Best Local Foods to Try when in Malaysia

The 15 Best Local Foods to Try when in Malaysia

Since Malaysian cuisine is a vibrant tapestry woven from the rich culinary traditions of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous cultures, it’s no wonder why exploring it is a journey in itself!

In this article, let’s gear up for a culinary escapade in Malaysia! Buckle up as we take you on a foodie adventure through its bustling streets and vibrant stalls of Malaysia so you’ll know which local foods to try! 

Nasi Lemak

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Nasi lemak is like Malaysia’s unofficial national dish, loved by locals and visitors alike. It’s a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves, giving it a unique aroma and flavour. 

Usually served with a spicy sambal (chilli paste), crunchy peanuts, crispy anchovies, slices of cucumber, and a boiled or fried egg, it’s a delightful combination of textures and tastes that make it perfect for any meal, from breakfast to supper.

Local tip:

For a truly hearty and satisfying meal, consider adding extras like fried chicken, squid, or beef rendang to your dish. These additional proteins not only add an extra layer of flavour and texture but also elevate your meal to new heights of deliciousness. 

Roti Canai

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If there’s one thing you absolutely can’t miss when in Malaysia, it’s roti canai. This fluffy, flaky flatbread is a staple in Malaysian cuisine, often enjoyed with a side of flavorful curry sauce for dipping. 

You can have it plain, or go for variations like roti telur (with egg) or roti boom (with condensed milk). Watching the skilled roti canai makers flip and stretch the dough to perfection is almost as satisfying as eating it!

Local tip:

For a sweet alternative to your roti canai, why not try adding some banana between those flaky layers? In Malay, locals call it “roti pisang,” and it adds a delightful touch of sweetness to your favourite snack. 

But if you’re in the mood to take things up a notch, go for the roti fujima—imagine your roti pisang topped with not one, but two scoops of ice cream.

Char Kway Teow

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Char kway teow is the go-to comfort food for many Malaysians. It’s a stir-fried noodle dish cooked with flat rice noodles, prawns, cockles, eggs, bean sprouts, and Chinese chives, all stir-fried together in a hot wok with soy sauce, chilli, and sometimes belacan (shrimp paste). 

The result? A flavorful, slightly smoky dish that’s both filling and addictive. It’s often cooked to order by street vendors, ensuring it’s fresh and piping hot when served.

Local tip:

Right before you indulge, give it a gentle squeeze of fresh lime to enhance the flavours. The zesty kick of lime complements the richness of the noodles and seafood, achieving a harmonious blend of tastes.


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Laksa is a bowl of pure bliss for anyone who loves a good soup. This spicy noodle soup comes in various regional variations across Malaysia, but they all typically feature thick rice noodles in a fragrant, spicy coconut-based broth. 

Topped with ingredients like shredded chicken, prawns, tofu puffs, and fresh herbs, laksa is a true explosion of flavours in every spoonful. It’s comforting, aromatic, and guaranteed to warm you up on a rainy day.

Local tip:

Pair it with a chilled glass of iced lemongrass tea. The coolness of the tea acts as the perfect counterbalance to the heat of the laksa, creating a harmonious blend of flavours and temperatures.


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Satay is the ultimate Malaysian street food snack – juicy, skewered meat grilled to perfection over an open flame. Whether it’s chicken, beef, or lamb, the meat is marinated in a blend of spices like turmeric, lemongrass, and garlic, giving it a tantalising aroma and flavour. 

Served with a side of peanut sauce, sliced cucumbers, and ketupat (compressed rice cakes), it’s the perfect balance of savoury, sweet, and nutty. One bite, and you’ll understand why Satay is a favourite among locals and tourists alike!

Local tip:

For the full flavour experience, don’t forget to order a side of lontong (compressed rice cakes) to go with your satay. As you dip the lontong into the rich, aromatic satay sauce, you’ll savour a delightful blend of textures and flavours that truly elevates your meal.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

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Hainanese chicken rice is a beloved dish that originated from Chinese immigrants in Hainan province, China, but has become a signature dish in Malaysia.

It consists of poached or steamed chicken served atop fragrant rice cooked in chicken broth, accompanied by slices of cucumber and a dipping sauce made of chilli, ginger, and soy sauce. 

The chicken is tender and juicy, with a subtle flavour that complements the fragrant rice perfectly. It’s simple yet incredibly satisfying, and you’ll find it being enjoyed for lunch and dinner across the country.

Local tip:

Pair it with a bowl of clear chicken broth or a refreshing side salad. The lightness of the broth or the crispness of the salad provides a perfect counterbalance to the richness of the chicken and fragrant rice. 

Mee Goreng

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Mee goreng is a popular Malaysian dish that’s all about bold flavours and vibrant colours. It’s a stir-fried noodle dish featuring yellow noodles cooked with a spicy and tangy sauce made from a blend of chilli paste, tomato ketchup, soy sauce, and various spices. 

Mixed in with the noodles are ingredients like tofu, potatoes, shrimp, eggs, and bean sprouts, creating a delicious medley of textures and tastes. It’s often garnished with chopped spring onions and crispy fried shallots for extra flavour and crunch. 

Mee goreng is a must-try for anyone looking to experience the diverse flavours of Malaysian cuisine.

