Malaysian food & cuisine is known for its rich and diverse flavors. As a multicultural society, Malaysia has inherited a wide range of cuisines and even created some of its own fusion blends that are unique and characterizing for Malaysian dishes.
In this article, we delve deeper into the local cuisine and food from Malaysia and list some of the most iconic dishes that you should try while visiting.
Rendang is one of Malaysia’s most popular dishes and it comes with a choice of beef, chicken or lamb. This spicy meat dish which originated from Indonesia has won the hearts of many in Southeast Asia.
The Rendang dish combines many rich spices found in the region, mixed with coconut milk to create a thick sauce that is used to simmer with the meat. The result? An incredibly tender meat dish with intense flavor that is hard to forget.
Laksa is a spicy and flavourful noodle meal that combines thick white rice noodles and a curry-like soup base, topped with prawn, fish cake, beancurd, and cockles. This is considered comfort food for many and it is easily found in many eateries in Malaysia.
There are different variations of laksa in Malaysia as well. For example, in Penang, a Malaysia state that is on the Northwest coast, the local variation of laksa is a lot sourer because it is served in a tangy fish broth that is created with ingredients such as fresh mackerel, herbs, pineapple, and spices.
Nasi Lemak is a traditional rice meal that is hailed as Malaysia’s unofficial national dish. The main highlight is the rich and fragrant rice that is soaked in coconut cream before steaming.
It is then served with a variety of local dishes such as salted peanuts with ikan-bilis (anchovies), hard-boiled eggs, preserved vegetables, fried chicken wings or fish, and sweet sambal chili.
Although Nasi Lemak is a traditional Malay meal, it is very popular amongst different cultures and is commonly found in Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore; Brunei, and Indonesia.
Murtabak is a local version of stuffed omelet pancakes that can be eaten all day long. This pancake, which was originally an Indian Muslim cuisine, is stuffed with minced meat, onions and spicy sauces before being pan-fried until golden brown.
Murtabak is eaten as a meal, but very often it is taken as a snack because it is essentially a street food that is easy to eat on the go. The dish is commonly found in Southeast Asia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore because it is a dish that was brought to these regions by early Indian Muslim settlers.
Char Kway Teow
There are many variations of Char Kway Tiao but Malaysia’s version has received accolades from near and far. Char Kway Tiao is a Hokkien (a Chinese dialect) term for ‘fried’ (Char) and ‘flat rice noodles’ (Kway Tiao).
This Chinese noodle dish is prepared with flat rice noodles, stir-fried with crispy pork lard, soy sauce, cockles, bean sprouts, chives, eggs and sometimes prawns. A good plate of Char Kway Tiao is usually evaluated based on the chef’s effective control of “wok hei” (the heat of the wok) and the right mix of fresh ingredients.
Popiah is also a Hokkien term and it translates to “thin crepe”, which is the main ingredient that is used to wrap this Chinese snack. It’s basically a Chinese crepe roll that is stuffed with shredded turnip, bean sprouts, eggs, shallots, and meat, flavored with shrimp paste, a mix of local sauces and chili paste.
The taste of Popiah is a blend of sweet and savory. Combined with the good amount of turnip in the roll, the snack becomes both refreshing and flavourful at the same time. At times, people will eat this as a meal because the ingredients are so healthy and light.
Pisang Goreng is a local fried banana fritter snack that has survived the test of times. This is a snack that many Malaysians grew up with, and these days, it is still one of the local favorite food from Malaysia.
It is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Pisang Goreng is available in many local street stalls and eateries. Try it as a snack or eat it as a dessert after a meal.
The authentic Malaysian satay is skewered meat, grilled over a charcoal flame to capture a smoked meat effect. The dish comes in a choice of chicken, beef or lamb, served with Malay rice dumplings wrapped with coconut leaf and peanut sauce.
As one of Malaysia’s signature dishes, it is available in most places. If you spot a stall smoking with glorious barbecue flavor, it is most likely to be a satay stall.
Mee Rebus is a simple noodle dish prepared with yellow noodles served in thick gravy and garnished with a hard-boiled egg, spring onions, bean sprouts, fried shallots, tau pok (fried beancurd), sliced green chilies and a dash of lime juice.
