Malaysia Food and Travel Guide
Malaysia travel guide for food lovers! If you’re going to Malaysia, you’re in for a real treat when it comes to food. I can honestly say that out of everywhere I’ve traveled in the world, Malaysia ranks very high in…
Malaysia travel guide for food lovers!
Malaysia is a country of diversity, and the food reflects that. Chinese, Indian, and local southeast Asian Malay flavors are the trio blend of ingredients and cooking techniques that have been adopted into Malaysian cuisine.
Across the country, in cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Malacca, you’ll find authentic Chinese food, Indian food exactly as its found in India, and home-cooked Malay specialities.
Malaysia food: 10 amazing dishes
There are many more delicious Malaysian dishes to try, but here are 10 that I have personally chosen for this Malaysia travel guide, all of which I think you should not miss eating when you’re there!
1. Nasi lemak
Possibly the national dish of Malaysia and beloved by all local Malaysians is a dish known as nasi lemak. It’s something you most definitely must eat when you’re in Malaysia.
There are a few different varieties of nasi lemak and many variations, but the basis of the dish is rice cooked in coconut milk, topped with spicy sambal chili sauce.
The most basic version is just a pocket of rice topped with sambal, perhaps a hard boiled egg on the side, and wrapped up in a banana leaf. More complex versions, like the one served at RA Nasi Lemak, include a buffet of delicious Malaysian curries and chili sauces which you scoop over your plate of coconut rice. I especially love sambal sotong (squid in chili curry) and a fried egg on the side.
2. Ikan bakar
Ikan means fish, and bakar means grilled in Bahasa Malaysia, so ikan bakar is grilled fish – but it’s amazing marinated grilled fish!
Ikan bakar is spiced up in a blend of chili paste, then grilled over charcoal on top of a banana leaf over the fire.
The moist fish is then eaten with a plate of hot rice, sometimes some side vegetable dishes and curries, and dipped into kecap manis for extra flavor.
3. Banana leaf
As mentioned before, Indian food plays a major part in the diverse spectrum of the food in Malaysia, and banana leaf, as it’s commonly known, is a local favorite.
The food served at Malaysia banana leaf restaurants is often of south Indian origin. You site down at a table with a banana leaf as your plate, and it doesn’t take long before the waiter dishs you a giant scoop of rice and a round of incredibly tasty vegetarian curries.
Banana leaf is often served vegetarian, but you can also normally order sides of meat to supplement the vegetable curries if you live.
No utensils are need to eat banana leaf, you just go in with your fingers and devour!
4. Nasi kandar
Another Indian influenced branch of Malaysia food, originally perfected in Penang, is known as nasi kandar.
Nasi, as you may already know, is rice, and a kandar is a stick or pole used as a support to carry things with. Formerly, in the Malaysian villages, the rice and curry was sold from mobile vendors who carried large pots of food using a kandar.
Nowadays, nasi kandar basically refers to rice and Indian style curry. You get a plate of rice, and dish yourself things like mutton curry, fried chicken, and some rotis on the side.
5. Roti canai
Roti can mean different types of fried bread depending on where you are, and in Malaysia a roti canai (video) is a thin piece of dough fried in lots of oil and served with a curry dipping sauce.
The dough is first stretched out, slapped across a counter top, then folded into a small square, and fried in oil. This gives it lots of flaky crispy layers.
You break off bits of the roti and dip it into the delicious curry gravy.
6. Curry laksa and Assam laksa
A great bowl of laksa will leave you stunned upon first bite – at least that’s what happened to me when I slurped up my very first bite of curry laksa in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
There are two different kinds of laksa in Malaysia food, curry laksa and Assam laksa. Assam laksa is noodles in murky brown fish soup, while curry laksa is noodles swimming in a thick and extremely flavorful coconut milk curry.
There are many variations depending on what part of Malaysia you’re in, but for the most part you get a bowl of noodles topped with spice filled soup, seafood and or chicken, and garnished with lots of herbs and Vietnamese coriander.
7. Char kuay teow
Malaysians absolutely love to eat, that’s one of the reasons why I love Malaysia so much! And if you really want to relate and make a Malaysian feel at home, start a conversation about char kuay teow.
The dish includes wide rice noodles which are stir fried on high heat with shrimp, bean sprouts, chives, and often an egg.
Char kuay teow is so good, you’ll immediately order another plate after finishing your first.
8. Hokkien mee
Another giant in the scene of Chinese style fried noodles is Hokkien mee, a recipe derived from the Fujian province of China.
Like nearly all food in Malaysia, there are quite a few variations such as Hokkien hae mee, which is prawn noodles, and Hokkien char mee, which is dark colored fried noodles.
I’m a huge fan of both, but really have a soft spot in my heart for Hokkien char mee. The noodles are normally fried in lard on an extremely high heat, and flavored with dark soy sauce. It’s absolutely amazing!
9. Nasi campur
While nasi kandar is the Indian version and economy rice is the Chinese version of rice topped with a selection of different dishes, nasi campur is the Malay version.
You’ll find stalls and restaurants set up all over the country where you’re given a plate of rice, and it’s your task to make sense of the assortment of dishes and scoop up whatever looks the best – and let me tell you, it’s a lot of fun!
I especially love dishes like the jackfruit curry, fish curry, omelets, and cutlets.
10. Bak kut teh
Translating directly to “meat bone tea,” this southeast Asian Chinese dish includes lots of pork, slow cooked until extremely tender in a broth filled with herbs and soothing spices.
Buk kut teh is especially popular as a breakfast dish in Malaysia. My first time eating it, I was so happy, I could hardly contain myself. I garnished each and every bite of tender pork with raw garlic and chilies.
Malaysia food videos
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Places to visit in Malaysia
> Kuala Lumpur (My guide to Kuala Lumpur) – Kuala Lumpur, also known locally just as KL, is the capital and largest city in Malaysia. It’s a melting pot of people from around the country, both from peninsular Malaysia and from the Malaysian states of Borneo. You’ll be able to eat Chinese food, Indian food, Malay food, and have a choice of restaurants that won’t let you down.
Penang – In the northwest part of peninsular Malaysia is the state of Penang (also Penang island). It’s one of the most famous areas to visit when traveling in Malaysia, and it’s well known around the country and around the world as a top foodie destination. They take their food extremely seriously in Penang. The char kuay teow and nasi kandar are incredible in Penang.
Malacca – In the southern portion of peninsular Malaysia is the small, but lively state of Malacca (also sometimes spelled Melaka). Like much of Malaysia, Malacca is also a great food destination, and people often drive up from Singapore for holidays. The last time I was in Malacca, I enjoyed some delicious chicken with rice balls, satay celup, bak kut teh, and baba cendol.
Langkawi – Langkawi is a touristy island located off the coast of Penang in the Andaman Sea. It’s a major holiday destination.
Perhentian Islands – For an amazing island experience in Malaysia, you might want to consider taking a trip to the Perhentian islands. Surrounded by crystal clear water, you won’t find that much great local Malaysian food, but you’ll have a great time relaxing on the beach.
Kota Kinabalu – Located in the state of Sabah, on the coast of Borneo, is Kota Kinabalu. I originally visited this town as a jump off point for climbing Mount Kinabalu, and I really enjoyed it. The small town is full of good food like curry laksa, and a night market along the water where you can indulge in some amazing grilled seafood.
Additional resources I use…
Accommodation: When I travel in Malaysia, I often arrange my hotels from Agoda.com. They have some great deals!