Here are the top 40 Malaysian food to try on your next visit:
1. Nasi LemakConsidered the national dish of Malaysia, nasi lemak (meaning ‘fat rice’) is made with rice, coconut milk, and pandan leaves. It can include sambal, prawns, fried anchovies, cucumber, and peanuts in the mixture or as side dishes. Traditionally a breakfast dish, this food of Malaysia can be found in food stalls in every corner of the country.
2. Ayam GorengAlthough the words ayam goreng mean fried chicken, this dish is very different from the US fried chicken that we’re accustomed to. Ayam goreng is seasoned with spices rather than coated in flour or batter and served with rice. This food of Malaysia comes with sambal terasi (a chili shrimp sauce) or sambal kecap (a sweet soy sauce) to add that extra zing of flavour.
3. Nasi DagangNasi dagang is a seafood dish comprising rice in coconut milk with fish, most often tuna, fried coconut shavings, and pickled vegetables. Sometimes it includes hard-boiled eggs too. While the dish can look similar to nasi lemak, it varies in flavour. This is a quick food of Malaysia which translates to ‘trader’s rice’, is traditionally savoured by blue-collar workers.
4. Nasi TumpangNasi Tumpang is a rice dish that comes wrapped in a cone-shaped banana leaf. The packaging of this dish makes it convenient to have it as an on-the-go quick snack. The rice is served with a chicken or shrimp curry, sweet gravy, and an omelette on top.
5. Roti JalaThis dish, translating to ‘bread net’, this food of Malaysia gets its name from its net-like pattern upon serving. It is made with a special perforated ladle that is shaken across the hot pan to create a net-like fried circle. While it is a snack by itself, it’s usually accompanied by a curry, or if made as a dessert, it comes with a sweet sauce.
6. Sup KambingThis is a slow-simmered meat dish made with a variety of spices. It’s topped with lime, fresh herbs, and a hearty serving of fried onions. While Sup Kambing is the mutton curry, other versions include daging (beef) and oxtail (buntut). It’s a nice, hearty curry that can be scooped up with rotis.
7. Sambal UdangSambal is generally a chili paste added to the food of Malaysia and sambal udang is the chili paste with prawns. Not only are the prawns simmered in the chili paste, but an additional prawn paste is added too, making it delightful for seafood lovers. Tamarind juice is sometimes added for additional flavours.
8. Nasi KerabuUnlike the other Malaysian rice dishes, Nasi Kerabu is quite distinct. It comprises of blue rice that gets its colour from crushed telang flowers. This blue rice is served with fried chicken or egg, coconut, and a spicy fish sauce called Budu.
9. LontongOne of the few vegetarian options in Mayalysia cuisine, Lontong is a vegetable stew made with coconut milk. Although this is a traditional breakfast food of Malaysia, it is also made for special occasions in the country. The vegetable stew is heavy on its own, but it can come with a side of rice too.
10. RendangContrary to popular belief, this delicious meat dish is not a curry. It is a slow simmered meat dish that is cooked over several days in a flavorful sauce and spices to reduce into a soft, juicy meaty stew. While Beef Rendang is the most common variety of this food of Malaysia, you will also find chicken or lamb rendang too. And keep in mind that this dish is best reserved for those with a good spice tolerance!
11. PecalAnother vegetarian dish in Malaysia, pecal is a type of salad. It includes spinach, bean sprouts, cucumber, beans, lemon basil, and Chinese amaranth in a tangy peanut sauce. Pecal can be a side dish to other meals or it can include its own small sides like fried tofu or vegetable fritters.
12. LemangA meal of rice and coconut milk cooked in bamboo, lemang is traditionally served on a banana leaf. You’re encouraged to dig into this delicious vegetable and rice dish with your hands like the locals. On the side of lemang is usually a generous serving of warm, crispy pappadoms.
13. BiryaniThis food of Malaysia came to the locals through the Indian and Middle Eastern diasphora. A hearty, spicy rice dish made with chicken, lamb, beef, or even prawn, it’s packed with flavour from the many spices in its preparation like ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, nutmeg, and garlic. The Malaysian Nasi Biryani comes with a curd side-dish.
