Top 27 Local Food In Malaysia Loved By Locals

Top 27 Local Food In Malaysia Loved By Locals

Get Ready To Embark On A True Adventure Of Flavours With The Best Local Food In Malaysia That Even Locals Can’t Get Enough Of!

If there’s one country where several cultures not only delight in their own cuisine, but end up merging it with one another to form a series of dishes that leave your taste buds dancing with joy, it’s definitely Malaysia.

From the bustling street markets to traditional kopitiams and upscale restaurants, Malaysian cooking is a melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous influences, with each culture bringing its unique taste and tradition to the table.

So today, you’ll want to loosen your belt and get your appetite ready for a gastronomic adventure, because I’m going to take you through the best of Malaysian food that even locals love and simply cannot get enough of!

Top 27 Malaysian Food Enjoyed Daily By Locals

Nasi Lemak. Photo by Suhairy Tri Yadhi.
Photo by Suhairy Tri Yadhi.

1. Nasi Lemak

No local Malaysian food list is complete without the king of them all, nasi lemak. Widely regarded as the national dish of Malaysia, Nasi Lemak directly translates to “fatty rice”, but in this context it simply means “rice with the addition of santan because of how the rice is boiled in creamy coconut milk!

It boasts a rich, creamy taste from its pandan and coconut milk-infused rice, which is then balanced by the sweet spiciness of the accompanying sambal, hard boiled eggs, crunchy ikan bilis (deep fried anchovies), peanuts, and fresh cucumber slices. Most food vendors these days also serve nasi lemak with fried chicken, rendang, chicken curry, or cuttlefish sambal.

You’ll usually see Malaysians enjoy nasi lemak for breakfast or lunch with a mug of teh tarik (pulled milk tea) or iced Milo.

Char Kuey Teow

2. Char Kuey Teow

Char kuey teow is a popular street food that originated from the Chinese community in Penang, where it is known for its wok hei (savoury smokiness) flavour. 

The dish typically consists of flat rice noodles and sometimes the addition of yellow egg noodles (yellow mee) which are stir-fried in lard with shrimp, raw cockles, sliced Chinese lap cheong (waxed sausages), bean sprouts, eggs, chives, and seasoned with soy sauce and chilli paste. Char kway teow is best enjoyed with a cold sugarcane juice or Chinese tea to balance out the dish’s complex flavour profile.

Chicken rendang in the Cosmo Wok in Green Bean.

3. Rendang

Rendang may have originated from Indonesia, but it’s long been adopted and adapted over the years. So much so that we now have a Malaysian version which is commonly enjoyed by the Malay community during festive occasions and ceremonies like Hari Raya and weddings.

Rendang primarily consists of beef or chicken which is slow-cooked in a wok or large casserole in a mixture of coconut milk and a spice paste made out of lemongrass, galangal, garlic, turmeric, ginger, and dried chillies. This classic Malaysian dish is then enjoyed with plain white rice, nasi lemak, or lemang to soak up the thick gravy.

Lemang, glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk. Photo by zol m.
Photo by Zol M.

4. Lemang

Where there’s rendang, there’s usually bound to be lemang! Lemang is a traditional Malay dish that is commonly found alongside rendang during Hari Raya (Eid) celebrations. It’s essentially glutinous rice boiled in coconut milk and salt within a hollowed bamboo that has been lined with banana leaves. The filled bamboo is then left to roast over an open fire until the lemang is completely cooked.

Lemang is slightly sweet with a rich creaminess from the coconut milk, and it has a slightly smoky taste from being roasted in banana leaves and bamboo over an open flame. This particular dish is best enjoyed with rendang, serunding (spicy meat floss), or a savoury curry.

Chicken Rice. Photo by min che.
Photo by Min Che.

5. Chicken Rice

Chicken rice is a fan favourite amongst almost everyone in Malaysia because of its comforting flavours. Its origins lie with the Hainanese community in Malaysia, where the traditional Hainanese chicken rice comprises poached chicken, fragrant rice cooked in chicken broth, and a side of tangy chilli sauce, garlic paste, a few cucumber slices, and a bowl of chicken broth.

