In anticipation of Malaysia's Hari Merdeka (Independence Day), our sister site, HungryGoWhere Malaysia, has unearthed 57 of what they deem "quintessential" Malaysian food and drinks to celebrate the country’s 57 years of independence. You might find them elsewhere in the world (some in Singapore, for which we do claim origin), but these dishes and drinks – from those native to Sabah and Sarawak, to the streets of Penang – will give you a reason to drive (or fly) across the Causeway.
CURRY LAKSA | There are so many different kinds of curry laksa in Malaysia an entire book could be written about the origins for each one. Suffice to say that whether the laksa be chockful of santan (coconut milk) – like in the Penang white curry mee – or fiery red with chillies, curry laksa is one dish that is always popular at coffee shops and hawker stalls. Try these around the Subang Jaya and Shah Alam areas of Kuala Lumpur.
PAN MEE | Thick, yellow noodles fried in a wok in a dark, sticky sauce, Hokkien mee is like the poster boy for Kuala Lumpur's non-halal street food. It gets its flavours from a well-heated wok, loads of pork lard, slices of lean pork and the occasional innard. Absolute enjoyment, especially at hidden gems like this no-frills restaurant in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
JOHOR LAKSA | More similar in taste to the Sarawak laksa than other laksa variants, Johor laksa is a delightful dish of thick fish broth that is almost more of a gravy than soup, with any type of noodle that fits your fancy. Have some, at this family-run restaurant in Taman Tun in Kuala Lumpur.
KEROPOK LEKOR | Keropok lekor (traditional fish crackers) originate from Terengganu, but can be found in almost every state in Malaysia. It comes in two forms; thin and crispy, or fat and chewy. Lekor is almost always served with a sweet chilli sauce that complements the saltiness of the cracker. If you’re near Tropicana in Petaling Jaya, check out this stall.
SATAY CELUP | Satay celup has Malacca written all over it, and it's just one of the many delicacies to be found in that historic state. Skewers of meat, heavily marinated with spices and turmeric, are dipped into a simmering pot of spicy peanut sauce.
IPOH BEAN SPROUTS | Okay, we know this may seem a rather thin definition of a dish but if you've ever had real Ipoh-grown tau ge (beansprouts), you’ll agree that this deserves to be on this list. Fat and crunchy, and slightly sweet, these beansprouts are exceptionally delicious. The Ipoh folk swear that the water from the limehills surrounding this sleepy-hollow town is the reason for this.
KOLO MEE | Kolomee may hail from Sarawak, but it's found in almost every coffee shop or hawker centre in the Klang Valley. The simplicity of the dish really draws attention to the freshness of the handmade noodles in a light, savoury dressing.
NASI KERABU | Originating from the shores of the beautiful states of Kelantan and Terengganu, nasi kerabu’s blue-tinged rice with pickles and salad has become a clear favourite for all Malaysians. Here's a worthy nasi kerabu to try when you're in Kementah, Kuala Lumpur.
SHAT KEK MA | The name may sound a bit strange, but this is one awesomely delicious biscuit snack. Flour biscuits are deep-fried and bound by delicious caramel to give you a heavenly, crunchy honeycomb snack.
NASI DALCHA | Nasi kandar’s younger brother, nasi dalcha (rice traditionally cooked with lentils, served with lentil curry) is just as delicious if you can appreciate a perfectly cooked dalcha (Indian-style stew made with mutton, lentils and tamarind) that has just the right balance of spice and aroma. This popular Penang stall serves a good version.
LOK LOK | In Cantonese, lok lok is "boil boil", explaining pretty much what this dish is. Lok lok vans, laden with skewered food items from quail eggs and fishballs to pig and chicken offal, are commonly found at the pasar malams(Malay for 'night market'). Diners pick their favourite skewers, dip them into boiling pots of water, and then dish on whatever sauce they fancy. Here are the best weekend pasar malams in the Klang Valley.
KAI SEE HOR FUN | Proudly Ipoh-born, this noodle dish may seem simple but the key is in the execution of a deep, flavourful broth as a base for silky smooth kway teow (flat rice noodles) and shredded chicken breast with beansprouts. When every component is done perfectly, you get a dish that is satisfying to the last drop. Try it for yourself.
ASSAM LAKSA | Spicy, sour and fragrant, assam laksa is also seen as a healthier street food due to the copious amounts of raw and shredded cucumber, pineapples and onions piled onto each bowl of noodles. If you’re keen to trying some, Taman Midah, Cheras, has a hidden gem. If you want to make it at home, we've got just the recipe.
