Cuisine in Malaysia
From eating seafood in all the coastal regions, including Kota Kinabalu, Penang and Langkawi, to a street food paradise in Kuala Lumpur and Kuching, you will be surprised by the diversity of the cuisine in Malaysia.
Due to the multi-ethnicity of the country, you can expect a huge array of culinary influences on the food – from the native ethnic groups of Indonesia and Malaysia to the colonial rulers of Portugal, the Netherlands and the UK. The country shares a similar history with Singapore so you can expect similar dishes in these must-visit tourist destinations. In major cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, Langkawi and Georgetown, major hotels serve everything from local cuisine to Western favorites. However, in the rural areas of the country, especially in the forests that make up the national parks, except simple and hearty local fare.
The staple ingredients of most Malay meals include shrimp paste (known as balacan), which incorporates garlic, and ginger. The spice of chili peppers, including the pungent bird’s eye chili, gives the food a kick, while coconut is used in all its forms – from coconut oil to milk. You can also expect a lot of soy sauce, lemongrass, tamarind, turmeric and pandan leaf (South East Asia’s answer to vanilla). Fish stock and dried seafood are used to add extra flavor, while candle nuts (similar to Macadamia nuts) add crunch.
Most of the meat is made to Halal standards due to the dominant and official religion of Islam. You will also find tofu in many dishes. Rice is at the center of any meal and can be found in an assortment of dishes, but there is a vast array of vegetables that are grown throughout the country, and especially used in stir fries.
Fruits are also popular, especially as a dessert. Feast on fresh strawberries that grow in the Cameron Highlands and other parts of Sabah, or the notable durian fruit, which boasts several different species of varying colors. Pickled fruits are also widely available and are often encountered during your private street food tour in Kuala Lumpur or Penang with Enchanting Travels.
While predominantly a Muslim country, traditional liquor made from rice is also popular in the eastern parts.
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Cuisine in Malaysia – What to eat
Why not try a few typical and popular dishes in Malaysia?
- Air bandung: cold and pink milk drink, flavored with rose syrup and very refreshing
- Ayam goreng: deep fried and deliciously marinated chicken
- Bao/ pau: Chinese-influenced staple wheat based steamed bun, served with either a sweet or savoury filling such a lotus seed paste, or custard, or chicken and pork. Found at night markets
- Congee / bubur: rich porridge favored by Malaysia’s indigenous communities, and even on the menu at McDonald’s restaurants in the country
- Fish head curry: South Indian influenced thick and spicy curry featuring a braised fish head and vegetables
- Ketupat: delicious dumplings, made by weaving a palm leaf around rice that can be dipped in your curry, often rendang, or served to accompany satay. Popular during festivals
- Kuih: Chinese-influenced bite-sized foods often related to pastries, sweetmeats and confectionery, and popular for afternoon tea and festive occasions
- Laksa Laksam / Lasang: thick flat rice noodle rolls prepared in a rich and sweet white minced fish, coconut milk and aromatic sauce. Asam Laksa is the signature dish of Penang
- Mee rebus: A Chinese and Javanese influenced egg noodle dish, flavored with a spicy and aromatic sauce of lemongrass and ginger, and often served with prawns, mutton or dried anchovies, as well as sprouts and boiled eggs
- Nasi Lemak: rice steamed with coconut milk and pandan leaves, and the national dish of Malaysia, it is often served with sambal, a type of chill sauce, as a breakfast dish
- Rendang: spicy meat (often buffalo, beef, or chicken) stew made with coconut milk and influenced by Indonesia
- Rojak: fruit and vegetable salad made with belacan and toasted peanuts, and popular in Penang
- Roti canai / roti kosong: Indian influenced flaky and thin unleavened bread, served with accompaniments such as egg (telur), onions (bawang) or banana (pisang)
- Satay / sate: marinated meat (chicken or beef) skewered onto wooden sticks and cooked on a charcoal grill, served with spiced peanut dipping sauce
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