Local tip:

Just before you dig in, squeeze a bit of fresh lime over it for a burst of citrusy freshness. The tangy acidity of the lime cuts through the rich flavours of the noodles and spices, adding a bright and refreshing dimension to every bite.

Teh Tarik

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Teh tarik, which translates to “pulled tea,” is Malaysia’s favourite drink and a quintessential part of Malaysian culture. It’s made by pouring brewed black tea back and forth between two containers from a height, creating a frothy layer on top. 

Sweetened condensed milk is then added to give it a creamy texture and a rich, sweet flavour. The result is a comforting and indulgent beverage that’s enjoyed throughout the day, whether as a morning pick-me-up or a soothing drink after a meal. 

Local tip:

For the ultimate Malaysian tea time experience, pair your teh tarik with local snacks like roti canai or kuih. 


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Rojak is a delightful salad that perfectly encapsulates Malaysia’s multicultural culinary heritage. 

It’s a mix of various fruits and vegetables, such as cucumber, pineapple, jicama, and tofu, tossed together in a spicy-sweet dressing made from a blend of shrimp paste, chilli, lime juice, and palm sugar. 

The result is a refreshing and flavorful dish that’s both tangy and savoury, with a hint of heat from the chilli. rojak is often topped with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds for added texture and nuttiness, making it a favourite snack or appetiser among Malaysians.

Local tip:

When it comes to rojak, don’t hesitate to get creative with your combinations of fruits and vegetables. It’s all about discovering the perfect harmony of flavors and textures. 


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Cendol is a popular Malaysian dessert that’s as refreshing as it is indulgent. It consists of green rice flour jelly noodles, known as cendol, served in a bowl with shaved ice, coconut milk, and palm sugar syrup. 

The combination of cold, creamy coconut milk, sweet palm sugar syrup, and chewy cendol noodles is incredibly satisfying, especially on a hot day. Sometimes, additional ingredients like red beans, corn, or glutinous rice are added to enhance the flavour and texture. 

Local tip:

For a refreshing twist, try cendol with a splash of coconut milk and a drizzle of palm sugar syrup over shaved ice for a delightful Malaysian dessert experience.


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Murtabak is a savoury pancake filled with a mixture of minced meat (usually chicken, beef, or mutton), onions, and spices, all enveloped in a thin layer of dough and then fried to golden perfection. 

It’s often served with a side of spicy curry sauce for dipping and a refreshing side of tangy pickled onions. murtabak is a popular street food in Malaysia, enjoyed as a hearty snack or a satisfying meal any time of day.

Local tip:

For an irresistible flavour combination, serve your murtabak with a side of tangy pickled onions and a spicy curry sauce for dipping. The tanginess of the onions and the heat of the curry sauce perfectly complement the hearty goodness of the murtabak.

Nasi Kandar

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Nasi kandar is a flavorful Malaysian dish that originated from Penang. It’s a meal of steamed rice served with a variety of curries and side dishes, allowing diners to mix and match according to their preferences. 

Typical accompaniments include spicy chicken curry, fish curry, beef rendang, fried chicken, fried fish, and a variety of vegetable dishes. Nasi kandar is known for its bold flavours and generous portions, making it a favourite among locals and tourists alike.

Local tip:

For a truly authentic experience, savour your nasi kandar with your hands, mixing the aromatic curries and rice together to create a symphony of flavours. 

Dive in and let your fingers become your utensils as you scoop up a mouthful of fluffy rice and tender, flavorful curry. 

Banana Leaf Rice

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Banana leaf rice is a traditional South Indian meal that has become a beloved staple in Malaysian cuisine. 

It consists of steamed white rice served on a banana leaf with an assortment of flavorful side dishes such as curries, vegetables, pickles, papadum, and fried items like fish or chicken. 

Diners typically eat with their hands, mixing the rice with the various accompaniments to create a burst of flavours and textures in every bite. 

Local tip:

When seeking an authentic dining experience, seek out restaurants that serve banana leaf rice on fresh, clean banana leaves. 

Curry Mee

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Curry mee is a spicy noodle soup that’s popular in Malaysia, especially in the northern regions. 

It features yellow noodles and/or rice vermicelli served in a rich and aromatic coconut milk-based curry broth, flavoured with a blend of spices such as turmeric, chilli, lemongrass, and galangal. 

The soup is typically garnished with ingredients like tofu puffs, shrimp, chicken, cockles, bean sprouts, and fresh herbs. The combination of creamy curry broth and tender noodles creates a comforting and satisfying dish that’s perfect for any time of day.

Local tip:

Squeeze a bit of fresh lime over it just before you take that first bite. The tangy burst of citrusy goodness will elevate the flavours of your curry broth to a whole new level. 


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Rendang is a traditional Malay dish that’s famous for its rich, complex flavours and tender meat. 

It’s typically made with beef (though variations with chicken or lamb exist), simmered for hours in a thick, fragrant sauce made from coconut milk and a blend of spices such as lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic, turmeric, and chilli. 

The slow cooking process allows the flavours to develop and the meat to become incredibly tender, resulting in a dish that’s bursting with aromatic spices and savoury goodness. 

Rendang is often served with steamed rice or ketupat (compressed rice cakes) and is a must-try for anyone visiting Malaysia.

Local tip:

For all you spice enthusiasts out there, don’t hold back when it comes to customising your rendang! Feel free to amp up the flavour by requesting extra sauce or spices to be added to your dish.