CEKODOK | Balls of banana goodness, cekodok is a firm favourite especially as a light snack any time of the day. Chunks of ripe bananas are mashed with a batter of flour, water, sugar and eggs and then deep-fried. Crispy on the outside, and warm and chewy on the inside, this is fried bananas taken up a notch. You can make them at home and have them all to yourself.
CLAYPOT LOH SEE FUN | What makes this dish so awesome is that it gets tastier the deeper you dig into the sizzling claypot. The dish of loh see fun (short rice noodles, or rat tail noodles), dark sauce and minced meat has the occasional raw egg plopped on for good measure. If you’re craving this in the middle of the night, we have just the right place for you to have your fill in Kuala Lumpur.
CUCUR UDANG | Malaysia's version of prawn fritters has a crispy, golden crust which hides a soft filling bursting with the shrimp, onions and the faintest hints of chilli. Delicious eaten on its own or with a sweet chilli sauce, cucur udang is a veritable Malaysian favourite, and we have a recipe to prove it.
SARAWAK LAKSA | Originating from Borneo, Sarawak laksa is actually very different from the other variants of laksa as it contains no curry. Its broth is actually a mixture of sambal belacan (chilli sauce with shrimp paste), tamarind, galangal, lemongrass and coconut milk. The result is almost always belly-warming and satisfying. If you love Sarawak laksa, guess which Malaysian celebrity shares your good taste?
CHICKEN RICE BALLS | Mention Malacca, and Hainanese chicken rice balls will likely be the top of any foodie's makan (Malay for "eat") list. Juicy, fragrant balls of compressed rice accompany silky-smooth pieces of poached chicken to make this the ultimate lunch in this historic state. Here's one that serves only free-range chicken.
NASI LEMAK | Nothing comes close to the sheer satisfaction of having a steaming plate of coconut milk-infused rice with spicy, sweet-ish sambal, cool and crisp cucumber slices, and some crunchy, salty peanuts and anchovies on the side. Malaysians love their nasi lemak, be it with servings of tender rendang (stewed beef in coconut milk and spices), fried chicken and sambal squid, or just plain and simple in a tidy little banana leaf pack. For the best nasi lemak in Kuala Lumpur or Petaling Jaya, read here.
KERABU JANTUNG PISANG | This is a Peranakan salad with a kick: jantung pisang (banana blossom), is the star of the salad, which combines the wonderfully rich and creamy texture of coconut milk, with the crunchy freshness of chilli and kerisik (toasted coconut). Find these in Malacca.
PASEMBOR | Pasembor is an Indian-Malaysian salad consisting of thinly-sliced or -shredded cucumber, turnip, boiled potatoes and beansprouts, fried beancurd, prawn fritters, spicy fried crab and boiled cuttlefish. Served with a hard boiled egg and sweet and spicy nut sauce, it’s highly addictive, especially when the tasty morsels soak up every last drop of the delicious sauce. This popular stall at Petaling Jaya's Seapark is proof of how addictive this rojak can be.
KUEH LAPIS SARAWAK | Kueh lapis Sarawak is a delicious layered cake made out of a multitude of flavours, from Horlicks to Milo, to cheese and Oreo. Moist and delicious, this Sarawak favourite also comes in intricate patterns and designs.
AYAM PERCIK | Ayam percik is Malaysia's version of spicy, barbecued chicken. Marinated in turmeric and chilli powder, ayam percik is usually bathed in a rich sauce of coconut milk, ginger and garlic, with hints of tamarind and lemongrass. Juicy and succulent, it's a favourite throughout the year, but most popular during Ramadan bazaars.
PRAWN MEE | A definite crowd pleaser, prawn mee (or Hokkien mee as the Penangites call it) marries a beautifully savoury broth made with prawn shells, and chillies and sambal for an extra kick. Normally served with hard-boiled eggs, beansprouts and slices of lean pork, this Penang dish is now a firm nationwide favourite, even though there are worthy variations.
ROTI CANAI | Roti canai is an Indian flatbread, and is one of the most popular breakfast items in Malaysia. Fluffy and crispy, it is perfect with dhall, curry or sambal. The HungryGoWhere Malaysia team loves roti canai so much, they compiled a list of the best roti canai in Selangor.
