Before I start this post, I have to admit that it was not easy at all to choose what goes into this list. Throughout my travels I have had my fair share of food experiences, but as a native Malaysian, I always find myself craving, and even preferring home food. The diverse colours, tastes and cultural influences that make up Malaysian cuisine, and not to mention how affordable Malaysian food usually is, are a few of the many reasons why Malaysians are so proud of their food. Therefore, after 2 weeks of editing and re-editing, allow me to share with you my top 15 Malaysian food you absolutely cannot miss during your time here.
Note: Under each entry in this food guide, I’ve added suggestions as to where you can try the dish. I picked the choices according to online ratings, Malaysian reviews and my personal experience. Happy reading!
1. Nasi Lemak (na-see le-makk)
Starting off the list is one of my favourite memories from my schooling days. Malaysia’s classic nasi lemak literally means “oil rice” in Malay, but don’t let the name put you off —it’s a must try. This traditional Malaysian dish is comprised of fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk, accompanied with crispy fried anchovies, slices of cucumbers, sambal and a boiled egg. Sometimes you can have it with spiced fried chicken (as shown above) or chicken curry. This humble Malaysian dish is usually served wrapped in a banana leaf and a whole lot of comfy goodness.
Where to eat: Village Park Restaurant
Address: 5, Jalan SS 21/37, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Expect to pay: RM10+
Important tip: You can definitely find cheaper options in KL, such as Nasi Lemak RM1, with their nasi lemak starting at — you’ve guessed it — RM1!
2. Roti Canai (rro-tee chaa-nai)
Roti canai or roti pratha is described as a flatbread with Indian origins. I describe it one of my favourite Malaysian breakfasts ever. This crispy, almost crêpe-like bread is usually eaten with dhal and fish, meat or chicken curry. If you like it sweet, you can have roti canai with bananas, complete with sweet condensed milk.
Where to eat: Valentine Roti
Address: Stor No. 1, Jalan Semarak Opposite Menara Celcom, 54000 Kuala Lumpur
Expect to pay: Roti canai kosong (RM1.50), Roti Valentine (RM6)
Important tip: For first timers, definitely order roti canai kosong (plain with no filling) with chicken or beef curry. Rip the roti with your hands, dip in curry, savour the flavour.
3. Char kuey teow (char koo-way tee-yow)
In Hokkien, Char kuey teow means stir-fried flat rice noodles. Apparently, this dish was born in Penang, from fishermen and cockle-gatherers who used their leftovers to create this dish. That is why the flat rice noodles are stir-fried with prawns and clams, along with meat and bean sprouts. This Malaysian hawker stall favourite is synonymous with the island of Penang and you will often see ‘Penang Char Kuey Teow’ instead of just ‘Char Kuey Teow.’
Where to eat: Brickfields Char Kuey Teow Stall
Address: Brickfields Jalan Tun Sambathan 4, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur
Expect to pay: Small (RM5), Big (RM7), Extra fried egg (RM8)
Important tip: If you like it spicy like I do, definitely ask to have your char kuey teow with a serving of chilli sauce and top it with a fried egg.
4. Roti Bakar (rro-tee ba-karr)
Truly the breakfast of champions. Roti bakar, or ‘burnt’ bread, is one of Malaysia’s favourite breakfasts. I have many distinct memories of my grandparents and my father eating roti bakar every morning. The smell of toasted bread and strong black coffee, and the sound of Chinese radio playing in the background make for a great way to start one’s morning. Have it with two soft-boiled eggs, a strong cup of Malaysian kopi, and kaya, a uniquely Malaysian jam made of coconut, pandan leaf, eggs and caramel.
Where to eat: Lim Kee Cafe
Address: 66-68, Jalan Sultan, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Expect to pay: Roti + eggs (RM6)
Important tip: Mix some dark soya sauce and a dash of white pepper with your soft-boiled eggs. Dip your roti into the eggs for some creamy goodness.
5. Laksa (lakk-saa)
Fun fact: Only until recently I found out that laksa, is actually Chinese (喇沙). This is no surprise considering that this dish has its roots in peranakan culture (Straits-born Chinese). Laksa is traditionally made with rice vermicelli or thick wheat noodles, bathed in creamy curry coconut milk broth, and lastly, topped with prawns, shredded omelette and coriander, depending on the variation. Personally, my favourite part of this peranakan gem is the broth—spicy, rich, and sour at the same time, it’s a delightful experience for the taste buds.
Where to eat: Taste the Sarawakian version at Aunty Christina’s Sarawak Laksa
Address: 6, Jalan 21/19, Sea Park, 46300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Expect to pay: Small (RM6), Extra big prawns (RM9)
Important tip: Squeeze a small green lime (limau in Malay) to give a tangy burst of flavour to your laksa.