However, in Malaysia you’ll find that chicken rice is commonly served with either poached chicken or roasted chicken depending on the restaurant or hawker, with both being equally delicious! Since the dish tends to be oily, locals typically enjoy it with a refreshing barley drink, Chinese tea, or fresh lime juice.

Hokkien Mee. Phoo by Alpha on Flickr
Photo by Alpha.

6. Hokkien Mee

A quintessential Malaysian dish, the famous Hokkien mee is a flavour-packed powerhouse with roots in the Hokkien Chinese community in Malaysia. There are two distinctive types under the “Hokkien mee” monicker, where one is a spicy prawn noodle soup called Penang prawn Hokkien mee, and the other is the classic Hokkien mee, which is a dark soy sauce stir-fried noodle dish.

The classic Hokkien mee features thick yellow noodles which is stir-fried in dark soy sauce, pork, shrimp, squid, cabbage, and crispy pork lard in an incredibly hot wok, all of which gives it its signature wok hei flavour. This truly flavourful dish is best paired with a refreshing sugarcane juice or herbal tea to balance its richness.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce and Ketupat. Photo by K Azwan.
Photo by K Azwan.

7. Satay

Satay looks like a simple unassuming set of skewered meat, but it’s not to be underestimated as one of Malaysia’s most popular dishes. Satay is made up of skewered marinated meat, usually chicken, beef, or lamb, which is grilled over charcoal and served with its signature sides; spicy peanut sauce, rice cakes, chopped cucumbers, and chopped onions.

You can expect a rich smoky flavour with a slight sweetness from the marinade, while the accompanying peanut sauce adds a rich nuttiness with a hint of spiciness to the skewers.

Roti Canai with a side of sambal, dhal, and chutney. Photo by Alpha on Flickr.
Photo by Alpha.

8. Roti Canai

Roti canai is perhaps one of the most famous dishes in Malaysia that is loved by both locals and tourists alike. It’s a beloved breakfast or snack that is now enjoyed throughout the day in local Mamak eateries alongside dhal curry, chicken curry, fish curry, and even just plain sugar (and not forgetting the classic teh tarik)!

This delicious flat bread is made with a dough of flour, water, eggs, and ghee, which is then repeatedly folded and flattened before being cooked on a griddle. What this gets you is a crispy, flaky flatbread with a soft and chewy interior that will see you coming back for more.

Roti Tisu

9. Roti Tisu

If you think roti canai is the only famous one, think again. Roti tisu has been making waves as a popular dish in most Mamak stalls and restaurants with its incredibly thin and crispy texture, and how it is often shaped into a cone - some restaurants even shape them into elaborate versions that replicate the iconic Petronas Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur!

The ingredients for roti tisu are similar to roti canai in that it uses flour, water, eggs, and ghee. The only differences are how it’s usually stretched and cooked until it becomes very thin, and how it is commonly served with condensed milk or sprinkled with sugar.

Wantan Mee. Photo by Jane Cheng.
Photo by Jane Cheng.

10. Wonton Mee

Wonton mee is a popular breakfast and lunch dish that is commonly found in Malaysia’s hawker centres and kopitiams. Think thin egg noodles served dry with a soy-based sauce alongside wonton dumplings (filled with pork, shrimp, or both), char siu (barbecued pork), and a leafy vegetable like kai lan or bok choy. It also typically comes with a side of pickled green chillies and clear soup.

It’s a real umami-packed dish that Malaysians can’t get enough of thanks to the soy-based sauce which is complemented by the smooth wonton dumplings and sweet slices of char siu.

Otak-Otak wrapped in banana leaves.

11. Otak-Otak

This traditional Malay-Peranakan dish is a popular one in the states of Johor, Penang, and Malacca even though it has an odd name that directly translates to “brain-brain”. This partly lies in its ingredients and texture where it is made of fish meat which has been ground into a paste, then mixed with coconut milk and spices like lemongrass, turmeric, and chilli.

