New visitors to Malaysian shores may believe that this country is obsessed with food! We think they would be right!
And why wouldn’t they?
Malaysians have an amazing cuisine that is accessible to everyone. Everywhere you look there are street vendors, hawker centres, modern or local cafes, western food outlets and then the occasional ritzy restaurant. If you haven’t experienced a hawker centre before, here are 26 great tips for how they work and what to do, so you don’t feel like a fish out of water!
The street and hawker centre foods are often extremely cheap by western standards, but that doesn’t mean that they are lacking in taste or quality.
Often stalls are run and kept in the family, so recipes are passed down. If you try one dish at one stall it may not taste the same at the next stall, so it really does pay to try them at a variety of different stalls. However if you are like us, it can be hard to try somewhere else if you’ve fallen in love with the food from a particular stall!
We have tried some incredible foods in our time in Malaysia so this is not an exhaustive list, just our current favourites! We are constantly trying new foods and new locations, and we would encourage everyone to do the same.
Curry with Roti or Rice (or both!)
There are so many curries available in Malaysia due to the influences of so many cultures. You can of course get your well known Indian curries such as butter chicken or vindaloo, but often a stall will just offer a lamb or chicken curry. Usually this is a family recipe… and we’ve always found them to be delicious.
Our favourite place to get it from is Miami Cafe at Miami Beach, which is owned by Mary and Raja (they have an amazing story from the 2004 tsunami, read it here). We can’t help ourselves and always end up getting Mary’s lamb curry with roti while we sit and enjoy the amazing views from their cafe. The food in Malaysia is amazing, but when you have a view like from the tables at Miami Cafe, it makes it even better. We pay 16 MYR at Miami Cafe.
Whether you know it by the name fried rice, or by nasi goreng, most of us have tried it. I grew up eating fried rice from the local Chinese takeaway every Friday night. But seriously, let me tell you, in Malaysia nasi goreng is not just like what I’ve tasted in the west. It is flavoursome, it can be spicy and it can have a variety of different flavours depending on what the stall offers. Some only offer a general nasi goreng, others may offer ‘with egg’ or ‘with garlic’. Whether you have it as a side dish, or as a main meal, you definitely have to try an authentic nasi goreng. You can get a serve for as little as 5 MYR.
Paratha Set (Roti and Dahl)
Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures including Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern peoples, as a result when you are here you get access to some of the best foods in the world. And that includes Indian roti and dahl. What you get will vary depending on where you go, but usually the set includes a roti, some dahl and some yoghurt. Some places will give you two to three different kinds of dahl of varying chilli strength. We love the hot stuff and would always ask for the spicy sauce only to be told… but it’s very hot. And when they gave in and gave it to us they would be surprised that we ate every last morsel. We got a set for 3 MYR in Kuala Lumpur!
Mee goreng translated is merely fried noodles, but it is way more than that! Fried noodles in Malaysia is not quite like the fried things you get in the west, deep fried and crunchy. These noodles are sweet but not sugary with lots of sauce, and usually have either chicken or prawns… your choice! It is served with lettuce to give a bit of freshness to it, and to balance the chilli if you got a spicy one. You should be paying 5-10 MYR.
Char Kuey Teow
Char Kuey Teow is my favourite Malaysian dish, everywhere we go I have to really fight the urge to not get it all the time so I can try all the other dishes! It is a rice noodle dish, filled with all sorts of deliciousness. You can get it with chicken, eggs, or just go with whatever is the stalls secret recipe. I still can’t pronounce it properly, so unfortunately most of the time I just point to the photo on the stall or to the menu, so don’t be afraid to try it, just because you don’t want to embarrass yourself. The cheaper versions often don’t have all the extras, but they still taste delicious. You should be paying between 5 and 8 MYR a dish.