6. Pan Mee (pahn meee)
Dry or soup, I love my pan mee. This Hakka-style dish got its name from the flat noodles. A lot of places that serve pan mee pride themselves on making the noodles themselves. The dough is usually kneaded and then torn into small, flat pieces, hence the name. I personally love mine with lots of crispy fried anchovies and generous helpings of chilli.
Where to eat: Super Kitchen Chilli Pan Mee
Address: Multiple branches throughout KL
Expect to pay: Dry Chilli Pan Mee (RM8)
Important tip: Request for extra fried anchovies if you like a bit of crunchiness and do not put too much chilli if you’re not used to spicy food!
7. Satay (Saa-tayy)
Satay, satay, satay. What more can I say, to tell you how much I love you, satay? Abroad, satay is often synonymous with the peanut sauce that comes with it but satay, or sate in Indonesian, actually refers to the dish of skewered meat. Seasoned with fragrant spices such as lemongrass, the skewers are then grilled over a smokey charcoal grill that keeps the meat juicy and flavourful. Classic satays are chicken, beef and mutton satays, served with spicy and sweet peanut sauce, fresh slices of cucumber cubes, rice cakes, red onions and at times, pickled radish.
Where to eat: Zaini Satay, or Nur Satay (Both stalls are side-by-side!)
Address: Restoran Studio 5, No. 5, 6 & 7, Jalan Kolam Air Lama, Ampang Jaya, 68000 Ampang, KL
Expect to pay: *price per satay (RM0.80)
Important tip: Satays usually have a little bit of fat on them, especially beef and mutton satays, but if the place you’re eating at serve it with too much fat, avoid.
8. Ikan Bakar (ee-kan baa-kaar)
Continuing with the charcoal-grill, here’s ikan bakar. You must have guessed from entry #4 that the word ‘bakar’ means grilled, or burnt. Ikan bakar, or grilled fish, is wrapped in banana leaf then grilled over a smokey charcoal-grill. You can have this dish with any fish, stingray, cockles and clams, and even squid with kangkung, a type of Malaysian spinach. The Malaysian version comes with sambal glazed all over the fish. Eat it with a steaming bowl of white rice and squeeze a fresh green lime on top of the fish.
Where to eat: Sambal Hijau Restaurant
Address: 2990, Jalan Sungai Penchala, Kampung Sungai Penchala, 60000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Expect to pay: Between RM10-RM30 per person, depending on how many dishes you order
Important tip: For first timers, I recommend trying grilled stingray (my fav!).
9. Banana Leaf
Why do I love tacos, steamboat and banana leaf? Because I get to build the exact meal I desire. Banana leaf is a traditional South Indian cuisine consisting of fragrant rice and an assortment of side dishes all served on — you’ve guessed it — a banana leaf. Order one of the ready-prepared combos from the menu, or do like I do and pick and choose your own personalised banana leaf. My favourites are fragrant rice, spiced fried chicken, crab curry, and curried bitter gourd with some crispy papadoms!
Where to eat: Sri Nirwana Maju Restaurant Bangsar
Address: 43, Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Expect to pay: Between RM10-RM20 per person, depending on how many sides you order
Important tip: When in doubt if something is too spicy, always ask! Chances are, anything fried or cream-based such as korma curry are not too spicy.
10. Economy Rice
If you love the idea of customising your own meal, you will love economy rice as well. This Chinese cousin of banana leaf rice allows you to pick the side dishes that you want and it is a favourite lunch time option for both college students and working professionals alike. As the name suggests, it fills up your belly without emptying too much of your wallet. Win-win situation, if you ask me.
Where to eat: Economy Rice Stall at Rock Cafe
Address: Medan Rock Cafe, Jalan PJS 11/20, Bandar Sunway, 46150 Subang Jaya, Selangor
Expect to pay: As little as RM5 for 2 vegetable sides and a plate of white rice
Important tip: Ordering less meat dishes will keep cost low and I always like to pour some curry on the white rice for that extra oomph!
11. Bak Kut Teh (bah-kkoot-teh)
I am not a huge fan of pork, but even I have to admit that the rich and creamy broth of this pork rib dish is comforting. Translated directly from the Hokkien dialect, this “meat bone tea” is made with juicy pork ribs that are stewed in herbal broth for a long, long time. In spite of the name, there is no actual tea in the dish; bak kut teh must always be enjoyed with a steaming pot of Chinese tea. You can have it with many different side dishes but my favourites are a steaming bowl of white rice, you tiao (a type of non-sweet Chinese churros) and steamed bok choy. Bak kut teh can be served dry or soupy.
Where to eat: Ah Sang Bak Kut Teh
Address: Seri Setia, Sungai Way, 531, Jalan SS 9a/12, Ss 9a, 47300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Expect to pay: Claypot Bak Kut Teh (RM15)
Important tip: Soak the you tiao in the broth for more brothy goodness!
