Makan (‘Eat’) Malaysia: Five Foods To Sample

12 July 2014

Given the sheer diversity of Malaysian cuisine, which draws on Malay, Chinese and Indian culinary traditions – as well as on Thai and even some European influences – you’re sure to want to try a range of gastronomic delights on your Malaysian holiday. To help you narrow down your plentiful options, we've highlighted five must-taste treats.

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Laksa

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 Slurp down on a tasty Malaysian laksa

Many of you will be familiar with laksa, a staple on many Asian menus in Australia. Even if you are, enjoying this famous and colourful soup in Malaysia is a bit like having a Guinness in Ireland – it just tastes that much more delicious in its native setting. And if you haven’t yet tried laksa, you’re in for a real treat.

Laksa is a coconut-based curry and noodle soup. It also typically boasts tofu, fish sticks, prawns, cockles and more. Served with sambal (chilli paste) and typically garnished with laksa leaf, you’ll again encounter numerous, generally community-based versions, so treat your tastebuds to a few and let them choose their favourite.

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Char Kway Teow

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 Noodle good times with char kway teow

No trip to Malaysia is complete without a sampling of flavoursome char kway teow, or stir-fried rice cake strips. The hero ingredient for this local favourite is the fried, flat rice noodles. The noodles are generally teamed in the stir-fry with soy sauce, chilli, prawns, cockles, bean sprouts, Chinese chives and eggs. You’ll find lots of regional or cultural variations, so be sure to try a few.

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Chicken Rice

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 One of the many varieties of Chicken Rice

Chicken rice is another ubiquitous Malaysian favourite – popular in Chinese coffee shops, hawkers markets and restaurant chains. In this dish, the chicken is generally poached in stock, steamed or roasted.

Again, in keeping with Malaysia’s multiplicity, you may also encounter a barbecue or honey-roasted chicken rice in your travels. For yet another version, make your way to the Malaysian state of Malacca, where steamed chicken rice balls replace the typical bowl of rice served alongside the chicken.

To top off this delectable dish, most chicken rice comes with sliced cucumber, chilli sauce for dipping, pounded ginger or garlic and soy sauce.

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Nasi Lemak

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 Nasi lemak - the local staple

For fantastic fragrance meets tantalising taste, you can’t go past Malaysian nasi lemak. And lucky for you, it’s available nearly everywhere – and at any time – in Malaysia.

Nasi lemak is a hot and creamy rice dish cooked with coconut milk, pandan and sometimes ginger or lemongrass. It also includes fried ikan bilis (salty, dried anchovies), fried peanuts, cucumber slices, egg (usually hard-boiled but sometimes fried or slices of omelette) and spicy sambal.

Other taste sensations you might encounter with your nasi lemak include chicken, beef or mutton curry or rendang (see below); cuttlefish sambal or curry; fried chicken, fried cow lung, begedil (deep-fried potato patties, sometimes combined with mince), dried prawns or cockles sambal and stewed kangkong (water spinach).

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Rendang

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 The flavour-rich Rendang beef

Rendang is a curried and stewed meat dish – often beef or chicken. Traditionally, it consists of beef cooked with coconut milk, galangal (part of the ginger family), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and such spices as tamarind or turmeric. The dish is slow-cooked for hours until almost all of the liquid dissipates and the meat well and truly absorbs all the flavours and becomes oh so tender.

Historically, you’d see rendang served at ceremonial or celebratory events, but the dish has gained a wider popularity, becoming, as mentioned above, a staple alongside steamed rice or meals of nasi lemak. And once again, you’ll find plenty of delicious variations throughout the country.

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Kasey Clark

Kasey Clark is the founder and editor of food, wine, and travel blog The Hungry Expat.com. She spent 18 years as a magazine editor, has freelanced for many years, and recently joined King Content as a lead editor and content strategist. When she’s not blogging or strategising content, she provides editorial and communications services on a contract basis.