It’s no secret that Malaysians are passionate about their food. Thanks to our melting pot of cultures, we’re blessed with a whole lotta good food that blends a range of cuisines and flavours. Here, in alphabetical order, is our list of 50 must-eat Malaysian foods.
Thin or fat, chewy or crispy, apam may have come from Sri Lanka, but it’s a firm favourite in Malaysia. A kind of crepe, it can be had plain or with a sweet santan sauce and even filled with anything from crushed peanuts to sweet corn. Found in most pasar malams, we’ve got some places you can get your fill of apam!
2. Ayam Percik
In Malaysia, we’re not satisfied with simply barbequing pieces of chicken marinated in turmeric and chilli powder. After grilling them to a nice crisp, we douse them in a thick sauce made from coconut milk, ginger, and garlic with hints of tamarind and lemongrass for a tangy kick. The ayam percik goes wonderfully with rice dishes like nasi kerabu, a combo which you can find at Hayaki.
3. Ayam Pongteh
Ayam pongteh (or sometimes pork) is the ultimate Peranakan comfort dish combining the pungent savoury flavours of preserved bean paste (taucu) and the sweet smokiness of gula Melaka. The resulting thick and creamy gravy ladled over steaming white rice is absolute perfection!
4. Bak Kut Teh
Whoever thought of throwing various cuts of pork, tofu, vegetables, and often times, offal, into a savoury broth infused with aromatic herbs was an absolute genius. Throw that diet out the window! Who cares about cholesterol levels when there’s something as delicious as bak kut teh on the table!
5. Bubur Chacha
A traditional Malaysian dessert that is equally as delicious hot or cold, bubur chacha is a fragrant coconut soup with chunks of soft sweet potatoes, taro, and tapioca pearls (sago). Rich and creamy, it’s guaranteed to be delicious and comforting every time. Get your fill of this warming tong sui at Section 17’s wai sek kai and end your hawker feast on a sweet note.
6. Burger Bakar
Before any hipster burger joints ever cropped up, there was the good old-fashioned burger bakar, found on almost any street corner. Have your meat grilled or fried, there are endless variants with anything from the humble Ramly burger (the special cheese is a crowd favourite) to the heftier grilled beef patties of Abang Burn’s. Grab a quick one to go at any one of the most happening burger bakar stalls in town!
A sweet banana-infused treat, cekodok is the perfect teatime snack (or any time really). Ripe bananas mashed together with a flour batter are formed into balls and deep-fried to a golden crisp. Break it apart to reveal warm and chewy insides for a sweet snack that will go perfectly with a frothy cup of teh tarik.
We’d go for this simple shaved ice treat over any fancy dessert any day! A mound of ice so finely shaved it’d melt at the touch of your spoon, it’s served with pandan worm-like jellies with a generous amount of creamy santan and rich, earthy gula Melaka. Cendol is best had on a scorching hot Malaysian day.
9. Char Kway Teow
Widely loved and enjoyed, char kway teow comes close to besting nasi lemak as our national dish! It’s nothing short of amazing that a simple dish of flat rice noodles stir-fried with garlic, pork lard, chives, prawns, eggs, and sometimes Chinese sausage could taste so good. With a good amount of wok hei, it’s a must-eat in Penang or anywhere else in Malaysia for that matter!
10. Chee Cheong Fun
A versatile dish that comes in many styles, chee cheong fun is always a tasty meal. In Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh, the silky-smooth flat rice noodles is often served doused in a mix of sweet sauce or curry with a side of yong taufu. In Penang, chee cheong fun is simply served with the island’s trademark prawn paste to give it a very rich and pungent taste.
11. Chicken Rice Balls
Make a mention of Melaka, and Hainanese chicken rice balls almost always springs to mind. Rice, plump and fragrant from being steamed in chicken stock, is formed into juicy balls to accompany succulent and silky-smooth chicken pieces. Pair it with a tangy and spicy chilli dip to complete the meal.
A Nyonya delicacy made of fermented shrimps, cincalok’s strong flavour is a bit of an acquired taste. Often served as a condiment with chillies, shallots, and lime juice, it’s definitely a must-try. A common way cincalok is used in Nyonya cooking is to incorporate it into an omelette. To get a taste of the unique flavours of cincalok, Nancy’s Kitchen in Melaka is a good place to start.