12. Mee Goreng Mamak
Ask any Malaysian and they will agree that mamaks hold a special place in their heart. These open-air Indian Muslim food establishments can be seen all over KL and chances are, you will also spot groups of young and the old hanging out at mamaks. So what makes mee goreng mamak so special compared to normal stir-fried noodles? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s the creaminess from the chilli and seafood sauce in the dish, or maybe it’s the crunchiness from the cucur udang (prawn fritters). Whichever the reason may be, when you wander around KL late at night and you wonder to yourself what you can eat, definitely head to a mamak and order one of these.
Where to eat: Nasi Kandar Bestari
Address: Jalan 23/70a, Desa Sri Hartamas, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Expect to pay: Mee goreng mamak (RM6)
Important tip: In case they forgot, always ask for a limau or two to squeeze on the noodles!
13. Wantan Mee (wan-tahn mee)
The smaller and cuter version of pork dumplings, wantan mee has got to be one of my favourite breakfasts ever. Juicy pork and shrimp mince encased in really thin wraps, married together with springy yellow noodles. Did I mention the many, many, ways one can eat wantan? You can have it boiled in a light clear broth, with or without soy sauce, with noodles and without noodles. You can also have fried crispy wantans that you dip in sweet chilli sauce. Just be sure to thread carefully with chopsticks as wantans can be quite slippery, especially soupy ones!
Where to eat: Wai Kei Wantan Mee at Restoran Fatt Kee Puchong
Address: Restoran Fatt Kee Puchong, 45G, Jalan Bandar 1, Pusat Bandar Puchong, 47100 Puchong
Expect to pay: Small (RM5.50), Large (6.50), Extra char siew (RM2)
Important tip: Lovers of pork should order their wantan mee topped with slices of char siew (barbequed pork).
14. Hainanese Chicken Rice
Early Chinese immigrants from the Hainan province in Southern China brought this dish to us and boy, are we grateful. This dish consists of succulent poached chicken and buttery ginger rice, served with cucumber slices and sauce made up of dark soy sauce, minced garlic and chilli slices. If poached chicken is not for you, order roasted chicken instead.
Where to eat: Restoran Hainanese Chicken Rice
Address: 653, 4,5 Mile, Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Taman Rainbow, 51200 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Expect to pay: Between RM7-RM10
Important tip: Order some boiled tea eggs to go with your chicken rice.
15. Durian (doo-ree-yan)
How can I write a list of must-try Malaysian food without including the king of fruits? From month-old farts to caramel, I have heard all sorts of descriptions regarding the smell and in fact, it smells so strong that most hotels in Malaysian ban guests from bringing durian into the building. Personally, I love durian. Of course it depends on the type of durian (trust me, there are many!), but durian always smells sweet to me and it tastes like milky, fermented liquor. Durian definitely is one of those love it or hate it type of experiences but one thing’s for sure: Malaysians love their durian.
Where to eat: SS2 Durian
Address: 193, Jalan SS 2/24, SS 2, 47300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Expect to pay: Durians are charged per kg and prices can really depend on the type of durian and the weight
Important tip: For first-timers, ask the vendors which durian has the most mild taste and start from there, and always have it fresh.
Bonus round unlocked!
This is for you sweet-tooths out there. Enjoy!
People who know me well are clearly aware that I love my shaved ice desserts. So how could I not put chendol on here? Shaved ice, coconut milk, pandan jelly, sweet red beans and palm sugar altogether in a bowl spells sweet, sweet haven from the tropical heat. There are many different versions but the most popular ones are teochew chendol and Melaka chendol. Have it after a meal as dessert or in the afternoon for a sweet pick-me-up.
Where to eat: Durian King TTDI
Address: 179, Jalan Wan Kadir, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, 60000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Expect to pay: Basic chendol (RM6)
Important tip: If you’ve tried durian and you like it, have your chendol topped with fresh durian for a very little Malaysian twist.
Teh Tarik (tehh tah-reck)
Teh tarik literally means “pulled tea” in Malay, because this sweet milky tea is literally ‘pulled’ from a height into another tin jug to ‘froth’ the milk tea. As a result the texture is creamy, frothy and sweet. Served both cold and hot.
Where to drink: Almost anywhere in KL, especially at mamaks.
Expect to pay: Should not cost you more than RM4
Important tip: In case like me, you do not like your drinks to be too sweet, tell the waiter to make it “kurang manis” which is Malay for “less sweet” (Check out my post on ‘A Brief Guide: Useful Malaysian Phrases and Slangs’).
Any Malaysian would recognise the bright green packaging of milo. Malaysians are pretty proud of their milo, and if you try it, you will see why. A Malaysian classic that dates back to schooling days, milo tastes kind of like chocolate but with an extra something. Have it with a twist and order Milo Dinosaur, a gigantic milo drink topped with more milo on top. However, a word of caution: milo dinosaur is not for the faint-hearted.
Where to drink: Almost anywhere in Malaysia.
Expect to pay: Basic milo (between RM2-4)
Important tip: Dip some roti bakar into hot milo and enjoy a truly Malaysian breakfast!
So what do you think? Which one of these would you like to try first? I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I did researching for it!