A guide to Malaysian cuisine

A guide to Malaysian cuisine

Malaysian cuisine is a mix of all the cooking traditions and practices in the country, reflecting the multiethnic makeup of its population. Although Malaysian cuisine mostly reflects the traditions of the country's three major ethnic groups - Malays, Chinese, and Indians - it has also been influenced by the remainder groups, such as the indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak, the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia, the Peranakan and Eurasian creole communities, as well as foreign workers and expats.

Due to historical migrations, colonisation by foreign powers, and its geographical position, Malaysia's culinary style today is a melting pot of cuisines, such as Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean citizens, and has even been influenced by Thai, Portuguese, Dutch and British cuisines, among others. Thanks to convergence of cuisines, the flavours of Malaysian cuisine are highly complex and diverse.

As a result of its common history with Singapore, Malaysia shares some dishes with this Island state, which include laksa and chicken rice. Similarly, given its proximity to Indonesia, historic migrations and close ethnic and cultural kinship, Malaysia shares culinary ties with this country, which has been reflected in dishes like satay, rendang and sambal.

Banana Leaf

One of the great south Indian cuisines you'll find in Malaysia is Chettinad cuisine, which is from the region of Tamil Nady state of South India. One of its best dishes is the Banana Leaf Rice, an absolute treat to rice lovers.

This dish consists of serving white rice on a banana leaf with an assortment of vegetables, curried meat or fish, pickles and papadum (which resembles big, round flat crisps).

Banana leaf rice was conceived to be a vegetarian dish, so it is mostly served with the gravy of the curry. However, for those interested in getting some protein intake, you can also have it with mutton redang and dry chicken curry. This dish is traditionally eaten with your hands.

Nasi Dagang

This traditional dish consists of rice steamed in coconut milk, fish curry and other ingredients such as fried shaved coconut, solok lada, hard-boiled eggs and vegetable pickles. The most famous Nasi dagang of Terengganu is from a place called Kampung Ladang.

Bakuteh (BKT)

Bakuteh, literally meat bone tea, is a traditional dish that consists of fatty pork ribs simmered in a broth of herbs and spices (including star anise, cinnamon, cloves, dong guai, fennel seeds and garlic). It might include offal, varieties of mushroom, choy sum (vegetables), and pieces tofu puffs.

Mee goreng mamak

This Indian Muslim dish consists of yellow noodles with a choice of beef, chicken or shrimp, and then it's served with sauce, veggies and eggs, and topped with a bit of chilli.

Hokkien mee

This another yellow noodles dish, but this time it fried in the Chinese style. Thick noodles are braised in thick dark soy sauce with pork, squid, fish-cake and cabbage. The dish is garnished with cubes of crispy fried pork lard.

Apam balik

If you have a sweet tooth, this is the dish for you. Apam balik is a pancake-style snack folded as an omelet. It's stuffed with sugar or peanuts and sprinkled with corn. There are many versions of this dish and you can choose the ingredients.

Nasi Kerabu

This Kelantanese dish is famous for its extravagant taste and its distinctive blue rice. Nasi kerabu gets its colouring from telang flowers, which are crushed and mixed into flour. This northern Malaysian dish is topped with bean sprouts and fried coconut, then drenched in spicy budu (a fermented fish sauce).

Sang Har Kwey Teow

These dish consists of flat noodles served with prawns cooked Cantonese style in a thick eggy broth. What makes the taste so special is that the orange roe of the prawn infuses into the eggy liquid sauce of the noodles.


Rendang is a cauldron of coconut milk and spices. Although this dish resembles a curry dish, it is prepared a different way. First, the meat is slowly simmered in spices until the rosy liquid fully evaporates. This is a popular dish all over Malaysia and it's a favourite, particularly in festive seasons.


After sampling all these amazing Malaysian dishes, it's time for dessert or Kuih, which are Malay-style pastries. It is very sweet and bite-sized, so you can get your sugar all in one bite and on the go from colourful stalls. Koih is a fairly broad term and it could be anything from cakes to dumplings, cookings, pudding, and pastries.