The key to a good plate of Mee Rebus lies in the thick gravy, which is made of mashed sweet potato, a rich broth of tiny shrimps, herbs and aromatics. Sometimes ground peanuts are also added to enhance the flavor. Mee Rebus is commonly eaten as breakfast but many eat it as a meal too.
Mee Siam, which is translated as “Thai noodles” in Malay, is a meal that combines skinny rice noodles served in a rich and tangy gravy that is made with tamarind, shrimp, shrimp paste, and soya bean paste.
This Malaysian dish is topped with hard-boiled egg, fried bean curd, bean sprouts, and Chinese chives. For those who prefer the spicy option, a heap of chili paste can be added to create an explosive punch. In recent years, dry Mee Siam, which is a stir-fried variety, is also available in the market. Similar to Mee Rebus, Mee Siam is often eaten as a breakfast.
Roti john is another street food in Malaysia which is an omelet sandwich that is very popular among the locals and other countries in the region. It originated from Singapore, a neighboring country that was once a part of Malaysia.
This popular snack comprises sliced French loaves pan-fried with toppings such as minced mutton, sliced onions, and eggs. It can be eaten with Mayonnaise, ketchup, barbecue sauce, and even chili.
The origin of this dish goes back to around the 1960s when an Englishman requested a hamburger from a Malay hawker who ingeniously created Roti John with local ingredients!
Otak-otak, which is also known as otah, is a blend of cubed or minced fish, chopped onions, coconut milk, and flavourful local spices bound together with tapioca starch and egg to form a thick paste.
Traditionally, the spicy Otak-otak paste is wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over an open charcoal fire. Other methods of cooking involved steaming the mixture and cutting them to size when served. Otak-otak is a spicy snack that can be eaten alone, with buns or with rice. It is commonly served with Nasi Lemak as well.
Ketupat is a rice dumpling wrapped with coconut leaves that are intricately woven into a diamond-shaped container. Originating from Indonesia, Ketupat is commonly served with satays (skewered grilled meat) and it is a must-have at Malay festivals, weddings, and traditional gatherings.
Interestingly, according to the old tradition, Ketupat was also hung at the front of the house and entrances because it is said to repel evil spirits. It is no wonder that decorative Ketupats are commonly spotted in Malay homes during major festivals!
Nasi Kerabu is a Malay rice dish that originates from the State of Kelantan. It is a popular blue-colored rice meal eaten with dried fish or fried chicken, crackers and local pickles.
What sets this dish apart from the other Malaysian rice meal is the blue-color tinted rice which is not just visually appealing but also has an aromatic fragrant unlike any other. The blue tint comes from the petals of butterfly-pea flowers which are used to cook with the rice.
Lok Lok is a casual variation of the traditional steamboat that serves meats and vegetables in skewers. Lok Lok, which means “to dip”, are often seen at street stalls where multiple rows of skewered food on sticks are stacked neatly.
Pots of boiling water are made available in the stall where customers can dip the skewered food for cooking then eat it with their choice of sauces and chilies.
More about Malaysian Food
There are three major ethnic groups in Malaysia: Malays, Chinese and Indians. Additionally, there are indigenous peoples of various cultures such as Sabah, Sarawak, Orang Asli, Peranakan, and Eurasian creole communities.
Throughout history, Malaysian food has resulted in an interesting mix that offers the best of the best. Much of the food from Malaysia is commonly found in Singapore as well due to their shared history.
Furthermore, the cuisine of Malaysia has been influenced for centuries by Thai, Portuguese, Dutch, Arabian, and even British food culture. Food is a big part of Malaysian society and each region has its own specialties, although there are some dishes that are common nationwide.
Chili peppers, coconut, Belacan (a type of shrimp paste) and soy sauce are all essential in Malaysian kitchens with varied use. Some of the most common herbs used in Malaysian food are Lemongrass, Pandan, and Turmeric. Dried seafood is another popular ingredient to get that savory flavor that the local dishes are renowned for.
Rice is considered a staple food in Malaysia along with noodles, and they can be prepared and served in many ways.
What is your favorite food from Malaysia? Leave a comment below!