13. Claypot Loh Shu Fun
Served in a sizzling hot claypot, chewy loh shu fun (finger vermicelli) is coated in a salty soy sauce and tossed with minced meat. The crowning glory of the dish is a raw egg cracked right on top and mixed in for creamier and silky-smooth texture. This steaming hot dish is perfect for cold nights and we know exactly where you can get your fill!
14. Cucur Udang
A Malaysian take on prawn fritters, strips of onions, carrots, and chives along with shrimps are bound together by a sprinkle of flour and baking powder before being deep-fried to a delightful crunch. Sometimes infused with hints of chilli, it can be eaten on its own or better yet, dipped into a sweet chilli sauce or ketchup for a uniquely Malaysian snack.
15. Debel Curry
A classic Kristang (Portuguese-Eurasian) dish, debel curry is a fiery hot curry dish. The gravy is thick and rich with one-of-a-kind earthy flavours from candlenuts, galangal, and vinegar. While it originated in Melaka, debel curry can now be found from Penang to Kuala Lumpur!
The King of Fruits, you’ll either love it or hate it. But this pungent, thorny fruit holds a special place in our hearts. Only in Malaysia do you get multiple variations of the fruit, from sweet to bitter and even bittersweet! From ang heh (red prawn in Hokkien) from Penang to Musang King in Pahang, get the lowdown on the different types of durians with our finger-lickin’ taste test!
17. Fish Head Noodles
This dish is distinct for its milky broth, combining a tangy, sweet, and savoury broth with crispy fish and crunchy preserved vegetables, blending multiple flavours and textures together beautifully. To savour a bowl of fish head noodles of your own, we know a place that dishes up the freshest of fish in the most flavourful broth.
18. Fruit Rojak
Fill up on your vitamins and minerals with a Malaysian-style fruit salad that’s delicious and good for you! Choose your fruits from mango and pineapples to turnip and guava to toss in a thick, goopy prawn paste, the piece de resistance of the dish. For a little hear, jazz it up with a dollop of chilli paste or powder for a whirlwind of sweet, sour, and spicy flavours!
19. Heong Peng
A unique Chinese baked snack, heong peng (literally fragrant biscuit in Cantonese) is a crunchy, flaky biscuit filled with a sticky, golden caramel. If you have it fresh out of the oven, there’s nothing quite like biting into the crispy biscuit and warm, gooey caramel. It also makes a great souvenir from Ipoh where you can get the finest heong peng from Seng Kee.
20. Ikan bakar
Ikan bakar is street-style fish and seafood grilled the Malaysian way. Your choice of seafood, often ikan pari (stingray), is marinated in a spicy, tangy concoction before wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled over charcoal until a thin layer of crackling forms over the skin that has to go with the all-important dipping sauce of chopped chillies, garlic, and lime. Found just about anywhere, it can be enjoyed all day every day!
21. Ipoh Taugeh
Ipoh-grown taugeh (beansprouts) is something quite special. Fat, juicy, and crunchy, many claim that the water from the limehills surrounding the idyllic town has something to do with it. That, or it’s the amount of time and love the local taugeh growers pour into their produce. Try it for yourself along with silky-smooth steamed chicken at three of the best restaurants in Ipoh!
22. Ju Hu Char
A Nyonya dish, joo hoo char is a delectable fried salad made up mostly of crunchy shredded jicama with dried cuttlefish and mushrooms for extra flavour. It can be eaten wrapped up with lettuce leaves and a little sambal for those who love a little heat or simply as is! Any Nyonya food lover will be sure to love it!
23. Kai See Hor Fun
One of Ipoh’s many gems, the kai see hor fun (shredded chicken kway teow soup) is simple yet the satisfaction of the dish comes from a broth boiled for hours using prawn shells and chicken to yield a deep, flavourful soup. Coupled with silky-smooth kway teow and crunchy taugeh, this is comfort food at its best. While the best can only be found in Ipoh, we’ve got a few spots in KL that comes pretty close!
24. Kerabu Jantung Pisang
Why have just the banana when you can have kerabu jantung pisang! A Nyonya salad using banana blossoms cooked in creamy coconut milk, a healthy dose of chilli and kerisik (toasted ground coconut) cuts right through the richness with fresh flavours. Try the best of the best in Melaka!
25. Kek Lapis Sarawak
A delicious multi-layered cake that you can also feast your eyes on, this sweet dessert comes in a variety of flavours from Horlicks to cheese. The sign of a good kek lapis is in its intricate design coupled with a dense and moist cake.
