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Every Traveler Should Know About Malaysian Food

Over the last few years the West has really adopted Malaysian cuisine. The more familiar Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine tended to dominate Western knowledge of Asian styles, however Malaysian food has become a hot commodity in the US, Europe and Australia. 

Malaysian dishes reflect the multi ethnic makeup of its population. The vast majority of Malaysia‘s population can roughly be divided among three major ethnic groups: Malays, Chinese and Indians. The remainder consists of the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia, the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia, the Peranakan and Eurasian creole communities, as well as a significant number of foreign workers and expatriates.

History and Heritage impacts how and what Malaysians cook. So their dishes can feel familiar and distinct at the same time.

As a result of historical migrations, colonization by foreign powers, and its geographical position within its wider home region, Malaysia’s culinary style in the present day is primarily a melange of traditions from its Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean citizens, with heavy to light influences from Thai, Portuguese, Dutch, and British cuisines, to name a few. This resulted in a symphony of flavors, making Malaysian cuisine highly complex and diverse.

Because Peninsular Malaysia shares a common history with Singapore, it is common to find versions of the same dish across both sides of the border regardless of place of origin, such as laksa and chicken rice. Also because of their proximity, historic migrations and close ethnic and cultural kinship, Malaysia shares culinary ties with Indonesia, as both nations often share certain dishes, such as satay, rendang and sambal.

The Most Beloved Dishes

Nasi Lemak is probably the best know Malaysian meal. It’s made with rice steamed with coconut milk and pandan leaves to give it a rich fragrance. Many consider nasi lemak to be Malaysia’s national dish and it’s usually served with ikan bilis, peanuts, sliced cucumber, hard boiled eggs and sambal.

Satays are easily the most popular for of street food. Marinated beef or chicken is skewered with bamboo kebab-style and  grilled. The skewers are usually served with sliced onions, cucumber, rice cubes and a spicy peanut sauce.

Char kway teow reflects Chinese culture in Malaysia. This is a wok fried dish which literally means “stir-fried ricecake strips”. It’s made with broad rice noodles with bean sprouts, prawns, eggs, chives and thin slices of Chinese salami. 

Ikan bilis is dried anchovies and they’re often served lightly spiced and mixed with peanuts as a snack, but they also form a critical ingredient in the delicious breakfast dish nasi lemak which is a mix of coconut rice, boiled eggs and spicy shrimp paste.

Nasi dagang comes from the border with Thailand. It’s usually as a mix of different types of rice, cooked with coconut milk and fenugreek and then served with fish curry.

Banana leaf curry comes from the Indian influence in the country. This dish features an assortment of vegetable curries, rice and dhal, served on a banana leaf and eaten with your fingers. It’s a lot of fun to eat and usually very delicious.

Laksa is another iconic Malaysian dish. It’s a spicy fish-based soup which is prepared creamy with coconut and loaded with rice noodles.


There are of course thousands of other dishes, but this you a good taste of Malaysian cuisine, one of our favorites.