We love to eat, and have no shame in getting fat during our stints in Malaysia. It’s inevitable. We enjoy the food to much to refrain from gluttony. Here’s why:
Malaysia is a melting pot of culture. There are Singaporeans, French, Thais, Indonesians, Spaniards, Arabs, and other Europeans thrown into the mix, but the country is dominantly Chinese, Indian, and Malay – meaning there is a lot of options when it comes to eating! The food stalls boast cheap, delicious, and very satisfying. Its most definitely a foodies dream destination! Here’s our top 10 favorite things to eat while traveling Malaysia:
(click on pictures to enlarge images)
1. Char Siew – As a meat and BBQ lover, this ‘fork roast’ is at the top of the list. It is a Chinese (Cantonese) dish consisting of cuts of boneless pork (a good ratio of lean and fatty), marinated in a sweet glaze, and roasted in the oven till the meat is juicy with crispy edges. It’s served over steamed rice with a thin ‘gravy’ sauce made of honey, hoisin sauce, sherry or rice wine, and 5-spice. Cucumbers accompany the dish to cool you down if you decide to drizzle the spicy side sauce atop. Some bites are soft, some bites crispy… This dish will certainly make you want to order another in a couple hours.
2. Mee Rojak – An indian dish loosely translated as ‘mixed noodles.’ This dish is almost like a salad, with half the ingredients fried, and half fresh. It has a base of thick egg noodles, and it complimented with fried dough balls (which reminded me of less sweet french toast), boiled egg, sprouts, blanched spinach, cuts of cucumber and radish, and a sweet and spicy peanut sauce. It might sound a bit odd, but it will send your tastebuds into overload.
3. Roti – This is basically a bread that comes in many forms. It’s served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. One variation might be sweet with bananas cooked inside and a condensed milk drizzled overtop. One version might be spicy, with different curries inside. Pop into any indian ‘restoran’ and you’ll see any many variations in their splendor.
4. Baba Laksa – Warning. Extremely spicy. We usually have to work our way up to this dish so we don’t fry our tastebuds. The specialty of this dish, is its Spicy Coconut Broth. When you dig your spoon and chopsticks into the thick, creamy sauce, you’ll discover chicken, sprouts, tofu, peppers, and veggie slices. It will instantly open up your sinuses, and make you sweat buckets, but you’ll be really happy you tried it.
5. Shaved Ice– This desert takes many forms, but is essentially shaved ice with sweet syrups (not unlike a snow cone) but then they load on the tapioca balls, and the squiggly jelly bits of various consistencies. Sometimes it comes with beans, or corn, or bamboo shoots. A really peculiar combination, but very tasty and refreshing during the hot days. Give it a try… You’ll only be in Malaysia once…
6. Coconut Milk Shakes – this desert gets our absolute recommendation. Coconuts are plentiful in this region of the world, and the Malays have figured out the most delicious way to consume them. Cut the coconut open, drain the juice, scrape out the ‘meat’ of the coconut, add it to vanilla ice cream, and blend with ice. Phenomenal. I wish I had discovered this decades ago.
7. Noodles – As a noodle lover, I think any way noodles are prepared in Malaysia is delicious. Many of the local places take great pride in the quality of their homemade noodles. You can tasted the difference between fresh and packaged. Noodle soups are notably divine, as the spirited broths add add heat and flavor to the noodle slurping experience.
8. Teh Tarik – ‘Teh’ means tea, and ‘Tarik’ means pulled. Literally ‘Pulled Tea.’ It’s named this because the mix of black tea, sugar, and condensed milk is mixed and pulled from great heights creating a nice bubbly froth coating the top layer of this hot beverage.
9. Banana Leaf – This you can also get at Indian ‘Restorans.’ It is simply a banana leaf place mat, with mounds of rice, and a couple vegetarian sides, quickly pulled out of a metal tri-carrier, and plopped down on your ‘plate’. The sides change daily, but generally what lands on the leaf is a dahl, a creamed spinach, maybe some spicy pickled vegetables, or spicy chickpeas. Then a guy comes around with another container of sauces, and you pick which curry you want poured over you rice. You can order separate meats to accompany the meal; chicken or lamb. Then you indulge, shoveling food into your mouth with your right hand, and clinging onto the salty lassie in your left when you need relief from the flames that are consuming a your lips and mouth.
10. Satay – There are two ways to enjoy Satay in Malaysia. One is grilled and one is boiled. The grill masters cook small chunks or strips of chicken on small wooden skewers sticks on their small, narrow BBQs with black charcoal chunks beneath. What makes this sight so alluring is the constant fanning of the coals. I’m not sure if they want the meat to have a smokey taste, or if it’s a way to control the fire and the speed of cooking, but the grill masters have on average 30 skewers going at once in different phases of preparation. You tell them how many skewers you want, a good average, ten a person, then you dunk your fresh, juicy chicken into a semi-spicy peanut/apple sauce. The second method of eating Satay is to collect whatever you want to eat, chicken, squid, bok choy, tofu, or any other edible, and let the satays simmer in a large pot of boiling spicy peanut mix. Either method is delicious and fun to eat.
11. Jackfruit – my favorite fruit in existence. This large, spikey green fruit is indigenous to SE Asia, not only Malaysia. When you cut this giant fruit you’ll find hundreds of whitish fibers encasing a bright yellow soft pod; the edible part of the fruit. It is smooth, juicy, and almost has a bubblegum taste to it.
12. Dim Sum Breakfasts – Located around most cities, starting around 5-6am till around 11ish, Dim Sum breakfasts consist of small bite-sized proportions of steamed or fried dumplings with various fillings. Some have BBQ pork, some have fishy rice mixtures, there are dishes with chicken feet, rice balls, or egg mixtures. My personal favorite was Kaya Buns which was filled with a sweet coconut pandan creme, served in steamed stacks of wicker baskets. We usually just point at about 10 random dishes and hope for the best. More often than not, we aren’t let down. The morning meal is accompanied by chinese tea and will make your belly happy until a late lunch.