Updated: Jan 25, 2021
Malaysian's are very proud of their cuisine and they should be. Nowhere else in Southeast Asia, will you get such an awesome variety of local dishes than here.
For someone new to the country, this immense variety of flavors and cuisines can be overwhelming. Lucky for me, I am engaged to a true local foody and together we have put together a list of the best Malaysian dishes that we think you should try while visiting the country.
Since we are living in Kuala Lumpur, we complimented that list with addresses of some of the best restaurants that serve those amazing dishes in the capital.
Before getting to this list, however, we want to share with you a quick background of Malaysia’s cuisine.
About Malaysian Cuisine
Malaysia is a melting pot of people, cultures, and cuisines. Chineses, Indians, and Malays, all contributed to the multi-ethnic make-up of this country. Some dishes are similar to dishes that you may also find in Indonesia and Singapore. Heated discussions remain about where they originate from or who has the better recipe.
Despite all that, once you start eating, you won’t care about that anymore and rather focus on where you can get your next meal.
It's just so good!
Banana Leaf Rice
Originally from South India, banana leaf rice is one of the many popular dishes in Malaysia. As the name suggests, the rice is served on banana leaves instead of plates and comes with three to four vegetable sides, a basket of papadum as well as some crispy deep-fried snake gourd or bitter gourd fritter. The latter is super addictive.
To top it all up, choose one of the three sauce options dahl, chicken, or fish curry and you have yourself a delicious vegetarian dish. Banana leaf restaurants also offer tasty meat and seafood sides such as fried fish, chicken, and lamb curry.
Our favorite spots in Kuala Lumpur are:
Restaurant Sri Nirwana Maju, 43, Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur | 03-2287 8445
Vishal Food & Catering, 22 Scotts Road, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur
If you would like to try some authentic Taiwanese Cuisine, you have to plan a dinner at the restaurant Din Tai Fung. Aside from a variety of 'truely' mouth-watering dumplings filled with shrimp, pork, or vegetables, the restaurant is also very popular for its fried rice and stir-fried vegetables.
Din Tai Fung has several branches. We recommend you to go to the branch in Pavillion Shopping Mall. Alternatively, the restaurant 'Marco Polo Restaurant' also serves very good dumplings.
Here are the addresses of both places:
Din Tai Fung, Pavillion KL, Lot 6.01.05, Level 6
Marco Polo Restaurant, 1st, 84, Jalan Raja Chulan, Kuala Lumpur, 50200 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Nasi Lemak: Malaysia's #1 National Dish
Malaysia has many national favorites but the one that sticks out the most is nasi lemak. If you don't believe me, then check out the dress of Malaysia's Miss Universe contestant in 2017.
Wrapped in a banana leaf, the rice is cooked in coconut milk and served with spicy sambal sauce, cucumber, fried crispy anchovies, toasted peanuts as well as a hard-boiled egg. Adding chicken is optional. While locals love to eat it for breakfast, it is just as good for lunch or dinner.
If you feel adventurous, you should order Sirap Bandung as a drink to go with it. Pink in color, it is a very popular drink consisting of evaporated milk and flavored with rose syrup. Another option would be Teh Tarik, which is hot tea with tons of sugar and condensed milk. Hmmm, sedab! (Sedab is the Malay word for delicious.)
Our favorite spots are:
Madam Kwan's, Suria KLCC, Lot 420 / 421, Level 4, Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 50088 Kuala Lumpur
Village Park, 5, Jalan SS 21/37, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor (A Nasi Lemak Powerhouse and ultime local favorite)
Chili Pan Mee
If you want to go 'truely' local, you must check out Jojo's Little Kitchen. A favorite to Chinese-Malaysians, we recommend their Chili Pan Mee. You can order your dish with thin or thick noodles either dry or as a soup. Spicy chili sauce, minced pork marinated with dark sauce, fried anchovies, and poached egg are rounding up the dish perfectly. We also always order a fishball soup as a side dish.
Jojo's has several outlets in Kuala Lumpur. We always go to one of the following:
Jojo's Little Kitchen @ Desa Sri Hartamas, 4, Jalan 27/70a, Desa Sri Hartamas, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
While in Malaysia, eating at a Mamak Store -at least once- is almost a must. Open almost 24h a day, these eateries serve Indian cuisine and are extremely popular hangout spots among locals.
Our personal go-to dish here is a simple roti canai, which is an Indian flatbread with dahl and sambal sauce. While dahl is a healthy lentil-based dish that is rather mild, the sambal compliments the dish with its spicy flavors very well.
