Malaysia is an underrated food haven, with a beautiful mix of Malay, Indian, and Chinese cuisines bustling through town. In the shadow of both Indonesia and Singapore, Malaysia hasn’t yet been given the chance to shine in the international culinary community.

But don’t fret, if you are making your way to this side of the world—whether it’s a stopover, a passing-through, or an extended stay—these five foods in Malaysia will allow you to experience the vibrancy of this beautiful country. Why not live like a local while you're there?

1. Nasi Lemak

meat, feast, chicken
Saskia Blackburn

Nasi Lemak is the national dish of Malaysia, and rightly so. Literally translated it means “fat rice” so be careful because eating this every day won’t be as friendly to your waistline as it is to your taste buds.

Nasi Lemak is a beautiful concoction of rice cooked in coconut milk with pandan leaves and ginger, wrapped and served in a banana leaf with sambal (spicy chilli sauce), ikan bilis (dried anchovies), friend peanuts, and a boiled egg. Class it up a little by adding either chicken or shrimp and some slices of cucumber.

crab, rice
Saskia Blackburn

Although it’s traditionally eaten for breakfast you can feed it to me any time of day.

2. Roti Canai

Representing one of the many Indian influences in Malaysia, roti canai is rolled out flatbread dipped into curries and dhals. The flatbread is made out of a dough consisting of flour, water, and lots of ghee. Although the stalls have many different types of roti today, the classic to try is roti canai and won’t leave you disappointed.

3. Char Kuey Teow

Chinese influence in Malaysia can be seen through dishes like char kuew teow; a stirfried flat rice noodle dish with egg over a smoking charcoal fire with soy, chilli, prawn, shrimp paste, bean sprouts, and very importantly, pork lard to enrich the authentic flavour. Different (and better!) than other stir-fried noodles in the region, I promise you these noodles will be inhaled so fast you will be in line waiting for round two.

4. Assam Laksa

A mix of both Chinese and Malay cuisines, laksa (meaning curry) is a spicy soup cooked with lemongrass, shrimp paste and chillies, topped with vermicelli rice noodles. With its home in Ipoh, and variations throughout the country, it is most certainly one of the tastiest meals you will come across in Malaysia.  

5. Hainanese Chicken Rice

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Saskia Blackburn

A delicious yet very simple meal to be found throughout the Chinese hawker stalls and restaurants in Malaysia. Many immigrants arrived in Malaysia from the Hainan province in China, and now Singapore and Malaysia simply can't live without their favorite chicken rice.

The chicken is still prepared according to traditional Hainanese methods where the whole chicken is poached in sub-boiling temperatures. The leftover stock is then used to cook the rice along with ginger, garlic, and here in Malaysia, pandan leaves as well. It's simple yet so satisfying, you must give it a try.

And there you have it, these Malaysian foods will allow you to experience the country earnestly, and if you're staying a little longer and really want to try it all, give these a go as well: rojak, cendol, curry puffs, mee kolok, bak kuh teh, and of course, durian.