5 of the Best Malaysian Food Spots

16 Mar 2018

In the Southeast Asian food stakes, Malaysian cuisine often gets lost in the popularity of Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese dishes. However, it deserves its place alongside those familiar plates, not least because its food is heavily influenced by them anyway, perfectly fusing them with the heat of India and Indonesia. In short, it's a greatest hits of Asian cuisine and for this alone should be worth indulging in on your next visit. From the wide-ranging food of capital Kuala Lumpur to the roadside stalls of Penang, here are five places you can't miss tasting on your next trip to Malaysia...

Penang

Founded as a trading post in 1786 by the British, Penang has been a cultural crossroads for centuries. It's heavily reflected in its cuisine, combining Thai, Singaporean and Malay influences to form a mini taste tour of Southeast Asia. Never mind Singapore's famed hawker centres, Penang's roadside hawker stalls are well worth shouting about, too. Chow down on the national dish, rice-based nasi lemak, from the food shacks that line the kerbside, while wafts of aromatic flavours from pop-up restaurants collide in your nostrils. Street eating is a way of life for Malaysians and it's certainly the unwritten dining rule in Penang, so it would be rude not to dive in.

Kuching

Hop over to the Malaysian half of Borneo and while its most intriguing city, Kuching, may be known more for its cats, when it comes to its food, its stock (no pun intended) is on the rise. Diversity is the attraction here, from the soups, satay and Sarawak laksa of Chinatown to a giant open-air food court… on the top of a car park. Plus, streetside stalls are supported by eateries serving modern Asian fusion food, while traditional tribal grub has seen a renaissance, with restaurants dishing up inspired recipes like manok lulun (chicken stewed in bamboo with herbs) and umai (river fish marinated ceviche-style).

Kota Bharu

Nudging the border with Thailand, it's no surprise Kota Bharu's dishes draw inspiration from its near neighbours, as well as from India. Coconut and sugar are big business here, and it features prominently on menus, too, offering slightly different fare to the rest of the country. After dark is the best time to sample its fine food: the Night Market is as much a social hotspot for locals as it is a hive of stalls selling a huge array of its unique dishes. Dine on ayam percik (grilled chicken in coconut sauce) and sample a real favourite, murtabak (Malay-style crepes stuffed with everything from minced meat to bananas), while it's no surprise a plethora of desserts light up locals' eyes as well, including coconut milk cake and egg waffle ice cream.

Kuala Lumpur

Food in the Malaysian capital is an obsession: instead of greeting friends with 'How are you?', locals can often instead be heard saying 'Have you eaten yet?'. With so much to choose from, it's no surprise – Kuala Lumpur boasts a multi-faceted cuisine moulded over time thanks to traders, colonisers and workers from Indonesia, Europe, China and India. So, you could head to Chinatown for a breakfast plate of dim sum, then devouring a South Indian fiery vegetable curry for lunch, before rounding the day off with a portion of nasi lemak. You'll find hordes of locals sharing gossip at coffee shops and hawker stalls, and there's not limit as to where you can grab a bite, whether it's an Indian dosa (savoury pancake) out the back of a car or fine dining on the top floor of a cloud-baiting skyscraper, you can grab a slice of KL, well, pretty much anywhere.

Melaka

Home to an impressive UNESCO-listed colonial quarter and dripping in Chinese and European-style architecture, Melaka is a treat on its own without the food. But when the influence stretches from facade to plate, it's a delight for the senses. Chinese dishes are prominent, but menus are hotter in this part of Malaysia thanks to the Portuguese – take the ominously-named devil's curry for starters. The main thoroughfare of Chinatown, Jonker Street, is a bustling trinket trading hub by day, but by night on the weekends is a foodie paradise, as stalls steam with a local favourite, chicken rice balls (the state's unofficial dish), and others cook up spice-rich concoctions. Don't just stick to that strip though – you'll likely stumble across a hawker stall or eatery along nearly every avenue. Visiting its wealth of ancient buildings is hungry work, you know...


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Rhodri Andrews

Once a roving newshound now turned travel journo, my passions include seeking out cultural hotspots amid skyscrapers, hearing the calls of wildlife on rainforest walks and trudging round the UK's national parks. I love to knit together my interests in football and tennis with the travelling world, while furiously trying to close the gap on my glaring film knowledge.