14. Bak Kut TehA large hotpot of pork rib stew, Bak Kut Teh is usually served with a side of rice with a strong tea, the “teh”, to wash it down. Similar dishes are chik kut teh made with chicken, dry bak kut teh, and seafood bak kut teh.
15. Jeu Hoo CharJeu hoo char is a kind of salad. Served during festivals, it is made with meat like pork or cuttlefish that is shredded, along with healthy helpings of mushrooms, onions, and carrots in a stir-fry.
16. Char Kway TeowA flat rice noodle dish, char kway teow is a scrumptious meal made with pork, eggs, prawn, and sliced sausages. It is one of the most popular noodle food of Malaysia that can be found easily at any food stall. It has a spicy flavour from the use of chili and chives along with tanginess from a light soy sauce.
17. O ChianO chian, meaning ‘oyster omelette’ in Malay, features sautéed oysters that are folded into a thick batter of eggs and flavour and then deep-fried to become a crispy meal. Tasting as delicious as it sounds, this unique dish normally comes with a spicy dipping sauce.
18. Roti CanaiRoti canai is a crispy, flatbread food of Malaysia. The batter is flattened and cooked on a hot pan to create a delicious, fluffy roti. This dish is eaten by hand and comes with different types of dipping sauces that vary in spice. Some stalls even serve a little curry with roti.
19. Mee RebusSimilar to Mee Goreng, Mee Rebus is a noodle dish with the tell-tale flavor of lemongrass and ginger. The yellow noodles comes in a scrumptious potato gravy and additional non-veg versions of mee rebus include prawns and anchovies.
20. Lor BakLor bak is a pork-based food of Malaysia. The pork is braised and marinated in a special five-spice powder, then soaked in bean curd and fried, to create an amazing crispy pork delight. The ‘lor’ is a beaten egg served along with a thick gravy and spicy dipping sauces.
21. Roti TisuRoti tisu derives its name from the word ‘tissue’ because of its thin, delicate nature. This flatbread is served in the shape of a cone. When served with a sugar coating, it is a delightful dessert but it can be made as a savoury treat too. To eat roti tisu, you will need to learn the trick of slowly eating it from top to bottom without breaking its conical structure.
22. Kaya PauKaya is a sweet, coconut-based custard. Kaya pau is this soft, butter-like custard served with fresh bun or toast. It is a breakfast food in Malaysia and hugely popular amongst children for its sweetness. Kaya pau goes great with a cup of tea or coffee.
23. Ikan BakarIkan bakar means ‘burned fish’ in Malay. While the fish isn’t actually served burnt, it has a distinct smokiness because of being grilled over an open flame. Then, the fish is marinated in a delicious sambal and served on a banana leaf. It can be easily picked apart by hand and makes for a great group dish.
24. Pisang GorengPisang goreng is one of the most popular yet simple food of Malaysia. It’s essentially a deep-fried banana. The banana is peeled, coated in a rich batter, and deep fried into a pretty golden colour with the soft, sweet flavour of banana inside.
25. SatayPerhaps one of the most popular Southeast Asian dishes, satay comes in a variety of options like chicken, lamb, and beef. The meat is grilled to perfection then coated in a finger-licking good peanut sauce and served on a bed of rice. It can even be eaten on its own as a protein-heavy meal with the richness of the sauce.
26. LaksaLaksa is a spicy noodle soup normally served with meat like prawns or fish. This food of Malaysia can vary in flavour depending on the level of spice, but it is generally a hot dish because of the spicy paste in the curry. The rice noodles are garnished with vegetables for an extra level of texture. One popular variety of laksa is asam laksa, a sour soup with a predominant tamarind flavour.
27. BuburBubur is a coconut-milk based soup. It is called zhou in Mandarin and kanji in Tamil. Bubur can include meat like prawn and chicken or simply vegetables. This delicious soup is so popular in Malaysia that it can even be found on McDonald’s menus!
