Food & Drinks in Malaysia

Nasi Lemak is considered to be the national breakfast of Malaysia and traditionally sold wrapped in banana leaves.
Nasi Lemak is considered to be the national breakfast of Malaysia and traditionally sold wrapped in banana leaves.

From world famous hawker food to high-end restaurants, Malaysia is home to some of the world's best food. A country that's at the crossroads of Malay, Chinese, and Indian culture, Malaysia's food is an interesting mix of different cuisines, different tastes, and different ingredients that allow many of its best meals to range from devilishly spicy to cool, calm, tasty, and surprisingly subtle.

Few countries can match Malaysia when it comes to culinary variety, and few populations can match the people of Malaysia when it comes to sheer food consumption. In any Malaysian city, street corners and shopping malls are packed to capacity with locals and tourists alike seeking a huge mix of different meals, often five or more times every day.

Food is an integral part of Malaysian culture, and it shows in the nation's huge range of eateries. On almost every street corner you'll find a hawker center – a small, often semi-outdoor eating area with several small food stands set up inside. Hawker centers are the backbone of Malaysian daytime food and drinks, with office workers, students, and tourists alike eating in them frequently.

Thanks to Malaysia's mixed ethnic background, hawker centers offer a unique mix of food from all over the globe. The staple cuisines of Malaysian hawker food are south Indian food – grilled meats, tandoor dishes, and curries; Chinese food, largely south Chinese dishes like kuay teow noodles and Hong Kong-style broths, and Malay food, which includes spicy curries and laksa-style soups.

Each of these cuisines is fairly well represented in hawker centers, as well as other nearby Southeast Asian cuisines. Thai and Indonesian food, both popular amongst Malaysia's population, tend to be a common sight in hawker stands, along with Japanese and Korean dishes. It's safe to say that most of Asia's best food is well represented in Malaysia, often at prices that will amaze even frugal visitors.

Lo Shu Fun fried noodles is one of the popular dishes that can be found widely in Malaysia.
Lo Shu Fun fried noodles is one of the popular dishes that can be found widely in Malaysia.

Malaysia's cheap native foods are backed up by a variety of equally cheap and delicious drinks. The world famous teh tarik – 'pulled' tea – is a popular drink amongst locals and tourists alike. Made by quickly 'pulling' tea back and forth between mixing glasses, the frothy milk tea is both delicious and surprisingly healthy, offering a burst of energy and a refreshing icy taste during the daytime heat.

Other Malaysian drinks make use of the country's massive warm climate and massive fruit industry, with tropical fruits like pineapple, mango, and the local favorite durian used frequently. Fruit shakes and fresh juice are widely available throughout Malaysia, often with little added sugar. Visitors with an iron stomach and curious taste buds might like to try the intense durian and mangosteen juices.

Malaysian cuisine is largely regional, and different parts of the country contribute different dishes to the national palate. The northern island province of Penang is one of Malaysia's most famous foodie destinations, and its large native Chinese population has shaped the island's cuisine. Dishes like the famous char kuay teow noodles and laksa pulau pinang have made Penang one of Malaysia's most well-known culinary destinations.

Further south in Peninsular Malaysia, the food is hotter, thicker, and more reliant on fish and spices for flavor. Dishes like kari ayam, a famous chicken and potato curry that's a staple of southern food, originated in the southern peninsula regions of Malaysia. Due to its proximity to Indonesia, much of Peninsular Malaysia's food borrows heavily from Indonesian cuisine, particularly its curries.

Malaysian food is fairly fattening and calorically dense, with a great deal of oil – often coconut oil – used to prepare many dishes. Noodle dishes are typically fried in palm oil and doused with sugar for flavor, making them a fairly tough prospect for visitors accustomed to eating 'cleanly.' However, a wide range of Malaysian dishes are fairly light and simple, including fried rice and various soups.

Finally, Malaysian food is famously spicy, and visitors not accustomed to spicy food might be best off explaining to service staff and chefs that their tastes aren't quite in line with the Malay standard. Most hawker stands will happily cook meals with fewer spices than normal, and stands that see a lot of tourist business will even ask you if you'd like to omit spices and added chillies before you eat.

From the delicious Chinese-inspired food of Penang to the spicy curries of Johor, Malaysia's cuisine is one of the world's most vibrant and delicious. Widely available throughout the country and cheap for any visitor, Malaysia's food and drink is one of the country's biggest highlights for visitors, and an aspect of your trip that you'll be raving about – and longing for – long after you leave.