16 Best Malaysian Food You Must Try

best malaysian food
| 5 min read

Malaysia is a food haven and there are a lot of delicacies you must try when you are traveling in the country. You’ll also find plenty of places to stay, including resorts and hotels with a private pool. This article will give you a peek into the best Malaysian food that you must not miss out on trying. Read on for more.

1. Nasi kerabu

Restoran Molek Opening
Source: Photo by Flickr user amrufm used under CC BY 2.0

Nasi kerabu is probably the most intriguing dish on the list with its striking set of colors. It is a Malay rice dish served with salted egg, aromatic fresh herbs, crackling shrimp crackers, and a choice of protein. The apparent star in this plateful of surprises is the blue rice, which is achieved by using butterfly-pea flowers as a natural food coloring. This bold rice is paired with sources of fiber and protein such as salads, pickles, fried chicken, and dried fish—the finished product is a well-balanced and nutritious meal.

While nasi kerabu is distinctively known for its blue-colored rice, the dish is creatively substituted with yellow and gray rice where turmeric and mengkudu leaves are used for coloring.

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2. Sambal udang

Udang Sambal Petai
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Mdsheth1986 used under CC BY-SA 4.0

If you can stand the heat of spicy food, sambal udang is a must-try. Sambal is a red chili sauce that is heavily used in Malaysian cooking, while udang is a Malay word for shrimp or prawn. Hence, sambal udang is shrimp in spicy sauce. It is commonly served as a side dish to nasi lemak and other rice dishes to spruce up a meal. However, it is widely enjoyed on its own by simply drizzling its savory sauce over steaming hot rice as the sauce is the key ingredient in this dish.

The formula of the sambal sauce generally varies but the very basic sauce is a paste made with liberal amounts of fiery red chili and a little salt and vinegar.

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3. Popiah basah

Popiah - ABC Cafe
Source: Photo by Flickr user Alpha used under CC BY-SA 2.0

This is one of the healthier items to include in your Malaysian food craw. Popiah basah, or spring roll, is local comfort food in Malaysia that is commonly available as street food. It is a straightforward wrap of vegetables dipped in gravy enjoyed either fresh or fried.

The dish involves three main elements: wrapper, filling, and gravy. The filling is usually a mix of vegetables such as bean sprouts, cabbage, carrots, and cucumber. Some throw in shrimp to add texture and flavor to each healthy roll. Its sauce is this flavorful, sweet, and spicy gravy that nicely sheathes the wrap. Every bite of this delicacy is a guiltless act of pigging out.

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4. Kuih

Nyonya Kuih
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Dd993f2 used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Desserts have always been a significant part of the Malaysian diet. With a multitude of savory food available throughout its history, kuih remains one of the few delicacies that is yet to take the spotlight. Although of Chinese origin, the word kuih presents a taste that is distinctively Malay and is a casual term for wide varieties of pastries, cookies, cakes, puddings, and even dumplings.

The main recipe is a mixture of flour or glutinous rice, coconut milk, sugar, salt, and natural fragrance which is then elevated by adding ingredients such as yam, sweet potato, cheese, shredded coconut, or sago pearls. Perfect at any time of the day, kuih are enjoyed for dessert, breakfast, or simply as snacks.

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5. Apam balik

Giant Apam Balik
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Yun Huang Yong used under CC BY 2.0

Check out the unique pancake of Asia—apam balik. It is a Southeast Asian pancake dish that is greatly popular in Malaysia. What is unique about this pancake is that when cooked, it is turned over and stuffed with varieties of fillings. Among the popular options are cream corn, roasted peanuts, sugar, chocolates, and cheese; the possibilities on the character of this dessert are endless.

The thickness of apam balik is a matter of preference but it generally has the thick and thin version. A thin apam balik is crispy while the thicker version is chewy. Whatever your adventure is, you can have them both ways as they are just delicious.

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6. Bubur cha cha

Peter's Mum's Bubur Cha Cha
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Alpha used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Malaysia is highly committed to desserts and proof of that is bubur cha cha that has graced the list. It is a medley of sweet potatoes, yam, tapioca jelly, and sugar cooked in pandan-infused coconut milk. This soupy dessert with a quirky name is commonly prepared during festive occasions in Penang and is greatly enjoyed by locals.

There is no general agreement on the meaning of the name of the dish but some people think it is anchored to the merry dance called cha cha. With its colorful yet delicious identity, bubur cha cha is a lighthearted dessert sure to make the appetite dance.

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7. Nasi lemak - The national food of Malaysia

Nasi Lemak, Mamak, Sydney
Source: Photo by user Mw12310 used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Nasi lemak is the staple food every Malaysian eats and is fond of. It is a comfort food that everyone in this region simply loves and is a fragrant rice dish, cooked in coconut milk, with a variety of accompaniments. The entire dish usually includes rice cooked in coconut milk with pandan leaves, or screwpine, usually served with sambal - a paste made from anchovies and chilli, cucumber, peanuts and at times also served with a hard-boiled or fried egg.

You can find nasi lemak anywhere in Malaysia and it costs very little (around RM 2 or approx 0.50 USD). You can also find a vegetarian version of this dish, all you need to do is ask!

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8. Satay

Kajang Satay
Source: Photo by Flickr user Marufish used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Satay is a popular street food made from seasoned and grilled, skewered meat - usually chicken or beef. The meat is marinated in a distinct blend of lemongrass, turmeric and other local spices. Kajang satay is said to be one of the best in town and full of flavour. Satay is usually served with some delicious chunky peanut sauce and sometimes a dollop of spicy sambal, so you feel the burst of flavour in your mouth when you bite into a piece! You can eat delicious satay at the night markets that crop up during the various days of the week.

