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Must Try Food from Malaysia

While Malaysia might not be as popular as its neighbour Thailand when it comes to attracting backpackers and expats, it’s still an amazing place to visit. The main attractions of this former British territory is the stunning beaches, impressive mountains, pristine dive spots, paradisiacal tropical islands and a plethora of wildlife both big and small. However, one reason why you should make sure Malaysia is on your travel itinerary is the delicious and diverse dishes that are served up around the country.

While you probably don’t often hear people saying “I’m going for a Malaysian tonight” the food of this country definitely deserves a closer look. Here are out top picks of the best Malaysian dishes:

Nasi Lemak - Photo Credit: Alpha (Flickr)

Nasi Lemak – Photo Credit: Alpha (Flickr)

Nasi Lemak

As most regions, towns and even villages have their own speciality dishes that they claim to make better than anyone else, it is a good idea to spend some time visiting the far reaches of the country to not only see the sights but also taste the local flavours. But when it comes to the country’s national dish, nasi lemak is probably the closest thing you will get to one.

While this dish is usually considered a breakfast meal by Malays, it isn’t uncommon to see it now served at all times of the day which is good news for Westerners who aren’t often that keen on a full rice meal for breakfast!

This dish features rice, one of the two most common bases for a meal in Malaysia, the other being noodles. The rice in nasi lemak is cooked in light coconut oil or milk giving it a creamy texture and taste that helps separate it from standard rice based dishes. The side accompaniments vary from region to region and chef to chef but most versions tend to include fired anchovies, a sambal chilli sauce, peanuts and some slices of cucumber to help cool your mouth after a spoonful of fiery sauce.

When offered as an evening meal you might find this fragrant dish served with fried chicken, stewed beef or even if you are lucky, beef lungs!  There really is no limit to the varieties of side dishes that come with nasi lemak so we recommend you keep trying them until you find your favourite.

Chicken Satay - Photo Credit: Alpha (Flickr)

Chicken Satay – Photo Credit: Alpha (Flickr)


You might find satay served in your local Thai restaurant back home but it’s not a Thai dish and isn’t often served in the country’s traditional food outlets. While satay is originally an Indonesian dish from Java, although it is said to have a Middle Eastern legacy, the Malays have made it their own. Satay in Malaysia is mostly available in its chicken form as in Malaysia due to the country’s Muslim heritage pork is off limits to most Malays. If you are not familiar with this dish then it will be a revelation when you first tuck into a plate of satay.

In Malaysia, the dish simply consists of seasoned or marinated chicken, skewered on wooden sticks cooked over an often smoky wood or charcoal grill. While it might look like the Thai moo ping, or grilled pork skewers dish, the side dishes that come with satay set it apart from other skewered meats such as Turkish shish kebabs, Greek souvlaki and chuanr from China. These side dishes in question are the delicious peanut sauce and slices of red onion, cucumbers again and mini bricks of rice.

Murtaback Mataba - Photo Credit: Ryan S. (Flickr)

Murtaback Mataba – Photo Credit: Ryan S. (Flickr)


I had my first murtabak in Singapore and never looked back. During my trip to Penang I ate as many of them as I could in all their different varieties and variations and its gone on to become one of my favourite foods.  While the dish originates from Yemen, it is widespread in Malaysia and comes in a range of styles. Essentially it is a stuffed pancake or fried bread that is often but not exclusively filled with savoury fillings such as minced mutton and comes with a side dish of curry sauce or gravy for dipping the bread into.

The obligatory sliced cucumbers and sometimes a sweet sauce accompany the murtabak. With time comes change and it’s not uncommon to now find savoury versions of this dish that are filled with minced chicken as well as vegetables for non-meat eaters.

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Photo credit: Ed Yourdon (flickr)
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