Satay chicken is one of our favourites and we have not had a bad serving in all the places we have tried in Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi or Penang. But definitely the best places to get them from are from hawker centres or street stalls. They a little sticks of char grilled goodness served with a nutty, spicy and sweet sauce (yes all that in one sauce). Our favourite was from a street stall in Chow Kit (Kuala Lumpur) in the market near the 711. But we also love the stall at Long Beach Cafe in Batu Ferringhi. You can buy 10 sticks for 9 MYR.
Wan Tan Mee (wet or dry)
Wan Tan Mee is basically wontons, both steamed and fried in a dark sauce with noodles and pork. You will be asked if you want it wet or dry. Wet it comes with a broth, dry has no broth. Don’t be alarmed when you see how dark the sauce is, the first time I had it I thought it was going to taste like soy sauce or ketchap manis, but it doesn’t. You may also wonder if they got your order right if you ask for dry, as it is still very wet. Definitely not a dish to eat if you are wearing white, as there is plenty of slurping to be done. You can get a dry wan tan mee for as little as 4 MYR.
You will often see tables set up on the side of the road with little packages of something wrapped in brown paper, this is nasi lemak, and it is practically the national dish of Malaysia. Traditionally it is a breakfast dish, and we were lucky enough to have some home delivered to us while we were staying in an Airbnb in Langkawi. It consists of coconut rice served with a halved boiled egg, sambal (a hot spicy sauce), peanuts and small dried anchovies. You shouldn’t pay more than 4 MYR per serve.
Tom yam is everywhere in Malaysia which was a surprise because we believed it was a Thai dish. Sure the countries border each other and are heavily influenced by each other but it really was unexpected as there are never any big signs saying “Thai Food”. We’ve learnt though that Malaysians have taken the tomyam, and made their own little twists to make it theirs, and as usual there is always a family recipe meaning from one stall to the next you can get completely different flavours. Depending on where you are eating you could be paying between 5 and 15 MYR.
Laksa is a commonly known dish in the west, but it’s not like any laksa I tried in Australia. That is because there is more than one type of laksa. The one that is common in the west is a coconut milk based curry; however the popular one in Malaysia is called asam laksa which is a sour fish based soup. I’m going to be honest, it doesn’t look pretty, particularly when purchased from a street stall, but it is full of flavour, and definitely worth trying at least once. Some street stalls sell it for as little as 5 MYR.
Sizzling Seafood (or any other meat) and Vegetables
If you like your food to be interactive then you must try the sizzling options. They are often served in hawker centres and restaurants. We unfortunately had a bad meal at a hawker centre, but we were determined to give it another go as everyone seemed to rave about it, and it did look pretty good being brought out to the table.
So we tried another place in Batu Ferringhi called Tai Sam Guan, which is run by a lovely couple, Liang and Loon. Here, we are spoilt for choice with all their sizzling options! Liang took over from her dad, and the stall has been open for more than 40 years! It’s a great place to sit and enjoy a beer while people watching before the delicious food comes out. We are a bit greedy and always get a large sizzling plate so we can take some home for dinner, we pay only 26 MYR.
You can find Liang and Loon by walking down the path that is next to Golden Sands Resort towards the beach. It is on the right with all the concrete tables.
The fresh juices you can get in Malaysia are much better than any franchise shop you may come across in a shopping centre. They are fresh and they use great ingredients. There is so many you won’t know which one to choose. Apple, orange, pineapple, honeydew, watermelon, star fruit and many more usually for between 4 and 6 MYR a glass. Just be sure to specify whether you want extra sugar in it. This one is an apple juice made by Mary at Miami Cafe (check out the view!).
Fresh Coconut Water
Drinking coconut water is now a common healthy diet expectation, it is thirst quenching and nutritious. The coconut water they have here in Malaysia is unlike anything you’ve bought from your local supermarket. You can literally watch as it is cracked open, poured into a plastic bag and the coconut meat is added for extra taste and a snack for later. And all for the incredible price of between 3 and 6 MYR.
Are you ready to try some Malaysian food? Here’s 26 Things You Need to Know When Eating Out in Malaysia.