mapped out the best walk to the restaurants and bubble tea street from the SS 15 LRT station. If you visit during the evening, remember that the LRT generally stops running around midnight, but also double check the official schedule for the day of your visit in advance. Keep your departure in mind should you wisely wish to avoid what would be a long and expensive taxi ride back to the core of the city — even if you could accomplish the quixotic task of finding an honest taxi driver in Kuala Lumpur. Have fun!
How to Get Here: Take LRT Kelana Jaya Line (Line 5, Pink) to SS 15 Station (KJ29). Use the East Exit (First Subang Mall) to begin our suggested walk.
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Be sure to see our Top 7 Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur, too.
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