Look, I’ll be frank. In reality, this list could go on and on and on. I could ramble on about Malaysian food and get to like over 80 dishes that you should try while in Malaysia. But I won’t do that.
Why? Because it’ll only confuse you.
Plus, unless you are on some Amazing Race type trip with the goal of trying every possible dish… it is unlikely that you’ll get a chance to try it all. And so instead, I am going to focus on the ‘must-try’ dishes. The “A-Team” of Malaysian food.
And so, if there is one main reason to visit Malaysia (of course there are so much more reason)…make it because the food is awesomely delicious. I might seem a little bit bias around this notion…after all, I am half Malaysia. But ask any traveller who have visited Malaysia, and I reckon most would talk about how good the food is.
So let’s get started, shall we?
Table of Contents
Malaysian Food Extravaganza
I would say that Nasi Lemak is one of the must-have dishes in Malaysia…I mean unofficially it is the national dish, and it is most popular to have in Malaysia at breakfast time.
Nasi Lemak is really easily found – most hawker areas will serve this. Plus, you’ll find this staple dish in most 4-5 star hotel breakfast buffets.
Basically a Nasi Lemak is a combination of coconut white rice served with a side of a meat curry or fried chicken, a cooked chilli sauce (sambal), and condiments including egg, cucumber, peanuts, and anchovies.
- Village Park Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur
Ahhh this buttery goodness is too hard to pass up. It is so deliciously fluffy and crispy all at the same time. You may also know this flatbread as “Roti Prata.” This is extremely common, and you will find it at most local street food places.
There are SO many versions of roti canai to choose from. There are the savoury versions including plain, egg (Roti Telur), and sardine (Roti Sardin). All the savoury versions are best served with a side curry such as dhal, chicken or fish curry.
There is also the dessert version of roti canai – my favorite is banana (roti pisang), but you can also get the roti canai with condensed milk drizzeled on top, or with chocolate sprinkles added to it… you name it.
This is not your ordinary fruit salad. It is the Malaysian take on a fruit salad plus plus. I say plus plus because the salad can also include vegetables and other “random” ingredients such as fried pastry and dried seafood. Most commonly you’ll find fruits including young mango, pineapple, and cucumber. The salad is then dressed with a dark sticky sauce, which uses ingredients including shrimp paste and tamarind sauce.
Don’t let the shrimp paste scare you, because trust me, when made at the right place, this dish is oh so delicious!
Char Kuey Teow
Char Kuey Teow is a stir fried noodles dish made up of thick rice noodles, egg, bean sprouts, meat and/or seafood, and chives. It is cooked in a spicy and salty sauce, and is served dry. If you dare to get a bit more adventurous, do try the version using cockles…and my favorite, using duck egg.
There are several types of Laksa in Malaysia, but by far the most popular type has to be the Assam Laksa, and this dish calls Penang its home. It’s so good, that CNN actually ranked it #7 on it’s World’s 50 Best Foods list.
This is a soupy dish made from a broth using flaked mackerel fish. A touch of sourness is added to the soup, which comes from tamarind juice. Noodles, fresh herbs, red onion, and fresh pineapple is added to the soup, and then the soup is topped with some chilli.
- Joo Hooi Café in Georgetown, Penang
Banana Leaf Rice
Literally because you are eating off a banana leaf. This is a very traditional way of serving food in Southern India, and it has humbly integrated its way into the Malaysian cuisine.
The banana leaf comes with plain rice (I urge you to try the Indian rice; most times you will need to ask for it), a variety of vegetables, and condiments including pickles and pappadum. You can then add on any additional meat dishes for an additional fee, such as fried chicken and any meat curry.
Once you finish your meal, it is common to fold the leaf inwards (covering the food).
- Vishal Food & Catering Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur
- Raj’s Banana Leaf in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur
Literally translated as ‘brains’… and NO, this is not what the dish is. In fact, Otak-Otak is far from this. It is actually made up of fish that has been marinated in a lovely chilli sauce, then wrapped in banana leaf, and either BBQ’d or steamed. It is so full of flavour, and oh so delicious!
- Learn how to make Otak Otak at the LaZat Cooking School
You probably already know this dish, as it has become quite a common menu item in Asian restaurants worldwide.
Satay is marinated meat (most commonly chicken, beef or lamb) that is then placed on a skewer. The skewers are then cooked over a very hot charcoal style BBQ. It is commonly served with peanut sauce, cucumber, and ketupat (rice cakes).
Totally addictive! Out of all the different versions of satay that you’ll find around Asia, the Malaysian and Singaporean versions are by far my favorite.
Ais Kacang / Cendol
Ahhh with the hot weather all year round in Malaysia, there is nothing better then a icy cold Ais Kacang to cool you down.
Ais Kacang is made up of finely shaved iced combined with fresh coconut milk, starched green jelly and gula Melaka (palm sugar). There are many other ingredients that you can also add to it including red bean, creamed corn, mango and durian… plus an array of different types of jelly.
- Jonker88 in Melaka
- Do a Food Tour of Penang, and learn where to find the best Ais Cendol
Roti Jala is not your typical style roti (bread)… it is actually a pancake that has been rolled. The pancake is a simple combination of flour, eggs, coconut milk, and a pinch of turmeric. It is then cooked to look like a lace-y doily, and then it is wrapped into a spring roll type shape.
This Malaysian dish is typically served with a side of curry and is most popular eaten during tea-time.
- Learn how to make Roti Jala at the LaZat Cooking School
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No compensation was received for this post. The LaZat Cooking School and Food Tours Malaysia offered me a complimentary visit.
I am in love with this post! Makes me want to fly to Malaysia to try it all! Especially the assam laksa and banana leaf rice!
I love trying different foods, and I’m actually visiting Kuala Lumpur next week so will definitely try some of these exotic Malay foods! The Roti Jala looks sooo yummy!
Great list of delicious yummies. Actually “roti” and “parathas” are staple food in India. I was surprised to see them on the list of malaysian cuisine 🙂
I had the Nasi Lamak when I was in Malyasia. I don’t think I tried any of the other dishes though!! I will have to go back so I can try them 🙂
I am married to a Thai and love Southeast Asian food, although I have never tried Malaysian cuisine (except for Satay); I like the look of it though – one day, hopefully, I shall get to Malaysia to sample the food. Good post. Thanks for sharing!
I love Malaysian food and seeing this has made me hungry! The Satay is my fav as it does literally just melt in your mouth. Love the post can’t wait to look through the rest of your posts.
Malaysian food is so similar to Indian food. I love the spices. The roti canai with aloo and dal is my fav!
Looks delicious! The Satay is my fav. Thank your sharing I love learning about places, I have yet to go to Malaysia
Totally amazed seeing those delectable dishes…there are so many forms of roti…i would definitely love to try the salad and the roti jala for sure…