Ten Malaysian foods to die for

Malaysian cuisine is a rich fare that features the unique amalgamation of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines, and also mirrors the ethnic makeup of this multicultural nation

‘Malaysia truly Asia’ has long been the tag line of the Malaysia Tourism Promotion board. This catchy slogan in fact is very appropriate, as it embodies the true spirit of this multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country, which today features as a prominent destination on the tourist travel map.

Known for its energetic cities, stunning beach and dive resorts and lush, tropical rain forest landscapes, Malaysia has much to offer the intrepid tourist. However, aside from being captivated by its stunning natural attractions, most visitors to Malaysia also go home raving about the incredible flavors and tastes of Malaysian cuisine. Malaysian cuisine is a rich fare that features the unique amalgamation of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines, and also mirrors the ethnic makeup of this multicultural nation.

Listed below are some of the most popular Malaysian eats, which must be sampled on any trip to this exciting and culturally diverse land.

Nasi Lemak 
Nasi Lemak 

Nasi Lemak is a traditional Malaysian breakfast dish which features prominently on the menus of road side stalls as well as high end restaurants. This substantial dish features a serving of rice cooked in coconut cream and then steamed with ‘pandan leaves’ or lemon grass for additional flavor. Nasi Lemak is usually served with an assortment of accompaniments like pickled vegetables (acar), anchovies (ikan bilis), a boiled egg and sambal (a fiery paste of red chilies). These accompaniments are also often supplemented with a traditional meat, fish or poultry preparation, like beef rendang, sambal sotong, or ayam goreng. 

Roti Canai

Roti Canai is believed to have been introduced to the Malaysian peninsula by immigrants from South India, who were brought to work in the rubber plantations in the early 20th century. The Malaysian roti is a variation of the Indian bread known as ‘paratha’. The Malaysian roti is usually served with a curry, which is used as a dipping sauce. Roti Canai is available all throughout the day at the many Mamak (Indian Muslim) stalls that dot Malaysia’s culinary landscape and is popular as a breakfast or even a late night snack. The Malaysians have modified the flaky roti to suit local tastes and nowadays their roti often features stuffing like eggs, sardines and even fruits like banana, and durian. Yet another popular variation of the roti is the Roti tissue a wafer thin roti that is topped with a mouth-watering combination of honey and condensed milk.

Ikan Bakar

A popular lunch time favorite, Ikan Bakar features fish or seafood which is grilled in banana leaf and served with air asam (a tamarind sauce) which is used for dipping.

Satay (Top) and Laksa

Malaysian satays consist of skewers of barbecued meat (chicken, beef or lamb) which are served with a peanut dipping sauce and other accompaniments like ketupat (rice dumplings), onions and cucumber.


Laksa is perhaps the most iconic dish of Malaysian cuisine. This spicy, rice noodle soup represents the mingling of Malay and Chinese cultures and has numerous interpretations. In fact, every region of Malaysia has its own variation of Laksa that features various diverse ingredients like lemongrass, galangal, sambal belacan (fermented prawn paste) and more. However, perhaps the most famous of all these many laksa variations, is the renowned Asam Laksa, a spicy, sour, rice noodle fish broth, which hails from the northwestern coastal state of Penang.


Popiah or “fresh rice spring rolls” have their origins in Malaysia’s Peranakan culture. The Peranakan culture developed along the straits of Malacca during the 15th and 16th centuries, when traveling Chinese traders settled down and intermarried with the local Malay people. This intermingling gave rise to a unique way of life commonly referred to as “Nyonya Baba” and a range of delicious cuisine, which features dishes like popiah or fresh, rice paper rolls, stuffed with julienned vegetables, dried prawns, shredded yam bean, bengkoang (jicama) crushed peanuts and chilies.

Nasi Kandar

Nasi Kandar is a wholesome rice-based dish, which hails from Penang. Nasi Kandar features steamed or flavored rice, served with various curries like fish head curry, fried fish roe, eggplant or okra curry, fried squid or ketchup beef.


Rojak is a popular lunch or teatime treat and like many other much-loved Malay foods, this salad-like dish has many variations. Rojak, which is also known as Pasembor in Penang and other places, features fruits and vegetables served in a tangy sauce. A fruit Rojak usually features cubed cucumbers, pineapples, bean sprouts, tofu fritters tossed together with a paste made of tamarind, shrimp paste, sugar and chili and topped with crushed peanuts. Mamak Rojak or Indian Rojak is usually composed of dough fritters, prawn fritters, boiled potatoes and eggs, beansprouts, shredded cucumber, ingredients which are then anointed with a thick, spicy, peanut sauce.

Ais Kacang
Cendol and Ais Kacang

Most parts of Malaysia experience hot and sultry weather all year round. It is no wonder then that Malay desserts typically help to cool your body temperature and beat the sweltering heat. A favored Malaysian desert is Ais Kacang or ABC (Air Batu Campur) and it features a mountain of shaved ice that is adorned with multi-colored syrups and served with generous helpings of attap chee (palm seed), red bean, corn, grass jelly and the Malaysian version of gelatin called agar agar. This mountain of shaved ice is often topped with condensed milk or tinned fruits like mango or even ice cream. An Ais Kacang is believed to be the perfect thirst quencher in the steamy Malaysian climes. Cendol is yet another much-loved cool aid that features coconut milk, green rice noodles, shaved ice, and palm sugar (Gula Melaka).


Kuih are traditional Peranakan pastries which have been served for generations as tea time treats or celebratory eats. Unfortunately, nowadays these brightly colored, traditional cakes and pastries, which are typically crafted out of rice and tapioca flours and coconut milk, are largely being replaced by western desert favorites like cupcakes and macarons. However, if you happen to come across these delicacies during your travels in Malaysia, do indulge and sample a few old time favorites like the multilayered Kuih Lapis, the coconut shaving topped Ondeh-ondeh, Kuih Talam and Kuih Seri Muka. You definitely won’t regret it.