Malaysians are the most passionate and proud when it comes to Malaysian food – and they have every reason to be. Influenced by its multicultural nation, Malaysian cuisine is culturally and historically enriching as well as economically and aesthetically pleasing. o Eating out in Malaysia is considered cheaper than doing groceries and cooking at home.
If you are travelling to Malaysia, you could definitely leave the phase “I’m hungry” aside for a little while as food hunting is a favourable activity not just for tourists, but for the locals as well. “Dah makan? (direction translation from Bahasa Malaysia: have you eaten?) is a common greeting equivalent to hello.
- Nasi Lemak (Direct Translation: Rice in Cream/Fat)
A staple in the Malaysian food dictionary, Nasi Lemak comes with the basic combination of fresh coconut rice, cucumber, hard-boiled egg, ikan bilis (fried anchovies) and peanuts wrapped in banana leaf or served on a plate. You could add sambal (spicy chilli sauce), chicken, beef or mutton curry or rendang, fried chicken or more depends on the store/stall menu.
Just a month ago, the Nasi Lemak dish served with a side of chicken rendang by contestant Zaleha Kadir Olpin on Masterchef UK sparked a social media outrage when judge Gregg Wallace complained and subsequently eliminated Zaleha over her chicken rendang curry being not crispy at all. The meat in a rendang dish is traditionally and typically slow cooked till tenderised in a coconut-based curry sauce.
2. Char Kuey Teow (Direct Translation: Stir-fry ricecake strips)
The main ingredient for this dish is flat rice noodles, stir-fried over high heat with soy sauce, chilli, bean sprouts, egg, chinese chives and deshelled cockles (you could always opt any of the options out upon request). Originally devised and consumed by labourers, farmers, fishermen and cockle-pickers as a cheap source of energy and nutrients.
Tip: Look out for Char Kuey Teow stir-fried using a traditional charcoal stove – it enhances the dish with a smoky and caramelised taste far more superior than when prepared using a gas stove. Gas stoves are preferred for its convenience.
Customers will wait for as long as an hour for their Char Kuey Teow cooked using a charcoal stove by a roadside stall in Penang.
Laksa is popularly believed to be a hybrid creation of the Peranakan culture – an intermarriage between Chinese and Malay or Javanese culture – elements of both elements are combined to create this noodle dish. Subsequently, the two major variants are categorised as Curry Laksa or Asam Laksa associated with different soup base and toppings.
The Curry Laksa is a creamy and fragrant coconut milk soup with chillies and thick white laksa noodles. However in Penang, it is known as the Curry Mee due to the difference in noodles used (yellow Mee or vermicelli or with both). Main toppings include bean curd puffs, shrimp, cockles, vegetables, fish cakes and garnished with coriander and an additional spoonful of chilli paste.
Asam (Direct Translation: sour) Laksa is a sour shredded fish and tamarind based soup. By using asam keping – dried slices of sour mangosteens – to achieve its distinguishable flavour, it is normally served with thick rice noodles or vermicelli noodles paired with finely sliced cucumbers, onions, chillies, pineapple, lettuce, mint and ginger flower. Add a generous touch of thick sweet hae ko (shrimp paste) to finish off the dish.
4. Roti Canai (Flatbread)
A popular breakfast or late night supper dish in Malaysia, usually sold in Mamaks (late-night stalls). It could be prepared with a variety of ingredients ranging from the basic Roti Telur (egg) to quirky Roti Durian or Roti Milo. Each piece of Roti costs around RM1.20 (30 cents) and are usually served with a side of dal (lentil) or meat curry.
5. Chee Cheong Fun and Yong Tau Foo
The rice noodle roll served with a side of soy sauce dish originated from Guangdong was brought over to Malaysia and developed their own preferences during the 19th century by Chinese immigrants. Variations depends in different states: in Penang, a hei ko (shrimp paste) sauce is popularised while in Kuala Lumpur a sweet bean paste sauce is preferred. A light curry broth option is favoured as well.
Hawker stalls selling Chee Cheong Fun usually serve a Hakka Chinese cuisine called Yong Tau Foo as well, both dishes are commonly paired together. Customers could pick and choose from fish balls, crab sticks, fu zhuks (fried bean curds), as well as the traditional Yong Tau Foo by stuffing tofu, eggplant, chilli and okra with minced meat. A plate served with the best of both worlds.
6. Bak Kut Teh (Direct Translation: Meat Bone Tea)
A broth of herbs and spices slow cooked with pork ribs, eaten with rice or youtiao (Chinese fritters). The dish was historically credited as a health cordial.
Both Singapore and Malaysia make a version of this dish. Singapore’s Hokkien-style broth is distinguished by a large seasoning of garlic and pepper.
More on the history of BKT: Here
7. Rojak (Direct Translation: Mixture)
Two kinds of prominent but unmistakable rojaks.
Rojak Buah: A mix of local fruits and vegetables such as pineapple, jicama (mexican turnip), mango, papaya, jambu (rose apple) and youtiao (fried dough fritters) or keropok (deep fried crackers) doused in a thick, shrimp paste dressing and crushed peanuts. It’s a refreshing combination of sweet, sour and spicy.
Indian Rojak: Containing keropok, bean curd, cuttlefish, cucumber, and a hard-boiled egg drenched in thick peanut chilli sauce. Usually sold in food trucks along the busy roadside in conjunction with the dessert below.
8. Cendol (Cold Dessert Soup)
The green jelly squiggles or green rice jellies simply served with cold santan (coconut milk), a dash of gula melaka (palm sugar) and of course, shaved ice. Red beans are oftentimes included as well in the refreshing dessert.
9. Ice Kacang (Direct Translation: Ice Bean) or Air Batu Campur (Direct Translation: Mixed Ice)
Cendol’s complicated sister – the ABC – a colourful and popular shaved ice treat in Malaysia flavoured with condensed milk, rose and sarsi syrup. At the bottom you will dig into attap chee (palm seed), red beans, sweet corn and grass jelly.
10. Apam Balik (Direct Translation: Turnover Pancake)
Also known as Mang Jang Kueh to the Chinese community, The pancake has two versions to its name, the thick and the thin. Both are cooked in rows of brass pans with palm margarine to avoid sticking, it is filled with crushed peanuts, shaved coconut and canned sweet corn kernels.
The thin version perfect for lazy chewers are cooked till crispy perfection, while the thicker version tastes similar to a fluffy buttery pancake. There are only winners here.