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Malaysian Food: Top 10 Dishes to Try in Malaysia

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When it comes to Malaysian food, a vibrant and diverse culinary landscape awaits the adventurous palate. Malaysia, known for its rich cultural tapestry, is a treasure trove of flavors and traditions, and exploring the local cuisine is an essential part of any visit. From aromatic street food stalls to bustling night markets, Malaysia offers a tantalizing array of dishes to try, each a gastronomic journey of its own. Join us as we embark on a culinary adventure to discover the top 10 dishes to try in Malaysia, where the fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous influences creates a dining experience like no other.

1. Mee Goreng Mamak - A spicy and savory noodle dish

Mee goreng mamak stands as a delectable and beloved Malaysian street food, particularly cherished within the Indian Muslim community. This dish features stir-fried yellow noodles mingling with an array of ingredients like chicken, prawns, fish cakes, tofu, potatoes, eggs, bean sprouts, and leafy greens. The noodles are gracefully enrobed in a zesty sauce that harmonizes chili paste, curry powder, tomato sauce, sweet soy sauce, and a hint of lime juice. Mee goreng mamak embodies a delightful fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian culinary influences, showcasing the vibrant and diverse tapestry of Malaysian gastronomy.

Malaysian Food Mee Goreng Mamak
Mee Goreng Mamak

2. Apam Balik - A sweet and nutty pancake

Apam balik, a delectable pancake, traces its origins to Fujian, China, and has since become a beloved treat in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Singapore. Crafted from a simple batter of wheat flour, eggs, milk, oil, baking powder, and a dash of salt, this pancake is skillfully cooked in a round pan until it achieves a glorious golden hue with crispy edges. The magic happens when the pancake is generously filled with a delightful combination of butter, sugar, crushed peanuts, and creamy corn before being artfully folded in half, forming an inviting semicircular delight. Whether enjoyed as a breakfast option or a satisfying snack, apam balik is readily available from street vendors and night markets, serving as a scrumptious testament to the fusion of Chinese and Malay culinary influences within Southeast Asian cuisine.

Malaysian Food Apam Balik
Apam Balik

Named after its star ingredients or vibrant colors, like Chicken Lawar or the intriguing Lawar Merah (Red Lawar) when spiced blood is added, this dish perfectly complements steamed rice and other local delights. While often reserved for special celebrations, Lawar’s versatility makes it a flavorful treat fit for any time of day. It’s a culinary masterpiece that reflects Bali’s rich gastronomic heritage and is a must-try for any food lover exploring the island.

3. Nasi Kerabu - A blue rice dish with salad and more

Nasi kerabu is a delectable and vibrant rice dish originating from Malaysia, particularly hailing from the regions of Kelantan and Terengganu. This culinary delight belongs to the category of nasi ulam, signifying rice paired with a medley of greens, and it is typically relished with an assortment of fresh herbs, sun-dried fish, crispy fried chicken, crunchy crackers, tangy pickles, and assorted side dishes. The rice attains its distinctive hue by infusing it with the natural blue pigments derived from butterfly pea flower petals, serving as a wholesome food coloring agent. Alternatively, some individuals opt to employ turmeric to impart a rich yellow tint to the rice. Nasi kerabu is a beloved choice for morning meals, yet its delectable appeal knows no time constraints, making it a suitable dish for any part of the day. Notably, this dish can also be encountered in southern Thailand, where it goes by the name khao yam.

Nasi Kerabu

4. Ayam Percik - Grilled chicken with coconut and spices

Ayam percik is a tantalizing dish featuring grilled or roasted chicken that’s soaked in a flavorful and zesty sauce crafted from ingredients like coconut milk, lemongrass, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and a blend of spices. Originating from the Kelantan region in Malaysia, this dish is often served alongside nasi kerabu, a vibrant rice salad. Alternatively, you can savor ayam percik with nasi lemak, a fragrant rice cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves. The name “ayam percik” translates to “splashed chicken” in Malay, which stems from the practice of splashing or basting the sauce onto the chicken while it’s being grilled. As the sauce caramelizes on the chicken skin, it imparts a delightful flavor and aroma. Ayam percik is a sought-after delicacy during festive gatherings and at local street markets, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan.

Malaysian Food Ayam Percik
Ayam Percik

5. Nasi Lemak - Rice dish with coconut, sambal and more

Nasi lemak is a delightful dish originating from Malay cuisine and cherished throughout several Southeast Asian nations, including Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, and Southern Thailand. In Malaysia, it holds the esteemed status of the national dish and is a customary breakfast choice. The term “nasi lemak” translates to “rich rice” or “creamy rice” in Malay, reflecting the use of coconut milk and fragrant pandan leaves in the rice preparation, which bestows it with a luxurious and aromatic essence.