The otak-otak paste is then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled or steamed, resulting in a soft block of fish paste that features a spicy and deliciously aromatic flavour. Because of its complex flavour profile and hint of spiciness, it’s best enjoyed with plain white rice or on its own as a savoury snack.

Murtabak Malaysia. Photo by Isuann L.
Photo by Isuann L.

12. Malaysian Murtabak

Malaysian murtabak is not to be confused with the often sweeter Indonesian martabak. Malaysian murtabak is a popular Mamak street food that is commonly found in bazaars during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Its key ingredients include a dough made out of flour, eggs, water, and ghee, which is then filled with minced meat, eggs, onion, and an assortment of spices. The wrapped dough is then cooked on a griddle in a similar fashion to roti canai. This gets you a rich, savoury filled version of the classic roti canai, only this one has a spiced meat filling!

Fun Fact: Even though Malaysian murtabak is widely regarded as street food, it’s often filling enough to be a main meal!

Cendol. Photo by Aiman Baser.
Photo by Aiman Baser.

13. Cendol

This popular Malaysian dessert is a hot weather saviour thanks to its cold and creamy yet refreshing nature. It typically consists of pandan rice flour jelly and coconut milk which is topped over shaved ice, then drizzled with gula Melaka (palm sugar syrup). Some locals even opt to have red beans or sweet corn added into their cendol for extra sweetness!

Nasi Dagang. Photo by Lyrical Lemongrass
Photo by Lyrical Lemongrass.

14. Nasi Dagang

Nasi Dagang is a traditional Malay meal that originates from the East Coast of West Malaysia, notably the states of Terengganu and Kelantan. It’s a rice dish made up of a mixture of white rice and glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk and shaved fried coconut, which is then served with a side of gulai ikan tongkol (tuna fish curry), hard-boiled eggs, pickled vegetables, and sambal.

Locals typically enjoy nasi Dagang with the classic air bandung which is a milky rose syrup drink or lime juice thanks to the dish’s rich tasting nature.

Rojak. Photo by Choo Yut Shing.
Photo by Choo Yut Shing.

15. Rojak

Rojak is a special street food that symbolises the vibrant diverse nature of Malaysian food culture. It’s a dish of mixed fruits that include pineapples, mangos, guavas, and jicama, along with a mixture of vegetables like cucumber and bean sprouts, which are then tossed in a spicy, sweet, and tangy sauce made of shrimp paste, chilli, tamarind, and sugar.

The dish is then topped with crushed peanuts, with some locals opting to add fried tofu for a complete meal. All in all, it’s a complex dish with layers upon layers of flavours - sweet, sour, spicy, savoury, you name it, rojak has it!

Asam Laksa. Photo by Cecil Lee on Flickr
Photo by Cecil Lee.

16. Asam Laksa

Penang’s famous Asam Laksa is a hugely popular spicy noodle soup that gained international recognition for its unique, tangy flavour. Think thick rice noodles served in a mackerel-based broth that’s flavoured with tamarind, lemongrass, galangal, and chilli, which is then topped with shredded fish, thinly sliced cucumber, pineapples, mint leaves, bunga kantan (torched ginger flower), sliced raw onion, and a whole lime to be juiced over the broth.

Asam laksa is enjoyed anytime, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and it is best paired with a refreshing cold drink like calamansi juice or barley to counteract the spicy and tangy flavours of the broth.

Curry puffs. Photo by Kent Ng.
Photo by Kent Ng.

17. Curry puff

Highly loved by generations, the humble curry puff is a street food staple in Malaysia enjoyed as a snack and quick breakfast bite. It has a crispy, flaky exterior with a savoury and slightly spicy filling that is also rich and flavourful thanks to the curry spices. You’ll find curry puffs almost everywhere, whether it’s a simple food stall, a bakery, cafes, and even in certain restaurants!