You can find these shops pretty much anywhere you go.
Kuala Lumpur is famous for its street food markets which pop up all across the city towards the evening. One that attracts a lot of attention especially from tourists is the market in Jalan Alor.
Strategically located in the heart of Bukit Bintang area, the market features tons of hawker stores offering everything that the heart desires. Aside from Malaysian food, you can also try authentic Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese food here. One dish, that stands out for us is Satay.
Satay are meat skewers made with marinated chicken or beef and are served with peanut sauce, some cucumber as well as sticky rice balls. It the perfect finger food to share among a group of friends.
Other markets that we recommend, should you visit Malaysia during the month of Ramadan, are the Ramadan Bazaars. They pop up all over the city and open in the late afternoon. Eating there is a feast.
Some of our favorite bazaars are located in:
Kampung Baru, Jalan Raja Alang, Chow Kit, 50300 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Masjid India, Jalan Masjid India, City Centre, 50100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Another one of our go-to dishes is Chicken Rice. Generally served in Hawker Stalls, this dish is simple in flavor and usually appeals to everyone. It is served with seasoned rice, garlic chili and ginger dipping sauces, beansprouts, and either roasted or steamed chicken in soy sauce.
Our favorite restaurants are:
Restoran Loke Yun Ampang, 158, Jalan Besar Ampang, Pekan Ampang, 68000 Ampang, Selangor
1977 Ipoh Chicken Rice, 107, Jalan Gasing, Seksyen 10, 46000 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
South Indian Vegetarian Cuisine
Tucked into a row of modern restaurants and cafes on Lorong Kurau in Bangsar, The Ganga Cafe offers South Indian vegetarian cuisine combined with Gujarati flavors and Malaysian local ingredients. The food there is so good that we have become regular guests there. Even my meat-loving boyfriend enjoys going there.
Taking 'organic and local' to a whole new level, I found out that many of their products actually grow in their own garden. This fresh produce combined with their subtle use of flavor is what helps them stand out from the many Indian restaurants in Kuala Lumpur.
If you go there on a weekday, the friendly staff offers you an à la carte menu including curries, dhal, and an assortment of flatbread (roti or naan). Our go-to order generally consists of palak paneer, aloo gobi with some garlic and butter naan. On Sundays, they offer an all you can eat brunch buffet for a fixed price. I love it because you get to try a little bit of everything they offer.
While you are there, also try one of their delicious drinks. Aside from coffee and their homemade masala tea, you can choose among a well-elaborated list of refreshing juices. My personal favorite there is the Detox Cooler. It’s a mix of cucumber, mint, and green apple.
Here is their address:
The Ganga Cafe, 17, Lorong Kurau, Bangsar, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Chinese Hot Pot
Hot pot describes a cooking method where the food is cooked in a soul-warming broth on the table in front of you. After a long week at the office, locals love to go to hot pot restaurants to hang out with their friends and share a meal that offers a little bit for everyone.
Often you have the choice between several different types of broth. We personally are big fans of the tomato soup. Spice lovers should try the Sichuan Spicy Soup. Our tip here: Go for the lowest spice level. Trust us on this! Once you have selected the soups, you can add as many sites as you want. They have a pretty good selection of thin-sliced meat and seafood. You can also add dumplings, vegetables, and tofu.
Our go-to hot pot place is:
Shu Da Xia HotPot, 340, Jalan Tun Razak, Kampung Datuk Keramat, 55000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
Laksa is a spicy noodle soup consisting of thick noodles with prawn and fish, topped with various shredded vegetables, chili and based on a rich and spicy curry coconut milk. A fixed item of the menu in many restaurants across the country - from the smallest most basic restaurant to fine-dining spots - this bowl of soup has become so popular that it made it among the top 10 of CNN of the 50 World's Best Foods.
The dish originated in the Peranakan community, or Baba Nyonya, which was created by Chinese traders who married locals. Today they primarily live around Melaka.
Our favourite spot in Kuala Lumpur is:
Lima Pulo, 50, Jalan Doraisamy, Chow Kit, 50300 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur
So bad but so good!
Hokkien Mee is like a bag of chips - super addictive. Hokkien Mee has its origins in China and consists of thick noodles cooked in a fragrant brown sauce with some green vegetables and pork belly meat. Some of the key ingredients for the sauce are the pork fat, soy sauce, oyster sauce as well as some garlic and pepper.
China Town is the place to go to try this dish. There are a bunch of restaurants serving this dish.