28. Ais KacangAis kacang is a sweet, icy dessert made from shaved ice. It is flavoured with sugar syrups and accompanied by jellies, creamed corn, and a comforting layer of condensed milk. This light food of Malaysia stunning colors based on the sugar syrup used such as bright pink or blue.
29. CendolCendol is ice-based like ais kacang, but instead of shaved ice, it includes coconut milk. It includes condiments like rice jelly and palm sugar and is a delicious dessert after a heavy Malaysian meal.
30. Apam BalikApam balik is like a sweet omelette. It is a dense pancake packed with sugar, peanuts, and sometimes comes with jelly too! This food of Malaysia is made fresh on a griddle, so you can see this scrumptious snack fry up before your eyes.
31. Wonton MeeWonton mee is a noddle dish wherein the light rice noodles are served in a sticky soy sauce with fried eggs and a spicy sambal. It comes with wontons that have fillings of onions, chilies, and kale. The wontons are either steamed, boiled or fried depending on the Malaysian region.
32. MurtabakMurtabak is a staple food of Malaysia amongst the local Muslim community. This folded pancake-like dish is essentially bread which is pan-fried with mince meat (usually egg, chicken, or mutton) and accompanied by a chili dipping sauce. The vegetarian murtabak kentang includes a potato filling with a sweet soy sauce.
33. Asam PedasThis is a spicy, sometimes sour, stew made with fish. Asam pedas gets its sour taste from the addition of tamarind paste – asam means tamarind in Malay. Other flavors include shrimp paste, ginger, garlic, and chili. The most common variants of adam pedas is made with stingrays or freshwater fish.
34. Tepung PelitaTepung pelita is a two-layered food of Malaysia made with coconut milk. The top layer can be slightly savoury in flavor due to the addition of salt while the bottom liquid is sweet. It is served in a bowl made of pandan leaves that turns the dish green in color.
35. RojakRojak means ‘mixture’ in the local language. This foof of Malaysia is made of dough fritters with fruits that are pan-fried. It’s seasoned with a salad dressing of pepper, peanuts, and sugar to give it a signature sweet and spicy taste. While rojak is mostly a fruit salad, there are some variants in which it contains vegetables too.
36. BahuluLocally called ‘kuih bahulu’, bahulu is a type of sponge cake which comes in adorable shapes like buttons and fish. They are crusty on the outside with a warm, comforting soft layer inside. Bahulu is a delightful snack saved for festivals in Malaysia.
37. Curry PuffAs the name suggests, this is a savoury food of Malaysia has curry filling in a rich puff pastry. Although the general fillings are chicken there are vegetarian options that include potatoes as well. The puff is deep-fried and served fresh, though there are some healthier alternatives like baked puffs. It’s considered a delicious finger food to be relished on the go!
38. KapitThese wafer-like biscuits are fondly called “love letters” by locals. They are typically coconut-flavoured. When they are roll-shaped, they are called Semprong and when they are triangular-shaped, they are called Sepit. Sometimes, they can include motifs like snails and fish as decorations. Nowadays, the hollow kapit comes with fillings like chocolate.
39. PopiahPopiah is a type of savoury crepe. The batter of this food of Malaysia is spread thin across a hot pan and rolled up with fillings like shredded tofu, carrots, turnips, bean sprouts, and bamboo shoots. It is seasoned with a soybean paste called Tauchu or a meat stock and served with a spicy dipping sauce. Some varieties of popiah are deep-fried to resemble a spring roll.
40. HinavaA seafood dish, hinaya is essentially roasted fish (generally mackerel though it is sometimes made with prawn) that is marinated in lime, chilli, ginger, and a signature paste made from bambangan fruit seeds. It’s a tangy dry meal that sometimes includes bitter gourd shards as well.
Admittedly the food of Malaysia has a fantastic variety of dishes from meat-lovers ranging from chicken, lamb, and mutton to fish and prawns. But there are also delicious vegetarian preparations that will have you leaping for second servings. The cuisine boasts of a sophisticated palette of spices that makes a food tour in the country so wonderfully memorable.