Curry puffs are made by filling a pastry dough with a mixture of potato curry, chicken, onions, and sometimes boiled eggs. The filled pastry is then deep-fried or baked until golden brown. This humble snack is best paired with hot tea, coffee, or the classic cold soy milk.

Banana leaf rice

18. Banana Leaf Rice

Banana leaf rice is a traditional South Indian meal that has become an integral part of Malaysian lunches and dinners. It is just as its namesake, rice served on a banana leaf, only there are various accompaniments such as assorted curries like chicken curry, fish curry, or mutton curry, followed by vegetables, pickles, crispy papadums, and a shot of rasam (sourish soup).

Locals enjoy customising their banana leaf rice based on the curries they enjoy. Some opt to flood their rice with all the available curries and dalcha (lentil curry) and have it with fried chicken or fried squid, while some prefer having theirs only with a single meat-based curry and the accompanying fried vegetables. 

One traditional way to indulge is to eat the banana leaf rice meal with your hands and end with a lassi or teh limau ais (iced lime tea) for a refreshing finish.

Apam Balik. Photo by Yun Huang Yong.
Photo by Yun Huang Yong.

19. Apam Balik

Apam balik, known as Malaysian peanut pancake is a street snack staple that is often found in the night markets and street stalls of Malaysia. That said, there are two distinctive types of apam balik; one of them is the apam balik nipis, a thin and crispy folded pancake shell that breaks apart once bitten into. The other is the regular apam balik, which is a folded chewy pancake.

Both are made from a batter of flour, eggs, sugar, and coconut milk, which is then cooked on a giant griddle and filled with a mixture of crushed peanuts, sugar, and creamed corn. Some stalls even bake it with pandan extract as a delicious addition, and some include a drizzle of condensed milk for that extra bump in flavour.

Mee goreng mamak

20. Mee Goreng Mamak

You can’t say you’ve fully tried local Malaysian food if you haven’t tried the ever popular mee goreng mamak. This popular stir-fried noodle dish is a staple at Mamak stalls and restaurants, and it is a favourite of locals at any time of the day thanks to its bold flavours.

How it is made involves quickly stir-frying yellow noodles in soy sauce, chilli paste, and spices over high heat with added ingredients like tofu, bean sprouts, eggs, and sometimes seafood, mutton, or chicken. Additionally, locals commonly request for a telur mata (sunny side up eggs) to be added on their mee goreng mamak for the ultimate meal. 

Bonus Tip: The next time you find yourself at the Mamak stall, ask for “satu mee goreng tambah ayam goreng dengan telur mata” and top it off with a teh ais limau for the complete experience. ;)

Nasi Kerabu from Serai in Paradigm Mall, Malaysia.

21. Nasi Kerabu

Hailing from the northern state of Kelantan is the flavourful Nasi Kerabu. This traditional dish is recognised by its distinctive blue rice which is naturally dyed with butterfly pea flowers, alongside ulam, the local equivalent of a salad made up of various raw local herbs and vegetables, salted egg, fried fish or chicken, a side of keropok (crackers), and a serving of sambal belacan (spicy shrimp paste).

Many enjoy it for the play on flavours it offers - you get a wonderful spicy kick from the sambal belacan, a slight savoury saltiness from the rice, and the fresh, herbal notes from the ulam. This is one dish that locals commonly enjoy with a rose syrup drink or fresh coconut water.

Roti Jala in traditional rolled form. Photo by fugzu on Flickr.
Photo by Fugzu.

22. Roti Jala

Known as lace pancakes because of its intricate, net-like appearance, Roti Jala is a popular dish in Malaysian cuisine that is often served during festive occasions such as Hari Raya and weddings. (Psst…it’s my personal favourite too!)

Roti Jala crepe form. Photo by Alpha from Flickr.
Photo by Alpha.

Roti jala is made from a batter of flour, eggs, coconut milk, and turmeric powder which gives roti jala its signature yellow colour. The batter is then poured through a special mould with multiple perforated spouts to create a lace-like pattern on a heated griddle. This gets you a light and soft, savoury pancake that is served slightly folded or rolled up, along with a side of chicken curry.

