Malaysia: Food                                                     

  • Malaysia's cuisine has drawn from each of the cultures of Malaysia as well as from neighboring countries. The cuisine of China and that of southern India are significant sources of Malaysia's culinary heritage, as is the cuisine of Thailand.


  • Fresh tropical fruit and seafood are featured ingredients. The chilies and curries of India and Thailand form the basis of spicy meals. Coconut milk imparts a delicious smoothness to curries and other dishes.


  • The main part of every Malaysian meal is rice. At each meal, a generous helping accompanies a selection of dishes including fish, seafood, vegetables and poultry. Like many parts of Asia, beef is often not part of the diet.


  • Individual recipes vary widely from state to state. Basic ingredients may be the same, but the method of cooking and accompanying dishes changes with each state's tastes and local produce.


  • Breakfast is a major meal of the day.


  • In Malaysia, eating food at a roadside stall is a much-loved practice. The best stalls are as popular and as crowded as any permanent restaurant. Some stalls are open from morning to evening, while others are open from evening to dawn. Others are open around the clock—seven days a week.


Below is a small sample of Malaysian cuisine. Many of the dishes noted are available at stalls.


The most popular dish in Malaysia. Bite-sized pieces of beef, mutton or chicken are marinated in spices, then skewered through thin bamboo strips and barbecued over charcoal fire. Satay is served with ketupat (rice cake) and a raw salad of cucumber, pineapple and onions. Sweet, spicy peanut sauce accompanies the dish.

Nasi Lemak             

A rice dish cooked in coconut milk. It is served with ikan bilis (anchovies), sambal, boiled eggs, fried peanuts and cucumber slices. This is also a popular breakfast dish.

Roti Canai               

The all-time favorite breakfast pancake in Malaysian. Made from wheat-flour dough, roti canai sometimes incorporates beaten egg and diced onions for a crispier pancake.

Nasi Dagang           

A popular breakfast dish in the country provinces of Kelantan and Trengganu. Brastari rice and fish curry are the simple but delicious elements of this dish.

Nasi Goreng           

A complete fried rice dish with bits of meat, prawns, egg and vegetables.


A salad of pineapple, cucumber, bean curd, prawn fritters and boiled eggs served with peanut sauce.

Char Kway Teow   

Flat rice noodles stir-fried with minced garlic, fresh prawns, bean sprouts, cockles and eggs. The dish is seasoned with soy sauce and chili paste.

Chicken Rice          

There are several variations of chicken rice, but the most popular is the Hainanese version. The chicken is served with rice cooked in chicken stock. Garlic, chili sauce, cucumber slices and coriander leaves impart a fresh texture and irresistible flavor to this dish.

Curry Laksa             

A noodle dish served in curry blends boiled chicken, cockles, tofu and bean sprouts for a surprisingly tasty treat.


A meat dish that takes hours to prepare. Meat, coconut milk, chilies, onions and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, coriander and nutmeg are cooked over low heat. The result is a moist, tender dish with subtle and complex flavors. Eaten with rice ketupat (rice cake) or lemang (glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk).

A Steamboat          

Diners sit around a table that has a soup tureen in the middle. A fire below keeps it boiling hot. One then places raw pieces of shrimp, chicken, quail eggs, sea cucumber and liver in the boiling soup to cook—much like a fondue.

What is Malaysia’s national dish?

  • It is not official, but many might say it is nasi lemak!


  • The dish consists of rice cooked in coconut milk with knotted pandanus leaves, ginger, or a stalk of lemon grass that may be tossed into the pot to add fragrance. Nasi lemak is available on almost every street corner and in almost every restaurant. It is served with everything from chicken to beef to cuttlefish.


  • It can be eaten any time—breakfast, second breakfast, “elevenses,” lunch, tea, dinner or supper. The mingling of flavors and textures (creamy, hot & spicy, crunchy, nutty, etc) makes it simply delicious!


Essential Condiments:

  • Fried ikan bilis (anchovies)
  • Fried peanuts
  • Cucumber slices
  • Wedges of hardboiled egg
  • Sambal–a kind of cooked chili paste (plain, with onions, or with ikan bilis, too)


  • Chicken curry
  • Beef curry
  • Mutton curry
  • Cuttlefish sambal or curry
  • Chicken liver and gizzard curry
  • Fried chicken
  • Fried cow lung (paru)
  • Begedil (potato cutlets sometimes mixed with minced meat)
  • Dried shrimp sambal (some non-halal places cook this with minced pork)
  • Cockles in sambal
  • Stewed kangkong (water spinach)


Nasi Lemak Bungkus

“Bungkus” is Bahasa Melayu for “pack” or “wrap” and this is exactly what you get—a simple pre-packed serving of nasi lemak topped with sambal, a sprinkling of fried peanuts, ikan bilis, sliced cucumber and a wedge of hardboiled egg.


Nasi Lemak Bungkus are mostly sold by street vendors, although now they can be found in delis, bakeries and even at the food counters of some supermarkets. Sometimes it is sold pre-packed in microwaveable plastic containers with chicken or beef added.

Nasi Lemak Bungkus “to go”

Street vendors typically set up a table on a street corner and spread various pots and plastic containers out in front of them. A large wooden tub or insulated plastic pail contains the rice while pots and containers hold an assortment of condiments, rendang (a dry, spicy meat dish), curries, sambal and boiled or fried eggs. Customers pick what they want to accompany the nasi lemak, and the vendor will pack it all neatly in a paper wrapper. If you pick more extras, expect to pay a bit more. 


Nasi Kunyit
Naszi Kunyoi is called “festive yellow rice” because it is traditionally served during a festival. Keeping with tradition, the Chinese serve nasi kunyit to mark the birth of a newborn child or as an offering to the Gods. To Muslims, it has ritual significance and is served during weddings or other grand festive celebrations. This rice is delicious when eaten with rendang or chicken curry.

  • 3 cups glutinous rice
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 cups coconut milk
  • 1 cm ginger root (smashed)

Rinse rice and cover with water. Add turmeric powder and soak for 3 hours. Drain rice. Place in a large pot and cook over medium heat in coconut milk, seasoned with salt ginger root. Serves 4.

Chicken Curry with Potatoes

  • 1 chicken (cut in pieces)
  • 4 potatoes (pre-boiled and cut into quarters)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 4 cm ginger (sliced)
  • 5 tbsp chili paste or sambal oelek
  • 2 cups coconut milk or fresh milk
  • 2 onions (thinly sliced)
  • 1 stalk of lemon grass
  • 1 lemon leaf (if available)
  • 2 cloves
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 small piece of cinnamon stick
  • curry powder (add water to make a smooth paste)
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp oil

Grind garlic, ginger and chilies into a fine paste. Stir-fry onion in hot oil until soft. Add cloves, cinnamon stick, chili paste, curry powder paste and cook for 1 minute. Add chicken pieces and salt (to taste) and coat with spices. Add potatoes, 1 cup coconut milk, lemon grass and lemon leaf. Simmer until chicken is cooked. Add second cup of coconut milk. When bubbles, add lemon juice and cook for another minute. Serve hot with rice.