Originally from the northern state of Terengganu, keropok lekor can be found almost everywhere and boy, are we glad for that! These delightful treats come in two variants: a thinner crispy version, or fatter and chewier. Whichever it is, it must be eaten together with a sweetish chilli sauce for a combo that just keeps you coming back for more! Get some of your own at this little stall in Bandar Utama.
27. KL Hokkien Mee
Hokkien mee consists of thick, yellow noodles fried in a dark, sticky sauce with lots of pork lard and sliced pork. The satisfaction of this dish hinges on how much wok hei (wok breath) infuses the noodle for a truly slurp-worthy meal. Hokkien mee has to be enjoyed in fuss-free environments like this hidden gem in the heart of KL.
28. Kolo Mee
A noodle dish unique to Sarawak, kolo mee makes use of a springy, curly noodle that is served with char siew, ground pork, sliced pork, fried shallots, and fresh spring onions. The thing that makes kolo mee, however, is a good amount of red pork oil (essentially char siew drippings) to infuse even more porky flavour into the dish while others opt for shallot oil instead.
29. Kuih Bahulu
Not as fluffy as bread yet not as dense as cake, kuih bahulu is a sweet pastry that is crisp and hard on the outside and airy on the inside. Almost always found in its recognisable shell-like shape, the bahulu is a pleasure to sink your teeth into.
30. Kuih Seri Muka
A gorgeous green and white two-layered sweet treat, seri muka consists of a steamed glutinous rice bottom half topped off by a pandan-infused jelly layer. Each bite is a combination of sticky rice and soft jelly with a burst of aromatic pandan and creamy coconut milk – absolutely delicious. Try seri muka along with a range of other killer kuihs at Bawang Merah.
Malaysia-style laksa comes in many forms. From curry laksa rich from coconut milk to Johor laksa’s thick fish-based gravy, our personal favourite would have to be the sour asam laksa. With crunchy shredded cucumber, pineapples, and onions, you can have it anywhere from mild to fiery hot, but most of all we love the tangy kick. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try your hand at making it at home!
A staple in Malay cuisine, lemang is a traditional dish made of santan-infused glutinous rice stuffed into bamboo sticks lined with banana leaves. It’s then smoked over a wood fire, infusing the rice with the aroma of the banana leaves and bamboo. The resulting fragrant glutinous rice circles can be eaten with almost anything but nothing beats a hearty beef rendang. Especially popular during Ramadhan, you’ll see it at almost every bazaar.
33. Lok Lok
A Cantonese term which literally translates to ‘boil-boil’, there are no guesses as to what this dish is. Skewers of meat, offal, vegetables, quail eggs, fish balls and more are dipped into communal pots of boiling water before being slathered in a sauce(s) of your choice. Oh, did we mention that these skewers are dished out from a van? There are no tables and chairs, just street dining at its best, often found in pasar malams although Pudu’s wai sek kai (glutton street) does offer a sit-down option.
34. Maggi Goreng
Maggi goreng may simply be just fried instant noodle, but every Malaysian worth his or her salt will tell you it’s anything but simple. Fried with shredded vegetables, tofu, chicken pieces and plenty of heat from the wok, it’s one mamak staple that would satisfy your hunger pangs any and all times of the day.
35. Nasi Kandar
Originating from Penang, you can be sure that nasi kandar is delicious (as with many other things from the island). Banjir (flood) your piping hot plate of rice with a spicy mixture of curries from chicken and beef to fish and squid. Pile on the likes of fried chicken, eggs, and vegetables for a filling meal like no other!
36. Nasi Kerabu
A Northern Malaysian dish, the striking blue rice of the nasi kerabu will be sure to pique anyone’s interest. Tinged by crushed bunga telang (pea flowers), this dish is chock-full of fresh flavours from pickles and salads with either fish or chicken. Kerisik (toasted ground coconut) infuses each bite with a sweet note along with a side of crackers for that extra crunch.
37. Nasi Lemak
If there was anything that comes close to a national dish, nasi lemak would have to be it. A simple combo of santan-rich steamed rice, sweet or savoury sambal, and cucumber slices with a side of crunchy salted peanuts and anchovies makes for an incredibly satisfying dish. It’s loved all over the country whether plain or padded out with fragrant rendang, crispy fried chicken, fiery squid sambal and many more variants!
Literally ‘brains-brains’ in Malay, this spicy, flavourful dish is anything but! Depending on which state it comes from, it can either be a big block of spicy fish paste steamed in a banana leaf (Nyonya style) or long strips grilled in attap leaves (Southern style). Wherever it’s from, the end result is a smooth jelly-like savoury fish cake bursting with spices. Yee Wen Thai Food dishes it up a little differently in a coconut!
