26 Things You Need to Know When Eating Out in Malaysia!

Don’t be shy! Enjoy the amazing foods Malaysia has to offer. 26 tips to have you ordering like a local.

So you’ve landed in Malaysia and you’re feeling hungry. You know there are heaps of  Malaysian Dishes that will Blow Your Mind… Not Your Budget!   but you don’t speak the language, and you don’t know what you’re meant to do when you order because it’s not quite like the cafes back home.

Even the bravest of us can feel a bit nervous about walking into a hawker centre or local restaurant when you don’t know the customs 100%. You don’t want to offend anyone and you don’t want to make a fool of yourself, but you don’t want to miss the amazing food.

Don’t worry!

Firstly Malaysians are very friendly and will be gentle with you, and help you out.  Secondly we are going to make sense of it for you!

A Hawker Centre Feast in Penang

Here are the top tips for eating out in Malaysia.

  1. You may notice that most stalls only sell a couple of things, that is because that is their specialty.
  2. Don’t be afraid to try something you can’t pronounce.
  3. They may ask wet or dry (with broth/sauce or without).
  4. You pay after you receive your food.
  5. Don’t use a 50 MYR note to pay for something that costs 5 MYR. If that’s all you have, ask before you order.
  6. It’s okay to order from various stalls and eat at the tables from another. If you’re not sure just ask.
  7. In a hawker centre you should grab a table first, or at least before you order because when you order you will tell them what table you are sitting at.
  8. In a hawker centre you pay when your order is delivered to your table.
  9. In a hawker centre a person will come to your table and get your drinks order. You pay when they come back with your drink.
  10. In a hawker centre you can pick and choose your meals from all the stalls.
  11. In a hawker centre there may be people smoking, as it is allowed.
  12. There will be cats! I can’t help but give them a morsel here and there. They are very friendly.
  13. Stalls and hawker centres may only be open for lunch or dinner… and be closed on random days.

Long Beach Cafe Hawker Centre in Batu Ferringhi, Penang

  1. Malaysian hot and spicy is more hot and spicy than Western tastes, so be careful. Although we have found that we have to emphasize that when we say hot, we want hot. They know Western tastes can be a bit more on the bland side. Start medium and work your way up if that’s your thing.
  2. Sometimes it’s best not to think about hygiene, although there is surprisingly few flies. And everything is usually very clean. At least you can see where your meal is being cooked!
  3. In restaurants/cafes the servers may hover over you as soon as you are seated expecting you to order immediately even if you’ve just picked up the menu. Just let them know you need five or ten minutes.
  4. Often cafes and restaurants will have a menu out the front so you can have a look before entering. You may get someone watching over you while you do. Just let them know you will ask if you have any questions or that you need a minute alone to decide.
  5. It’s okay to say no thanks and walk away after looking at a menu.
  6. Thankfully there is usually a lot of pictures.
  7. Google translate might be helpful when trying to work out what particular ingredients are.
  8. Most places do take away, just ask!
  9. We also often order large size dishes and then get containers to take home the left overs.
  10. You may get your drink in a plastic bag, especially if you are getting it to go. It’ll be tied up with a straw out the top.
  11. Your drink may not be cold but usually will come with ice so it only takes a minute to cool down.
  12. They have amazing fresh juices in Malaysia (around 3-6MYR), but be sure to ask if it is fresh as some places have more of the cordial type juices, not the fresh pressed juice.
  13. Malaysians seem to have a bit of a sweet tooth, so if you don’t, be sure to ask for your juice with no added sugar.

Hawker Centre in Tanjung Tokong, Penang

If in doubt just ask! We’ve found Malaysian people to be very friendly and will always try to help with what’s in a dish or a drink.

Hawker centres and street stalls not only have incredible food, but also often have a great atmosphere for people watching.

If you’re not sure what to try, then take a moment to read Malaysian Dishes That Will Blow Your Mind… Not Your Budget!

Further reading:

Extending Your Malaysian Short Term Social Visit Visa

A Day in The Life of a Digital Nomad

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