A Foodie’s Guide to Travelling Malaysia
Malaysia is quite literally a foodie paradise. Anyone who has ever travelled to the Southeast Asian nation will undoubtedly have come away several kilos heavier than when they arrived because there’s food everywhere in Malaysia, and somehow, from the simplest street vendor to the most gourmet of restaurants it’s always delicious.
As much as it’s delicious, it’s also diverse. Malaysian food is very much a product of the unique multicultural makeup of the nation. You can enjoy a traditional Malay breakfast, before tucking into Chinese inspired dishes for lunch and then finishing the day with a hearty Indian curry. There’s no need to find fancy restaurants or upmarket eateries either because in Malaysia, the best food is street food, and you are guaranteed that whichever hawker stand you pick to eat out at will cook up a masterpiece.
With so many flavours and tastes being thrown around in Malaysian kitchens, it’s difficult to pick which dishes exactly are the best. Every region, every island and even every town or village have their own individual specialities, and it would be impossible to try everything on a single trip to Malaysia.
To work your hunger up though, here are just a few of the best Malaysian dishes out there.
Nasi lemak could well be Malaysia’s national dish, if there wasn’t so much competition out there to rival it. This is the staple breakfast for many locals in the country, and it’s definitely a hearty breakfast.
Nasi lemak is traditionally served wrapped up in a banana leaf package, making it easy to take away. Start the day with a hefty portion of rice, alongside chicken or other meats, and accompanied by as unusual an array of ingredients as peanuts, anchovies, salad, and some spicy Sambal sauce.
Roti Canai is another delicious item that’s frequently found on the breakfast menu. The best place to find Roti Canai is at a local Indian eatery because this is a dish brought to Malaysia by Muslim traders from the subcontinent. It’s a simple dish, consisting of fried flatbread - similar to naan - that can be stuffed with anything from cheese to chocolate and that’s then served up with a portion of curry sauce or daal for dipping purposes.
Murtabak is another Malaysian favourite that found it’s way into the country through trade links and that was eagerly adopted by locals. It’s basically a pancake, but not like any pancake you might know back home. This one is stuffed with a huge amount of vegetables and meat and when eaten with a portion of curry sauce, it makes for a great lunchtime snack.
Laksa is one of the best known Malaysian dishes, and it’s a dish that is slowly spreading across the world. To describe it simply, it’s absolutely delicious, and it comes in many different forms with a huge variety in individual recipes to be found across the different regions.
Laksa is essentially a noodle soup served in a spicy broth that traditionally is cooked with fish or shrimp. These days, chicken laksa has become popular, but the basis is all the same. Two of the most popular variants are curry laksa - made with a thick, curry sauce - and asam laksa - which is made with from a fish stock.
Asam pedas is a fish-based meal that’s popular along the coast. This dish combines both spicy and sour flavours and can prove to have a powerful taste for those unaccustomed to such a mixture. The main ingredient is fish and combined with the tamarind based stock, it’s a delightful local delicacy.
Nasi kandar originated in Penang, but anywhere you travel to in Malaysia, you are likely to quickly find a Nasi Kandar eatery. This is another Indian inspired style of cooking, that today, is synonymous with the huge restaurants that serve it up. You take a plate full of rice and then you pick and choose from the enormous selection of dishes available in a sort of buffet-style canteen. You can have curry, chicken, mutton, fish, potatoes, eggs and are guaranteed to be served a huge portion.
Char Kuey Teow
Char kuey teow is a dish of Chinese origins that takes thick, flat, rice noodles and fries them up with a mixture of soy sauce and chilli to produce a stir-fried concoction. The noodles are accompanied by anything from chicken to prawns, along with bean sprouts and egg. Some of the best char kuey teow can be found on the streets of Penang.
Hokkien Mee is another Chinese-inspired, noodle-based dish that you can find in many hawker centres or can buy from many street food stalls around the country. Hokkien mee can come in many varieties, but some of the best recipes involve stir frying egg noodles or yellow noodles with egg, pork, prawns and some spicy sauce.
Popiah are some of the most delicious snacks you can find on the streets of Malaysia. Popiah originated in southern China and made their way to Malaysia where they have since become favourites not only with those of Chinese descent but with anyone who has ever had the privilege to try them.
Popiah look like spring rolls, and they consist of thin pancakes wrapped around a hearty filling of vegetables. Popiah can then be fried or simply eaten as it is.
Mie Goreng is a staple of many locals in Malaysia, and indeed, it can even be found across much of the rest of Southeast Asia in many different varieties. The Malaysian version originated amongst the Indian community, but as a dish it draws influences from a multitude of cultures. You take thick, yellow noodles and stir-fry them in dark soy sauce with vegetables, meat or prawns. Or all three, and anything else you fancy the sound of. It’s simple, but it’s a winner.
Cendol is a popular Malaysian dessert that goes down well after any good meal, or as a refreshing snack on its own accord. It’s very sweet, made from the strange mixture of green rice flour jellies, coconut milk and palm sugar. Add in an array of flavourings from durian to peanuts and you have a wonderfully unique finisher.
Ais Kacang is another dessert that on first glance might seem slightly strange to those not used to it, but that once any prejudice has been cast aside, can be one of the most intriguing and delicious desserts out there. Take some ice, some beans - yes, beans in a dessert! - and then mix it all up with peanuts, jelly beans, ice cream and anything else that you can find to add to this wild mix.