This dish is typically accompanied by a fiery sauce known as sambal, crafted from a blend of chili, onion, garlic, shrimp paste, and other seasonings. Complementing nasi lemak are an array of side dishes, including crispy fried anchovies, roasted peanuts, cucumber slices, boiled or fried eggs, and occasionally fried chicken, fish, beef rendang, or other meat variations. For added convenience and an extra layer of flavor, nasi lemak is often wrapped in banana leaves. This harmonious blend of flavors and textures renders nasi lemak a delectable and satisfying choice suitable for any time of day.

6. Roti Canai - A Malaysian flatbread with Indian roots

Roti canai, a flatbread with Indian origins, has gained immense popularity in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Brunei. It’s crafted from a dough mixture of flour, water, salt, egg, butter, and condensed milk, yielding a smooth, elastic texture. The dough is then divided into small portions, allowed to rest for hours, and skillfully stretched until paper-thin using a technique called “tebar” or “fling.” After this, it’s folded or rolled into layers, then cooked on a hot griddle with oil or ghee until it turns beautifully golden and crispy. Roti canai is typically served with dhal, curry, or sambal, but sweet variations can include toppings like sugar, condensed milk, or banana slices. While it’s a favored breakfast item in Malaysia, it’s equally satisfying as a snack or meal throughout the day.

Malaysian Food Roti Canai
Roti Canai

7. Char Kway Teow - stir-fried noodles, Iconic Malaysian Delight

Char kway teow, a beloved Malaysian street food sensation, showcases stir-fried flat rice noodles packed with an assortment of flavors and ingredients. Originating from southern Chinese provinces like Guangdong and Fujian, this dish made its way to Malaysia in the 19th century, bringing with it a rich cultural fusion. Cooked over high flames in a large wok for that signature smoky essence, it features key components like rice noodles, soy sauce, eggs, cockles, bean sprouts, Chinese sausage, and shrimp, often with variations including fish cake, chicken, squid, chives, or chili paste. Served alongside garlic chili sauce or hot chili oil for an extra kick, Penang stands out as the epicenter of this dish’s fame, celebrated for its unique blend of fresh rice noodles, duck eggs, sweet dark soy sauce, plump blood cockles, and the art of charcoal-fired cooking, delivering the unmistakable “wok hei” (wok’s breath).

8. Laksa - A noodle soup with coconut and curry

Laksa, a cherished Southeast Asian noodle soup, transcends borders, delighting palates in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and neighboring regions. This culinary gem stars a variety of noodles bathed in a rich, coconut milk-infused broth flavored with fragrant herbs, shrimp paste, and a spicy curry paste, boasting ingredients like lemongrass, chilies, and shallots. Toppings abound, featuring chicken, shrimp, fish, cockles, and an assortment of accompaniments, enlivened with sambal (spicy chili sauce) and a squeeze of lime.

Across Malaysia, diverse regional variations emerge. Penang’s asam laksa offers a tangy fish-based broth with mackerel and vibrant herbs. Nyonya laksa in Malacca indulges in creamy coconut splendor with a harmonious blend of spices. Meanwhile, Sarawak laksa entices with its aromatic coconut broth and a unique spice paste, showcasing Sarawak’s culinary heritage.

9. Satay - A grilled meat dish with peanut sauce

Satay, a cherished dish of skewered, grilled meat, has a firm grip on Southeast Asian palates, notably in Malaysia. Its roots lie in Java, Indonesia, yet it has gracefully adapted across diverse regional cultures. In Malaysia, satay stars chicken, beef, or mutton, with occasional appearances of fish, pork, or other meats, all marinated in a fragrant blend of turmeric, coriander, cumin, lemongrass, garlic, and chili before being expertly threaded onto skewers. Over a charcoal fire, they char to tender perfection. The pièce de résistance is the peanut sauce, a velvety concoction of roasted peanuts, coconut milk, chili, onion, garlic, tamarind, sugar, and salt, adding a sweet-savory dimension to the succulent meat. Complemented by cucumber slices, onion wedges, and ketupat (rice cakes in palm leaves), this ensemble balances the dish’s bold and spicy flavors.

Malaysian Food Satay
Satay, a cherished dish of skewered

10. Cendol - An iced dessert with green jelly and coconut milk

Cendol, an iconic Southeast Asian dessert, particularly cherished in Malaysia, offers a delightful medley of green rice flour jelly, velvety coconut milk, palm sugar syrup, and frosty shaved ice. To craft it, rice flour is blended with water and fragrant pandan leaves, forming green-hued, aromatic strands once pushed through a sieve or ricer into cold water. Served in tall glasses or bowls, it’s lavishly crowned with coconut milk for creaminess and palm sugar syrup for a caramel-like sweetness, while the addition of shaved ice grants a refreshing chill—ideal for warm weather. Cendol can also be customized with toppings like red beans, jackfruit, durian, or corn, adding diverse textures and flavors. It’s readily available at street stalls, food courts, restaurants, and coffee shops across Malaysia and takes center stage in festive occasions, symbolizing the diverse cultural influences within Malaysian cuisine.

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