39. Pan Mee
You can always count on pan mee to warm you up on a cold day. A Hakka dish of handmade noodles, you can have it thick, thin, or in flat pieces, and in a fiery-spicy version or just regular and soupy. Usually served with crunchy ikan bilis, minced pork, shredded mushrooms, and sayur manis, the dish can be had soup or dry, spicy or savoury. Whatever the case, pan mee is our go-to comfort food (one of our many!)
40. Prawn Mee
There’s something about a hot bowl of fragrant prawn mee (or Hokkien mee as it’s known in Penang) that warms the belly in the most satisfying way possible! One slurp of that rich, savoury broth, made from boiling loads of prawn shells for hours, with a fiery kick from chillies and sambal will have you hooked! Here are just some places to get a taste of this one-of-a-kind Penang dish.
41. Rojak Pasembor/Mamak
A kind of Malaysian Indian salad, pasembor is a delicious mix of (deep breath!) shredded cucumber, turnip, boiled potatoes, bean sprouts, fried beancurd, hard-boiled egg prawn fritters, spicy fried crab, and boiled cuttlefish. The key ingredient, though, is the generous lashings of sweet and spicy nut sauce that makes this dish really addictive.
42. Roti Canai
Roti canai is the go-to dish in any mamak small, popular for breakfast all the way through to supper and beyond! A fluffy Indian bread, order it extra garing (crispy) to go with dhal with a dollop of sambal or various curries. A local favourite, we combed through Selangor to bring you some of the best!
43. Roti John
The Vietnamese may have their banh mi, but we have our very own baguette in the form of the roti John! These long fluffy buns are split and slathered with butter before being filled with minced meat and a generous dollop of egg before being fried face down on a smoking hot pan which gives it a crisp char. It often comes with generous lashings of chilli or tomato sauce as condiments. Jiao Sai in Penang might be famous for their Maggi goreng but their open-faced roti John, complete with two sunny-side-up eggs, is a scene stealer.
44. Roti Tisu
A flatter and much sweeter sibling of the roti canai, roti tisu gets its name from its crispy, paper-thin texture studded with a generous sprinkling of sugar and drizzlings of condensed milk. The dish is often served in a towering cone, sometimes spanning a number of plates, making for quite a sight to behold. Our favourite is from Lotus Curry House. We go for the smaller sized cone for a more even sugary distribution.
45. Satay Celup
One of Melaka’s many delicacies, satay celup can only be found in the historic state. Combining the best of lok lok and satay, skewers of meat, vegetables, fish balls, and just about anything, are dipped into a boiling pot of fragrant spicy peanut sauce. Yes, it’s glorious, we know! Here’s where you need to go to get some and compete between your friends to see just how many sticks each of you can devour!
46. Shat Kek Ma
Shat kek ma is a delectable local biscuit snack. Deep-fried flour biscuits are stuck together with a generous amount of honey. Eating the crunchy, sticky biscuit square can get a little messy but it’s a sweet treat like no other! You can find it along Petaling Street or at the Setia Alam pasar malam.
47. Tau Sar Pneah
Another delicious snack to come from Penang, tau sar pneah (green bean pastry in Hokkien) is a bite-sized flaky pastry densely packed with a sweet-salty and powdery mung bean paste. A good tau sar pneah should have a flaky interior with crumbly insides just like the ones Ghee Hiang is known for.
48. Teh Tarik
As unifying as nasi lemak and loved all over the country, this frothy Malaysian-style tea is just as much of a pick-me-up as a good cup of coffee. Simple milk tea is poured from one mug to another for a delicious frothy head. Depending on preference, the all-important ratio of sweet condensed milk to bitter tea varies
49. White Coffee
In Malaysia, the finest purveyors of white coffee come from Ipoh. The coffee beans are roasted in margarine before being brewed with condensed milk (that’s where the white part comes from). Hot or cold, a frothy cup of white coffee is just the pick-me-up you need anytime of the day!
50. Yee Sang
A Chinese-style salad usually found in Malaysia and Singapore, yee sang is a celebratory dish eaten during the lunar New Year. Freshly shredded vegetables and crispy fried crackers are arranged neatly on a plate before diners toss it using chopsticks as a symbol of ushering in prosperity. Not only is it very good, it’s a local tradition, too!