While each ethnic group has its own specific dishes, dishes have evolved with time to reflects the multicultural background of Malaysia. The three most common factors in Malaysian cuisine are that it (1) features rice, (2) is quite oily and (3) can be very spicy - though it seems that the farther south you go, the less spicy the food is.
If you're Muslim and want halal food, it's available in abundance. Most restaurants / stalls serve Halal food and those who don't will generally advertise that fact.
There aren't really any special table manners to note; don't chew loudly and you'll be fine.
Famous Malaysian Drinks
- Teh Tarik - Black tea with spoonfuls of sweetened, condensed milk. The tea is poured from one cup to the other from a height, creating bubbles.
- Nestle's Milo - A very popular chocolate drink that usually is served with ice, but can also be served as Milo Tarik (similar to Teh Tarik), and Milo Dinosaur (Milo Ice with a huge spoonful of powdered Milo on top)
Famous Malaysian Dishes
- Nasi Lemak - Rice cooked in coconut milk, served with sambal, roasted salty peanuts, fried anchovies and cucumber. Some places allow you to choose the side dish (lauk), such as fried chicken and others.
- Nasi Goreng - Fried rice. There's a ton of variety for this dish. The most famous one is the Nasi Goreng Kampung (Kampung fried rice, kampung means village), which is rice fried over a little kicap (soy sauce), cili padi (birds-eye pepper) and anchovies. Ask for eggs fried sunny-side up too and make sure it's runny.
- Satay - Skewered meat grilled over open fire. Usually sold in three varieties: chicken, beef, and cow stomach (perut). Some non-hallal restaurant have a pork version. The dish is typically served with spicy peanut gravy (kuah kacang), fresh onions, and rice cakes (nasi himpit).
- Laksa - A general term for a kind of spicy noodle soup dish popular in Malaysia. In Peninsular Malaysia, Laksa commonly refers to Assam Laksa, a sour, fish-based soup from the north. The stock mainly consist of tamarind and asam keping (fruit from a large rainforest tree native to peninsular Malaysia)
There is also Curry Laksa, which uses a coconut-based curry as the soup. It's different from straight-up curry noodles, as it's a bit sweeter.
- Char Kway Teow - Flat rice noodles stir-fried over dark soy sauce, chili, some shrimp paste (belacan) and seafood. Two varities: Halal and non-Halal, the latter cooked with lard.
- Assam Pedas - A sour-spicy fish stew. Best eaten with steamed rice, some sweet soy sauce (kicap manis), raw wild vegetables (ulam) and sambal belacan.
- Roti canai - Flat bread served with a choice of curry or dhal. Cheap light snack. If you add egg, it is called Roti Telur. With sardines, it is called Roti Sardin With kaya (or margarine/sugar) it is called Roti Bom (not diet friendly!)
- Murtabak - Basically roti canai, with a ton of eggs and minced meat in between.
- Banana Leaf Rice - Steamed white rice served on a banana leaf with a ton of vegetables prepared in a variety of ways (fried, boiled, cooked in curry, etc). Often eaten with curry or dhal. Also goes down well with teh tarik.
- Nasi Kandar - Originally from Penang, this dish is steamed white rice with your choice of side dishes.
- Hainanese Chicken Rice - Available in two varieties of chicken: roasted and steamed. The rice is cooked with with chicken broth and sesame oil which creates a fragrant and slightly oily rice. Typically served with soy sauce and specially-made chili sauce.
Famous Malaysian Deserts
- Kuih - This is actually a category of dessert items. There are so many that it is difficult to cover them all. The most common ones are kuih koci, kuih lapis and kuih talam.
- Cucur - Essentially, fried dough, often with things in it. Cucur udang has prawn right in the middle of it, with spring onions. Cucur ikan bilis is made with anchovies in the middle .Usuallly dipped in chili sauce.
- Apam balik - A kind of pancake, with crushed peanuts, sugar and (sometimes) corn. The pancake is folded, then cut. It comes in two varieties: soft and crunchy.
- Keropok lekor - Cake made from shredded fish and batter, then deep-fried. Two varieties: soft and crunchy. The former is more traditional. Served with hot chili sauce.
- Rojak/Pasembur - A dish with fried dough fritters, bean curds, boiled potatoes, prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish and cucumber mixed with a sweet thick, spicy peanut sauce.
- Rojak buah - Not to be confused with the above, rojak buah is a fruit salad with dark prawn paste and sesame seed.
- Cendol - Green rice noodles in chilled coconut milk and palm sugar (gula melaka). To be tried with glutinous rice (pulut).
- Ais kacang - Also known as ABC (Air Batu Campur literally Mixed Ice), it is shaved ice served with sweet corn, colorful syrup, red beans and condensed milk. Very sweet.
- Otak-otak - Fish cake grilled in banana wrap. An acquired taste.
- Tau foo fah - Curdled soy bean milk in dark syrup. Very sweet.
- Kaya Toast - Toast with coconut jam (kaya) spread in between. Best with teh tarik (dip it!).