Kota Raya Shopping Complex – Kuala Lumpur’s “Little Manila”

Tucked in the heart of Kuala Lumpur–just a stone’s throw away from the tourist districts of Chinatown and Central Market–sits an old shopping complex called Kota Raya.

Built in the 1960s, it was one of KL’s earliest malls; once the pride and joy of the city. Shoppers have since moved on to bigger, glitzier spots such as Times Square and Pavilion–leaving Kota Raya a shadow of its former self.

But despite its somewhat run-down condition, Kota Raya has evolved in recent years and welcomed a new chapter–as a hub for migrants working in KL, especially those from the Filipino community. Think of it as KL’s version of Singapore’s Lucky Plaza. Across the mall’s five floors, visitors will find dozens of Filipino eateries, grocery stores, hair and beauty salons, remittance shops, courier services, and more.

The Hubs and I were in the area over the weekend, and we decided to pop inside to see what they had in store.

You can tell from the mall’s design that it’s very old. Most of the corridors are narrow, and the shops are small. The ceilings are low too, which I think is a hallmark of architecture from the 60s and 70s. The Hubs said it reminded him of old malls in Manila’s Divisoria, such as Tutuban Centre. It was also very warm despite the air conditioning, and ventilation wasn’t the best. But the interesting stalls and goods they had made the experience interesting for me, at least.

Many of the mall’s patrons are from the Filipino community, or other migrant communities around the area such as Bangladeshis, Burmese, Nepalese, Pakistanis, and Indians. I barely saw any locals, except for a few Malaysian Chinese running the mobile phone stores. I did not feel out of place, though, and actually enjoyed the change of pace, away from KL’s usual crowded spots. It’s nice to see how people from other places have brought a slice of their homeland, to a place I call home.

(Pictured above) Most of the restaurants in Kota Raya aren’t fancy. Filipinos would call them carinderia-style (like our Malaysian Chinese chap fan or Malay nasi campur restos) = meaning cheap, tasty, and fuss-free food. I like what they’ve done at this resto: the large Happy Birthday banner on the wall and the colourful umbrellas definitely add cheer to the space!

I know one thing that the Hubs misses the most about the Philippines is the food–so we went snack hunting! There’s a wide variety to choose from here. We got some Piatto’s and Curly Tops (chocolate).

Aside from snacks, you can also find canned goods and cooking ingredients imported from the Philippines.

Food stuff aren’t the only things sold–they also carry products such as papaya soap, glutathione soap (which has a whitening effect and is very popular in the Philippines), and even the small sachets of body wash/shampoo that you can often find in bulk in sari-sari stores (not very environmentally friendly, but yeah).

Baked breads–ensaymada (butter and sugar bun with grated cheese), putok (Filipino star bread), pandesal (bread roll, commonly eaten for breakfast), as well as deep fried desserts like turon.

If you’re looking for bargains, or what Filipinos call ‘budol finds’, then Kota Raya has plenty of options. There are affordable sneakers and shoes, tsinelas (slippers), bundle clothing, scarves, and even gowns for special occasions. During our visit, a few vendors were even selling their items via Facebook and TikTok Live, with bundles of clothing all over the floor.

PS: If you want to doll up for a dinner party, there are salons here too!

Before leaving, we stopped for tea at Eat Sa Pinoy. It’s a nice and brightly lit space with a homely ambience.

By the way, almost all of the restos here are equipped with (you guessed it) karaoke systems that guests can sing their favourite songs on! The ladies next to our table did exactly that the entire time we were there, and with gusto!

The Hubs wanted me to try Macaroni Salad, so we got one to share. Now, Filipino Macaroni salad is usually sweet, so it can be odd for those who aren’t used to it. The version here comes with jelly, raisins, and nuts in a smooth and rich savoury-sweet sauce. I couldn’t quite place my finger (or tongue, lol) on what it was exactly, but I think some recipes combine condensed milk and mayonnaise.

It was an … interesting taste. My brain was telling me sweet macaroni is blasphemous, but the flavour was still working out, somehow, so it made me really confused lol. I did like the textures though–the macaroni was soft and chewy, the jelly was bouncy, and the nuts gave it some crunch.

I don’t think I would willingly order Filipino mac salad on my own, but I would probably eat some if I was offered it at a party, for instance.

Washing everything down with a cool icy glass of halo-halo. To be honest, it was just okay halo halo, coz there was just too much ice in it, and the texture wasn’t fine enough.

So that was our trip to Kota Raya! I can see us coming back to get snacks and other Filipino food stuff for cooking, because they sell it much, much cheaper here than at The Narra. I also enjoy the vibe, despite the slightly dilapidated condition of Kota Raya. People smile and greet each other as they pass the aisles, and you can see groups of people singing their hearts out in the restos, sometimes out of tune (but you can tell they are totally into it!).

And even though its nicknamed Little Manila, Kota Raya really has a diverse community–you can find stores selling Ifugao, Pampangan, and Ilocano food. If anything, it’s an interesting glimpse into Filipino culture, and how they’ve brought it over to this place they now call a home away from home.

KOTA RAYA

Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, City Centre, 50000 Wilayah Persekutuan, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

Opening hours: 10am – 10pm (daily)

Getting here: Kota Raya is within walking distance of the Pasar Seni LRT station.

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3 thoughts on “Kota Raya Shopping Complex – Kuala Lumpur’s “Little Manila”

  1. Another great post, Eris! 🙂 I do agree with you that Kota Raya has Lucky Plaza vibes; I guess that cousin of mine based in KL may have been a frequent patron there or something.

    Even the food items are reminscent of home! The Jersey flavored condensed creamers are also a favorite here in the Philippines; they work best for a quick dessert. Simply prepare one unflavored packet of gelatine / agar-agar powder (preferably white) per package instructions, add in a can of the flavored milk, and stir. Once mixed put in molds and allow to set.

    (Just a comment on the soaps. They’re that expensive over there? Those whitening soaps are sold between RM 8 and RM 10 here in Manila!) :O

    Lastly, a question: Were you and N approached by Filipino store aides and asked if you wanted to send money to the Philippines? That exact thing happened to me and my former partner during our 2017 visit to Lucky Plaza. They didn’t push further when we declined.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yep, Kota Raya is an interesting place and I think it has many familiar goods and services that OFWs here will find comforting.

      Thanks for the recipe! Maybe N and I can try it one day, haha! We bought a sinigang mix but haven’t gotten down to making it yet.

      And no we weren’t approached, at least not during our visit. It was quiet so we were able to walk around in peace and take our time exploring the shops.

      Liked by 1 person

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