JU HU CHAR | Ju hu char is a Peranakan dish originating from Penang. It is a fried salad made mostly from shredded jicama, carrots, dried cuttlefish and mushrooms. Eaten with lettuce leaves, and a dollop of sambal for the adventurous, find out why this is a must-have for any Peranakan food lover.
CHAR KWAY TEOW | Very few things in life can compare to the joy of eating a well-executed plate of char kway teow. Whether in Penang, Kuala Lumpur or anywhere else in Malaysia, char kway teow is well-loved. It brings together flat rice noodles, stir fried in a very hot wok with simple condiments like garlic, pork lard, chives, prawns, eggs and occasionally Chinese sausage, to result in one heck of a satisfying noodle dish.
BURGER BAKAR | Step aside, McDonald's and hipster burger joints. Malaysia's grilled burgers, or burger bakar, are the most well-loved burgers of all time. Grilled or fried, with chicken, beef or lamb patties, the variations are so wide-ranging you can easily have one for every day of the week and still not get bored. Check out this list of the top burger bakar stalls in the Klang Valley.
APOM | Apom may have originated from Sri Lanka, but Malaysians have made it our own. Fat and chewy, or thin and crispy, apom is just as good plain or with a variety of fillings. The fillings range from crushed peanuts to sweet corn, even cheese. The best place to get your fill of apom is at a pasar malam.
WHITE COFFEE | White coffee is milky and creamy, and gets its flavour from roasting the coffee beans in milk. It’s absolutely addictive, either hot or cold.
NASI KANDAR | Nasi kandar was birthed in Penang, though it now resides in the hearts of all Malaysians: steamed white rice with a concoction of curries poured directly on to the rice, along with side dishes, results in a uniquely Malaysian dish that is both appetising and versatile. Here's where you can find one of the best in Petaling Jaya New Town.
IKAN BAKAR | Ikan bakar is street food at its best, and is essentially barbecued fish and seafood. A fish of choice is wrapped in a banana leaf and then grilled over a charcoal fire so the aroma of the banana leaf along with the spices and marinate, are imparted into the fish. The makings of a perfect ikan bakar is very much attributed to the dipping sauce, which is usually a mixture of chopped chilli, garlic and lime. Ikan bakar can be enjoyed any day, and anywhere, like in Penang perhaps?
ROTI JOHN | It's wonderful how a simple soft bun, split open and slathered with butter before being fried face-down with an egg, can stuff a craving. That’s what roti John does, with creative variations, if you like. Create your own version with our basic recipe.
NASI GORENG KAMPUNG | The best dishes are the ones we grew up on. Nasi goreng kampung (fried rice, "village" style) is a dish most Malaysians associate with fond memories. You can attempt to recreate those memories with our nasi goreng recipe.
NASI KUKUS | Nasi kukus isn't just "steamed rice" (in Malay). The rice in question is steamed individually in aluminium bowls when an order is placed, ensuring freshness and extra fragrant servings of rice. Usually eaten with sambal, ayam goreng berempah (spicy fried chicken) and fresh, raw vegetables, this native of the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia has become a much-loved dish all over Malaysia, starting with Kuala Lumpur.
MAGGIE GORENG | A 'mamak' (a term referring the Indian-Muslim community) staple, Maggi goreng (fried instant noodles; name comes from the Maggi brand) can come plain and simple with an egg on top, or with shredded vegetables and chicken pieces. Here's a list of places where they make this great dish even better.
KUIH BAHULU | This airy sponge cake is an absolute delight with a cup of teh tarik (pulled milk tea), slightly crispy on the outside, and soft and fluffy on the inside.
PAN MEE | Thin slices of handmade flat noodles in a delicious pork broth with crunchy anchovies, minced pork, shredded mushrooms and sayur manis (Malay for "sweet vegetables") make the humble but awesome pan mee, or as Singapore calls it, ban mee. Dry or soupy, with fiery chilli flakes or just the usual sour-ish chilli dip, there are very few dishes that can claim to be as satisfying as pan mee, especially these three versions.
FISH HEAD NOODLES | This dish of milky fish broth with preserved, salted vegetables and chunks of deep-fried fish (or fish balls, if you prefer that) is always highly sought after. The places that serve the freshest fish and most flavourful broth get top mention.
FRUIT ROJAK | This fruit salad is magnificent because of one key ingredient – a dressing consisting of thick, gooey prawn paste, crushed peanuts and, if you like to spice things up, a dollop of chilli paste. This Kota Kemuning eatery's version, for instance, every bite of rojak is a burst of sweet, sour and tangy flavours, and one serving also completes your day's fibre intake, we think.