Malaysian Bak Kut Teh. Photo by 梅俊峰.

23. Bak Kut Teh

Bak kut teh literally translates to “meat bone tea” and with good reason. It is a hearty, soupy dish with a savoury herbal taste that is believed to have medicinal properties thanks to the assortment of herbs and spices that go into making the soup’s base.

Fun Fact: Most of the herbs used to make the bak kut teh soup base like Chinese angelica, licorice root, and cassia bark are herbs commonly found in traditional chinese medicine (TCM)!

Think pork ribs or pork belly simmered in a complex pork broth with herb mixture, shiitake mushrooms, whole garlic bulbs, soy sauce, enoki mushrooms, and tofu puffs. 

It’s an aromatic feast of tender, succulent pork ribs or belly, served with a side of rice, youtiao (deep fried bread dough), freshly chopped garlic, and sliced chilli in soy sauce. Bak kut teh is commonly enjoyed with a pot of Chinese tea to balance its rich flavours. All in all, it’s a traditional dish that is well-loved by Malaysia’s Chinese community.

Sambal Stingray. Photo by 水泳男.

24. Sambal Stingray

Commonly found in the hawker centres and seafood restaurants of Malaysia’s coastal regions, sambal stingray (also known as ikan bakar), is a popular dish that showcases the use of local seafood with the bold flavours of Malay cuisine.

Sambal stingray’s essential ingredients typically involve stingray which is marinated with a spicy sambal paste made from a combination of ground chillies, belacan (shrimp paste), garlic, and shallots. The stingray is then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over charcoal until it’s tender.

Most food vendors typically serve sambal stingray with a whole lime which you can squeeze over the stingray to add a well-loved refreshing tang to it. This gets you a smokey, spicy grilled fish with tender and juicy flesh that is best enjoyed with steamed rice and a side of ulam.

Pisang Goreng. Photo by Choo Yut Shing.
Photo by Choo Yut Shing.

25. Pisang Goreng

Ever imagined that deep-fried bananas would make a great snack? Well it certainly is one of the best local treats in Malaysia!

Pisang goreng translates to banana fritters, and it is exactly as it’s named - ripe bananas coated in a batter of flour, rice flour, sugar, and coconut milk, which is then deep-fried until golden brown to create a sweet, crispy delight. The best pisang goreng is typically found via roadside food stalls or made in the comforts of home.

Ice kacang with yam ice cream. Photo by Mei L.
Photo by Mei L.

26. Ais Kacang

Ais kacang is known as ABC, which is an abbreviation for Air Batu Campur. It’s a traditional Malaysian dessert that gets highly popular during the hotter periods of Malaysia’s tropical weather and it is often found in Malaysia’s hawker centres, kopitiams, restaurants, and dessert stalls.

I basically tell most people that ais kacang is a highly jazzed up cendol, because the base ingredients are highly similar, only without the addition of coconut milk. Ais kacang consists of shaved ice topped with red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly, palm seeds, and agar-agar (local jelly). It’s then drizzled with evaporated milk, rose syrup, and sometimes gula Melaka.

Nasi Kandar. Photo by Alpha on Flickr.
Photo by Alpha.

27. Nasi Kandar

Enter Penang’s favourite dish with origins from the local Indian Muslim community, the famous nasi kandar. While nasi kandar originated as a street food, it’s now a main meal that is enjoyed by locals during both lunch and dinner.

Nasi kandar in its essence, is steamed rice or biryani rice served with a variety of curries and side dishes. The most popular side dishes include fried chicken, beef rendang, deep fried fish roe, deep fried squid, okra, boiled eggs, and sweet black beef (daging masak hitam).

The curries are often mixed to create a truly flavourful combination while the mix of proteins and vegetables add several layers of depth and variety to the dish, making it one of the most exciting Malaysian food enjoyed by locals.

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