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9. Bak kut teh

Bak Kut Teh
Source: Photo by Flickr user Charles Haynes used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Bak kut teh is a pork rib dish, cooked in broth and very popular in Malaysia and Singapore. The dish traces its origin to the Hoklo and Teochew community, who made it popular in this region. The dish consists of meaty pork ribs which are simmered for hours, in a broth of several herbs and spices such as cinnamon, star anise, cloves, garlic and fennel seeds. Although the word Teh (which means tea in Malay) is a part of the name, there is no tea in the dish - the name actually refers to a strong oolong Chinese tea that is usually served alongside the soup. This soup is believed to dissolve the fat, present in this pork-dish. You get good bak kut teh in almost every part of Malaysia, look for a Chinese shop.

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10. Roti canai

Roti Canai
Source: Photo by Flickr user Geoff Peters used under CC BY 2.0

Pronounced as roti “Chanaai”, this dish is said to have been brought to Malaysia by the Mamaks, who arrived in Malaysia years ago. It is basically a flaky, flat bread, traditionally served with dhal (lentil curry) or any other curry, such as chicken or mutton. Over the years, the versatile roti canai has undergone many variations to include a variety of fillings and toppings such as eggs, condensed milk, Nutella, peanut butter and banana, to name a few. Look for a Mamak shop and you will surely find some delicious roti canai!

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11. Cendol

Famous Penang Cendol
Source: Photo by user Icemoon used under CC BY 2.0

Cendol is a traditional dessert, available in southeast Asia. It is made from rice flour and a few other ingredients, mixed with palm sugar and coconut milk. The worm-like rice flour jelly is supposedly called “jendol” in Indonesian and that is how it got its name. Try this interesting dish at roadside shops or in fancy restaurants, people here just love it. Each region in Malaysia has its version of Cendol, try them all!

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12. Sarawak laksa

Sarawak Laksa... Food worth travelling for
Source: Photo by Flickr user Kai Hendry used under CC BY 2.0

Laksa is a very popular, spicy noodle soup that is a prime feature of Peranakan cuisine. It usually consists of rice noodles along with prawns, fish or chicken and served with a spicy broth. This soup can be a rich and spicy coconut milk curry or made with tamarind, called asam laksa. Sarawak laksa is a dish popular in the Malaysian state of Sarawak and is made with a paste of galangal, shallots, dried chillies, lemongrass and other herbs and spices, along with chicken stock and coconut milk. For the most authentic version, you might want to travel to Sarawak, but you can get good sarawak laksa in different parts of Malaysia.

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13. Rendang

Aunt Lay Leong's Rendang Beef
Source: Photo by user Alpha used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Rendang is a spicy meat dish, said to have its origins in Indonesia, but it is equally popular in Malaysia. Rendang is a dish you get to see during Ramadan feasts. Although it is called a curry, it is not actually one since it is not a loose gravy dish. You can try delicious chicken rendang, beef liver rendang or even duck. Depending on the meat that is used, rendang is named accordingly. So look for shops selling rendang and try out all the varieties.

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14. Char siew rice

HK Sheung Wan Cafe de Coral lunch rice red barbecue pork meat green vegetable 10-Aug-2012
Source: Photo by user M21Cestda used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Char siew or Char Siu rice is a typical Chinese dish, served with flavourful barbequed pork and rice. Char siew literally means “fork roast” and it is made with long strips of seasoned, boneless pork, skewered with long forks and placed in a covered oven or over a fire, giving it its intense flavour and colour. You can find stalls selling the best char siew in different parts of Malaysia, especially in the Chinese dominated areas of the country.

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15. Banana leaf rice

banana leaf rice with veg condiments, pappadom and honey chicken
Source: Photo by user tisay used under CC BY-ND 2.0

Banana leaf rice refers to a meal served on a banana leaf and is the traditional method of serving food in south Indian cuisine. Since the south Indian people migrated to countries like Malaysia and Singapore, the cuisine, over the years, has become a part and parcel of Malaysian cuisine. Typically, in banana leaf meals, we are served white or parboiled rice with curry, called"sambar", along with a variety of vegetables, pickles and papadom, or crispy flatbread.

The banana leaf acts as a disposable plate and it in itself is not consumed. Meals on the banana leaf are meant to be eaten by hand, as it is said to enhance the entire food experience - in terms of all senses. A banana leaf meal usually costs around RM 7-10 (approx 1.60-2.30 USD), depending on the side dishes you order. Look for restaurants with the signage “Banana Leaf Rice” and remember that banana leaf meals are primarily served only for lunch.

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16. Hokkien mee

KL Hokkien Noodles - Laksa King
Source: Photo by Flickr user Alpha used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Hokkien mee is a noodle dish that is quite popular in Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine. The dish has its origins in Fujian (Hokkien) province, in China. It usually consists of egg or rice noodles that are stir fried with egg, prawns, slices of pork, and squid. Other additions include some vegetables, lard, lime and sambal sauce for added sourness and spice. You can choose from Hokkien Char Mee, popular in Kuala Lumpur or Penang Hae Mee (prawn noodles) that is famous in Penang. So, eat away!

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Eat to your heart's content

As already mentioned, Malaysia is a food haven and the food reflects the motto of this country - “Truly Asia”. The cuisine is a wonderful mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian flavours and it is loved equally by all. If you have food restrictions, do ask the chef to prepare the food as per your liking. Muslims can look for eateries that serve Halal food, very easily. Enjoy your food journey in Malaysia with its amazing food!

While you’re here, try to visit some of the best islands or explore the top hiking spots to make your trip more memorable!

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Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
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