CHENDOL | Made of finely-shaved ice and pandan-flavoured jelly swimming in fresh coconut milk, and flavoured with the earthy and distinct taste of gula melaka (palm sugar), there's nothing quite like slurping down a bowl of chendol on a hot, hot day. The jelly is originally made of green bean flour though many places substitute that for starch these days.
KUEH SERI MUKA | Seri muka is a two-layered dessert with steamed glutinous rice forming the bottom half and a green custard layer made with pandan juice topping the kueh.
HEONG PENG | This Chinese snack is a crunchy, disc-like flaky biscuit which encases a sticky caramel filling. It’s a mess to eat, but oh, such a joy to, especially when the gooey, sweet caramel oozes out at the first bite.
TAU SAR PIAH | Originating from Penang, tau sar piah are tiny pastries filled with mung bean paste. The perfect tau sar piah should have a flaky shell, and a slightly sweetish-saltish filling that is dense and slightly crumbly.
BUBUR CHA CHA | This traditional dessert is both visually appealing and delicious, being made of fragrant sweet coconut soup, delicious sweet potatoes and tapioca pearls (occasionally sago pearls). Enjoyed hot or cold, it is a comfort food that evokes memories of Malaysian childhoods.
DEBEL CURRY | Kristang food is the Portuguese-Eurasian food of Malaysia. This spicy, creamy delight of a curry dish gets its unique and earthy flavours from candlenuts, galangal and vinegar. Also know as Devil Curry, this dish is most widely found in Malacca, and can be enjoyed across the country, from Kuala Lumpur to Penang.
OTAK-OTAK | Otak-otak is a spicy fish paste wrapped in a banana leaf and, depending on which state it originates from, then steamed or barbequed. The end result is almost always a smooth kueh (Malay for "cake") – like savoury dish that is bursting with spices and the freshness of fish.
CINCALOK | Cincalok is a Malaccan food made of fermented shrimps, usually served as a condiment with chillis, shallots and lime juice. Salty, tangy and perfect on its own or with fried eggs, cincalok is a real delicacy.
CHILDHOOD SNACKS | Malaysian kids grew up on an assortment of locally-produced snacks and biscuits, from the awesome pillow biscuits to those little biscuits topped with sugar swirls, each in a different colour.
AYAM PONGTEH | Another Peranakan favourite, ayam (chicken) or babipongteh (pork stew)marries the earthy sweetness of gula melaka (palm sugar) with the pungent saltiness of tau cho (preserved bean paste). This appetising dish goes perfectly with a bowl of white rice, nothing more is needed.
LEMANG | A mainstay especially during Hari Raya, lemang is a real traditional Malay delight. Glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk is stuffed into bamboo sticks with banana leaves lining the insides, before being smoked over a wood fire, infusing both the aroma from the banana leaves, bamboo as well as the wood, into the rice. Delicious with anything from a simple curry sauce, to a hearty beef rendang (stewed beef in spices and coconut milk).
ROTI TISU | This thinner, flatter and sweeter sibling of roti canai is also another staple at Malaysian mamak (a term for the Indian muslim community) shops. Roti tisu is tissue-thin and often served as a towering cone of sweet, crunchy goodness. A favourite anytime of the day or night, this dish can be found at 24-hour mamak stalls.
BAK KUT TEH | It’s hard to find fault with bak kut teh, save that it will probably be single-handedly responsible for our increasing waistlines and rising cholesterol levels. Thick cuts of pork, from ribs to the belly, are simmered in a thick, fatty soup of Chinese herbs, and the Klang Valley has the best bowls.
CHEE CHEONG FUN | Some will argue that KL style chee cheong fun (pictured, left) is more like yong tau foo eaten with rice rolls that the traditional dim sum dish. Whatever the case, the mix of sweet sauce, or curry sauce, with tasty yong tau foo pickings and thin, smooth rice noodles peppered with sesame seeds is heavenly and this outdoor food street in Section 17 is one of the best places to have it. Penang chee cheong fun, on the other hand, needs no extra condiments and that’s because of the island’s trademark prawn paste, which is duly soaked up by the silky rice noodles to create a dish that is strong and robust.
TEH TARIK | Teh tarik is as unifying as nasi lemak, with almost all Malaysians from all walks of life sharing a love for it. Frothy milk tea that gets its well-mixed flavour from being poured from one mug to another several times in quick succession, the quality of teh tarik at places offering them is so important that it often makes or breaks the diner.