Malaysia Food and Drink

Malaysia is not just a melting pot, it is a cooking pot, blending culinary influences from as far away as Europe, China and India. The national cuisine shares obvious similarities with Thai and Indonesian food, but Malaysian cooking has its own unique specialities, based on exotic spices, chilli, ginger, lemongrass, lime leaves, coconut milk and peanuts.

The Indian and Chinese communities have their own traditions – be sure to sample mamak cuisine, imported to Malaysia by Tamil Muslims. Traditionally served at street stalls, mamak dishes can be sampled at nasi kendar (rice and curry) canteens across the country. Western food is popular with younger Malaysians, and Thai and Korean restaurants are found in most parts of the country.

Restaurants offer table service - Chinese food is usually eaten with chopsticks, while Indian and Malay food is eaten with the fingers or with Western cutlery. Although Malaysia is predominantly Islamic, bars and restaurants in larger cities serve beer, wine and spirits. In tribal areas of Borneo, look out for tuak – traditional rice wine.


Nasi lemak (rice steamed with coconut milk, served with dried anchovies, sambal, peanuts and eggs) is the national dish, found absolutely everywhere.

Char Kway Teow (a dish of fried rice noodles with meat or fish) is a very popular and cheap quick meal.

Nasi goreng (Malay-style fried rice) is a favourite at street stalls and night markets; it’s a popular takeaway for long bus journeys.

Roti canai (fried flat bread with curry sauce) a delicious and cheap snack served everywhere, best washed down with a strong cup of teh tarik (literally, ‘pulled’ tea).

Rendang daging (slow-cooked beef with lemongrass and coconut) is a rich and satisfying main course, often served at festivals.

Things to know

Table service is normal, and chopsticks are customary in Chinese restaurants. Indian and Malay food is traditionally eaten with the fingers, but western cutlery is generally used. Set lunches, usually with four courses, are excellent value for money.


10% service charge and 5% government tax are usually included in bills, and added to the menu prices.

Regional drinks

Locally brewed beers such as Tiger and Anchor.
The famous Singapore gin sling.
Sugar cane juice.