You may think that I am being biased because I am a Malaysian. In fact, I have not met anyone who dislikes Malaysian cuisine as there is always something for everyone. Malaysian cuisine is clearly a representation of the multicultural lifestyle we embraced. If I have to choose one term which represents Malaysian cuisine, it has to be the depth of flavours.
There are just so many awesome dishes in Malaysia but I am just going to name the best top 10 dishes. These dishes are well loved by many Malaysians and there are available in almost all eateries throughout the country. For travellers who have only have 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur, visit the Petronas Towers and then begin a food tour with this list of must-try food or leave with a deep regret. Yes, I am serious.
For those who are still contemplating a stopover in Malaysia, I linked the recipes of the recommended dishes for you to get a preview of the delicious food. Perhaps, that would help you to make up your mind.
1. Nasi Lemak
Begin the food tour with Nasi Lemak, the official dish of Malaysia. 'Nasi lemak' is enjoyed by the locals throughout the day, from breakfast right up to supper.
It is made up of rice cooked in coconut milk and aromatics such as cardamom, ginger and lemon grass. The fragrant rice is then accompanied with 'sambal' (chili paste), fried anchovies, peanuts, cucumber and a choice of fried or hardboiled egg. They even come wrapped in banana leaves and newspaper.
There are other dishes like squids, mutton, beef or chicken which you may add on to further complement the 'nasi lemak'. My favourite is the 'rendang' chicken, yet another traditional dish which is cooked for many hours using a variety of spices and toasted coconut oil.
2. Teh Tarik
Whenever there is 'nasi lemak', there will be Teh Tarik which is condensed milk tea. Since 'nasi lemak' is savoury and rather spicy (depending on the side dishes you pick), 'teh tarik’s' sweet and creamy taste helps to soothe the palate.
The name 'teh tarik' is derived from its preparation. The tea is usually prepared in a big stainless steel mug and then poured into another back and forth for a few times before it is served.
3. Roti Canai
'Roti canai' is a flat bread which is flipped over and over again before being folded and then cooked on a heated flat pan. It is flaky, crispy and fluffy at the same time. Get the curry of your choice to go with 'roti canai'. My favourite has to be a mixture of all the available curries. Malaysians love 'flooding' the 'roti canai' with curries for the optimum indulgence.
4. Kuih (Any Kuih)
There is always space for some dessert. 'Kuih' has a broad meaning which includes cakes, pastry or biscuits. It is either sweet or savoury. Common ingredients for the sweet 'kuih' are usually coconut palm sugar and coconut milk. There are also those that are savoury and spicy.
As there is a wide variety of 'kuih' available, it is commonly eaten not only during breakfast but also during tea time as well. Do ask the waiter for some recomendations. Among the popular 'kuih' are Curry Puff (Karipap), Kuih Sago, Onde-Onde and 'kuih lapis'.
5. Kaya Toast
What is so special about two pieces of toast, you may ask. This is where you would be surprised. Kaya Toast is served with luscious coconut jam and butter spread which keeps you wanting for more. As you sink your teeth into the crispy toast, you can taste the fragrant sweetness of the 'kaya' and the saltiness of the butter at the same time. I had introduced 'kaya' to many friends in Europe umpteen times and they are now loyal fans of 'kaya' toasts. Have this together with 'teh tarik'. You would not want to miss this, trust me!
6. Banana Leaf Rice
Banana Leaf Rice, which originated from Southern India, is deeply rooted in the culture of Malaysians. Served on a piece of banana leaf, plain rice is accompanied with a variety of vegetables, meat and curries. Seek out restaurants which specialize in banana leaf rice throughout the country.
If you want to know how it is like dining in a banana leaf rice restaurant, check out our article and video.
7. Curry Laksa
For noodle lovers, get yourself a bowl of Curry Laksa to tantalize your taste buds. Coconut milk and blended spices are usually cooked in a chicken or prawn based broth to obtain a flavourful curry. Choose from a selection of yellow noodles, flat rice noodles or vermicelli, the bowl of curry laksa also comes with hardboiled egg, tofu puffs, shredded chicken, bean sprouts, cockles, just to name a few.
8. Asam Laksa
'Asam Laksa' is another noodle dish but it is totally different from Curry Laksa. Both dishes vary in taste and presentation. However, these 'laksa' are a must-try as they have their own specialty. 'Asam laksa' is a regional specialty in Penang albeit also available in other cities like Kuala Lumpur.
It is cooked in a fish broth which is equally spicy and tangy. An exceptionally appetizing broth, I must say. Still debating whether to try 'asam laksa' after having curry laksa? Let me help you come to a quick decision. Anthony Bourdain remarked that he never fails to have this each time he travels to Penang. So, what are you waiting for?
9. Char Kuey Teow
A plate of fried flat rice noodles makes a happy tummy any time of the day. High heat is used when frying this plate of noodles to give it a subtly smoky taste that makes it even more flavourful. Slices of Chinese sausage add some chewy texture to the Char Kuey Teow. Think of flavourful salami and noodles and you will know what I mean. Cockles and bean sprouts are also added to the noodles to make it a complete plate of deliciousness. One of the greatest combination, I must say.
10. Chicken Rice
Last but not least, Hainanese Chicken Rice. The term chicken rice might sound dull to you — chicken and 'just' rice. The secret lays in the cooking process of the rice. The wonderful flavour of the rice comes from the chicken broth and the aromatics that are used. Whether you choose to have poached or roasted chicken, you will not be disappointed. It is served together with fresh chili sauce, slices of cucumber and the signature soy sauce based gravy.
Need more convincing? My Italian friend who is loyal to spaghetti and always skeptical about Asian cuisine found his love in chicken rice. Need I say more?
There you go. The top ten must-try dishes in Malaysia. Do not leave Malaysia without trying these awesome dishes or you will deeply regret it, believe me.