Explore Malaysia's rich and wonderful food and drink traditions!
Malaysian cuisine is every bit as varied as the county itself. Malaysia is home to many different ethnic groups and each possesses its own culinary delights and traditions. An influence from Indonesia, Sumatra, Thailand and Brunei can be observed in many aspects of Malaysian cuisine. This is primarily by virtue of the country’s close relationship and proximity to its South East Asian counterparts.
There are many parallels between Malaysian cuisine and that of Indonesia and Thailand in their use of spices and coconut milk for their curry base. Natives of these countries also flavor their foods with similar herbs including lemon grass, and kaffir lime in their chilies etc. Indian and Chinese influences can also be observed as both these countries are integral parts of Malaysia’s ethnic makeup. Historically, the Straits Chinese or Nyonya people intermarried with the Malay forming a distinct community. There is a strong Chinese influence in the modern day Malaysian cuisine as a result!
As in most parts of Asia - rice is the staple food in Malaysia as well. Their Nasi lemak is the signature dish which is rice served with curry, fried anchovies and peanuts usually served on a pandan leaf. Malays love seafood and you will notice that a lot of Malay dishes are fish based. Even their spicy chili paste, Belachan, an accompaniment for many of their dishes is seafood based, specifically shrimp. Their cuisine uses a lot of chicken, beef and mutton as well. Their Beef rendang, Sambal udang are local favorites and a must try by tourists. Noodle dishes like Laksa, rice noodles in coconut milk with fish cakes are on the spicier side and great for chilly nights.
Once in Malaysia you have to taste Satay, which is available in almost every part of the country. Satay is made using fish or chicken stuffed in Pandan leaf and grilled. The dish is served over coconut and peanut paste with a huge helping of chili. Although Muslims do not consume pork, many Chinese dishes serve pork in Malaysia.
The bread dishes found in Malaysia are usually Roti canai and Roti prata - both Indian staples. You can also find a variety of South and North Indian cuisine in many parts of Malaysia.
The Asian population has a habit of eating noodles or even rice with curry for breakfast, which often surprises Western visitors! The Malaysian breakfast is usually Nasi lemak or a noodle soup. The Indians go for Roti prata or thosai.
All coffee shops, however, serve simple toast with kaya spread made out of coconut and yogurt or egg mix. Breakfast is served as a set with traditional Teh tarik (tea) and Kopi (coffee).
The Restaurants, Hawkers & Diners
You can get a delicious meal with a beverage for no more than 4 RM in one of Malaysia’s many coffee shops strewn all around the country. The kopitiams and food courts in the many malls in the country also offer cuisine from many other countries. Korean, Japanese and Chinese inspired options are general favourites. Some food courts will have a western counter as well serving fish and chips, burgers and fries. The cost of food in a kopitiam is generally higher than in the mamak shops or coffee shops.
Food in Malaysia is never a concern. There are many fast food joints like McDonalds, KFC and Burger King. There is also Malaysia’s own chain called “Sugar Bun” in many of the towns and cities. These along with the local varieties make sure you don’t go hungry on your holiday.
In cities like Kuala Lumpur you will also find an abundance of other western cuisines like Italian, French etc in fancy restaurants in the Bangsar area. However they close by 10pm and it is back to the 24-hour mamak shops or coffee shops. China town is the favorite for its many varieties of seafood and authentic Chinese cuisine.
When visiting Penang of course you should be adventurous and explore its famous street food. The street food served in Malaysia is clean and the vendors are government approved and certified, therefore hygiene is not a concern. There are other restaurant options as well in Penang but most Malaysians flock to Penang just to try its hawker food.
Cuisine in Sarawak and Sabah tend to get a little spicy because of the Borneo influence! Their cuisine is also an interesting mix of influences of more than 30 ethnic groups that make up Sabah’s population.
The Malays are also big on dessert and like their final course very sweet with generous helpings of coconut milk and sugar syrup as the base. Pengat, Honeydew and Sago, Cendol, Ais or Ice Kacang are some local favorites. Then there is always the ever-favourite Baskin Robbins in many parts of the country.
Malaysia is a land of variety as far as people, places and cuisines. Combined these factors add up to the true ‘Malaysian” experience!
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