Food and Drink
The crossroads of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine,
Malaysia is an excellent place to sample local fare.
Look out for regional specialities and Nyonya (Peranakan)
cuisine, a fusion between Malay and Chinese cooking.
Malaysians are very proud of their cooking and most
towns or even villages have their own delicious
specialities such as Kajang satay, Ipoh chicken rice,
Kelantanese nasi minyak and many more. Most of them rely
on word of mouth for advertising and are frequently
located in the most inconvenient, out-of-the-way places
so you might want to try asking the locals for their
Generally, you can eat pretty much anywhere in
Malaysia. Food outlets are comparatively clean - the
only thing you should avoid is ice for your drinks when
you frequent the street or hawker stalls since the
blocks of ice used there might not be up to your
hygienic standards. In restaurants this is not a
problem. Also you might want to avoid ordering water
from hawker stalls as it is often unboiled tap water.
Where to eat in Malaysia
Some of the more interesting places to eat are the
hawker stalls and coffeeshops, known as kedai kopi
in Malay or kopitiam in Chinese. Despite the
name, these usually sell a lot more than coffee!
Particularly popular and tasty are mamak stalls,
run by Indian Muslims and serving up localized Indian
fare. Most hawker stalls stay open till late and some
even operate on shifts so you can find the same stall
offering different food at different times throughout
the day. You can also order “take away” from any stall,
just ask for bungkus (Malay) or ta pao
(Chinese). A hawker meal will rarely cost you over RM5.
One step up on the scale is the kedai makanan or
the more Western-style restoran. A type to look
out for is the nasi kandar restaurant (also known as
nasi campur or nasi padang), with a vast range of
curries and toppings to ladle on top of your rice.
Seafood restaurants (makanan laut) are an excellent
value by most standards; check prices before ordering
though. Local prawns are huge, Chinese-style steamed
fish is a treat and crab served with sticky chili sauce
is particularly popular.
For some less adventurous options, try the food courts
in shopping malls. They are a good way to sample local
delicacies in air-conditioned comfort, paying only a
small premium over hawker prices. And yes, you can also
find McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut and the usual suspects
plus imitators throughout Malaysia.
Finding halal food in Malaysia is easy, but most Chinese
restaurants are not halal, ask if in doubt. Meals at
Malay restaurants and Western fast food restaurants like
McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut are halal.
Restaurants at major hotels serve halal food. Generally
local Muslims will eat at Western, Chinese and Indian
eateries if there is a halal sign or a framed picture of
Quranic verses on the walls at the payment counter.
Vegetarianism is well understood and every restaurant
will be able to come up with something on request, but
don't rely entirely on menu descriptions:
innocuous-seeming dishes like "fried vegetables" etc
will often contain pork bits, shrimp paste (belacan),
fish sauce etc. Indian restaurants usually have very
good vegetarian selections, and purely vegetarian
Chinese restaurants (often serving remarkable "mock
meat" products made from tofu, gluten etc) are also not
uncommon. Getting vegetarian food in rural areas,
especially those near fishing villages, may be more
Malaysians like both coffee (kopi) and tea (teh),
especially the national drink teh tarik ("pulled
tea"), hence named after the theatrical 'pulling' motion
used to pour it. By default, both will be served hot,
sweet and with a dose of condensed milk unless requested
Another local favourite is the kopi tongkat ali
ginseng, a mixture of coffee, a local aphrodisiacal
root, and ginseng served with condensed milk that's
touted as an alternative to Viagra and Red Bull combined
[and is usually advertised with a picture of a bed
broken in half!].
Other popular nonalcoholic options include the chocolate
drink Milo and lime juice (limau). Freshly made fruit
juices are also widely available, as well as a wide
range of canned drinks (some familiar, some less so).
Although Malaysia is a self-proclaimed Islamic country,
alcohol is widely available, however some states
(notably Kelantan and Terengganu) place considerable
restrictions on sales by and to Muslims.