9 Delicious Malaysian Dishes
I was born with a gift. My friends can attest to this.
I can eat an extraordinary amount of food and still have room for a dessert. Perhaps even a coffee and a mint afterwards. Now this voracious appetite has not helped me become a crime-fighting super hero (maybe someday) but it has allowed to me taste copious local delicacies on my travels.
There is nowhere that I apply this ‘talent’ more than when visiting Malaysia. Just to give you a background I was born in Malaysia, a ‘Bumiputra’, prince of the earth as they call it and moved to the UK when at 8 years old. Despite the change of upbringing, culture, the bloody cold there is nothing that has left an empty hungry hole in my heart than literally all the sumptuous delicacies that has ever been cooked in my home city. This is where my Popo (grandma) taught me how to peel Bau before you eat it, this is where I broke fast with strangers over some nasi putih and kari ayam (white rice and chicken curry) and this is where you can get a feast for RM 1 (about 20p back in the day).
It’s truly the Asian cuisine capital with taste sensations and flavours consisting of Indian, Chinese and Malay influences. Admittedly this is a nostalgic list as arguably there are SO many more delicious dishes to sample in Malaysia than I can write! But if you are having troubles choosing from the menu, I guarantee from the bottom of my heart that you will fall in food-love. If I’m wrong, I’ll get you a round of Teh Tarik.
Feast on travellers!
9 Best Malaysian Dishes. The List:
I cannot. I repeat CANNOT go back without having at least 3 of these straight off the plane in the first store that sells them. This is technically a Malaysian Breakfast influenced by the Indian contingent, although this is always my go to dish, breakfast lunch or dinner. A mix of flour, egg and clarified butter it is artistically thrown around by Roti Canai artisans and folded multiple times to create a gorgeous, light, flaky bread. Imagine a pancake had kids with a croissant. But 1000 times better. Best served with lentil dal or for those with a sweet tooth or the kids with sprinkled sugar.
The staple of Mamak stalls Malaysia wide. These bundles of joy, often wrapped in a banana leaf and the current days newspaper reveal a full meal complete containing (wait for it):
- Coconut Rice
- Hard Boiled Egg
- Ikan Bilis (Dried Anchovies)
and if you go to a super posh restaurant (which I don’t recommend), a fried chicken.
The Nasi Lemak is like a sandwich in the UK, easy to get and a great comfort food. It has delicate balance of flavours and textures from the spicy sambal, the crunchy ikan bilis, the cool cucumber and the delicate rice. A national and unwavering dish which, although may not look like much, is a great metaphor of how bold flavours can come from something simple.
Char Kuey Teow
Fun Fact. I’ve not been anywhere that can do Char Kuey Teow like Malaysia. there are many versions of this but originally a Chinese influence with strong flavours througout. Char Kuey Teow gets a wok and throws in flat rice noodles, soy sauce, chilli, sambal, prawns, cockles, beansprouts, chives, eggs and uncommonly depending which side of Malaysia you are on (Muslim or non-muslim) sausage, pork fat and fish cake. Leave your diet at the door as this dish packs some serious saturated fat, but you’re on holiday so treat yourself!
Banana Leaf Rice
I have to admit, this was getting a lot harder to find on my last visit, so who knows what happened to its popularity. I had to trek all the way to Little India in Penang to satisfy my craving, but the trip was more than worth it. This typically describes the method of serving dishes bought by migrants from South India. It consists of a large banana leaf (used as a plate), several helpings of white rice with a a large assortment of vegetables, pickles, popadoms and more curry than you can dip a naan at.
Its like the Tapas of the Indian / Malay world…all served on a banana leaf. Delish!
Another simple dish full of flavour originally brought over by early Chinese immigrants from the Haian province in Southern China it consists of only 4 simple ingredients; chicken, rice, sambal and soup stock. Through time however the chicken have been adapted to two styles which have been the reason for many family feuds and fallen friendships (not really); steamed (boooo) or grilled (yessss). It’s heart warming and perfect if you’re looking for some a protein boost and something relatively healthy. Just be sure to choose the grilled chicken!
Karipap, karipap! The vendor man say as he walked into my coach back to K.L. What luck! Holding a wicker basket full of greasy goodness, with a toothless grin he hands me two wrapped in tissue paper and I hungrily engulfed it . What a guy! Now imagine a Cornish Pasty. You got it? Well shrink that take all the fillings out fill it with curry and deep fry that bad boy and you have one of the tastiest snacks in South East Asia!
Come on now, you don’t need me to explain this one right? Everyone knows satay! Delicious morsels of chicken on skewers grilled over an open flame for that distinctive smokey flavour. Served with teeny tiny onions, cuts of cucumbers and ketupat (squares of rice) and drizzled lavishly with peanut sauce to perfectly compliment it’s taste. Great anytime of day and definitely have 6 in one go.
Okay, so this is technically not a Malaysian delicacy but its such a nostalgic dish for me. Every time my Pops would come take me out for dinner at some late evening, we would park up at any old street where a stall would be set up, the streets would be bustling with other families and their kids running around having Milo-Ice trying to keeping the humid air at bay and Chicken Chop would be on the menu. If I remember right it was always on the ‘Western’ food section of the Hawker stall! This is essentially a Malaysian version of the German schnitzel served with gravy, fries and a small portion of mixed vegetables. Sure I could have a turkey escalope, but it just isn’t the same! Trust me on this one.
Technically not Malaysian as it came from Cantonese settlers and is found in China Town around the Globe. A visit to Malaysia would never be complete without going out for Dim Sum. It’s the perfect get together for family and friends and is the Chinese version of Tapas, only a majority of the food is steamed. So I suppose you could say it’s really healthy…so you may as well order 5 o r 6 different dishes! Upon entering the restaurant you are given a small A6 menu with a list of food and tick boxes. With me and my families appetites 2/3rd of these are ticked and with the Chinese efficiency steaming baus and dumplings are served on a rotating centre top.
The marmite of Malaysia. Though I have recently read it grows in Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and… Canada?! This fruit is around the size of a Coconut, the density of Pineapple and are covered in hard green spikes. You have to get a parang to open the fruit up which splits into sections of seeds covered in what is only described as yoghurt. The yoghurts the good bit, its creamy, its heart warming, its delicious. Though the downside is the fruit in general stinks. It stinks so much that vehicles and accommodations ban it. From my experience it seems westerners can’t stand it either! But be daring, just have a cheeky taste!
Just a side note. My mouth was absolutely dribbling when writing this list. So Next up I’ll write the best places in London to get some proper Malay food. Just like Mama made.
So what do you think? Are there any dishes you think should have made the cut? What were your best meals growing up? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the comments below!
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
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