My guests often ask me “what is the must try Street Food when I visit Malaysia?”.
Honestly speaking the Malaysian streets are a paradise, packed with vendors selling the most delicious and exotic street foods. Whether you’re in a hawker stall or just out taking in the sights, street foods are the perfect way to enjoy the cuisine and get a real feel for Malaysia and its people. The varieties of tastes and flavors you’ll find are all prepared with traditional techniques that represent the diversity of Malaysian culture. And won’t make a huge impact on your wallet.
I compiled this list of my personal favorites. Before I would send this list out to our clients after they completed their tour and now it’s time to share that list with everyone!
So here is my Must Try Malaysian Street Food Checklist.
Top of the list and a favorite for tourists and locals alike is Nasi lemak. Considered the national dish, it can be found in both roadside stalls served on banana leaf and in 5-star restaurants on fine china. This dish is a hearty mix of coconut rice infused with pandan, cucumbers, nuts, anchovies and egg.
There are several variations and choices of sides depending on where you go. Some more popular sides include deep fried fish, chicken, fish cake and even curried vegetables. Besides the aromatic rice, the signature of this dish is the spicy sambal or chili paste.
Char Kuey Teow
Once considered “poor man’s food”, Char Kuey Teow has evolved into a local favorite. Literally translated, the name means ‘stir-fried rice cake strips’ and consists of spicy, flat rice noodles stir-fried over high heat with soy sauce, shrimp, chilis, cockles, bean sprouts, eggs and chinese chives. If you want more of a chinese style dish, you can also find variations of this dish fried in pork lard with slices of chinese sausage and fishcake.
This dish may have a humble name, but the flavor is anything but ordinary. Large chunks of beef brisket simmered in a spicy broth with rice noodles, chives, bean sprouts and other asian greens. You can find this dish right on the street or starring in one of the many restaurants that claim to have the best noodles in Malaysia.
Yong Tau Foo
Another favorite with variations depending on cultural influences is Yong Tau Foo. This dish can be served for breakfast , lunch or dinner. This Hakka dish is white tofu stuffed with either a ground meat mixture or surimi (fish paste) then deep fried to a golden brown.
Mushrooms and other vegetables, like eggplant, can also be stuffed and fried as a variation to this dish, then served with fried tofu balls.
You can have your Yong Tau Foo dry, with sauce, or even served as a soup.
One of Malaysia’s most beloved dishes is Asam Laksa. This iconic dish is a “must try” when visiting Penang and was ranked 7th on CNN’s World’s Best Food List.
Served mainly in the late afternoon, this dish is a spicy fish broth soured by tamarind and filled with smooth rice noodles, shredded mackerel, mint, lemon grass, onion, and pineapple. Then garnished with pink ginger flowers, thin sliced cucumbers, bird’s eye chilis and a sweet prawn paste called heh ko.
This popular snack or breakfast dish has its origins in India, but today can be found all over Asia.
This flatbread is very inexpensive and is uniquely made by first flattening the dough then forming it into a rope and twisting it before rolling it flat again. This process gives the roti flaky layers as it cooks.
Traditionally served with dhal, a curried lentil soup, or other curries. It’s most popular along side Teh Tarik, or ‘pulled tea”, as a breakfast dish.
Hokkien Mee (Egg and Rice Noodles in Spicy Soup)
Also known as Ha Mee, this delicious soup has its origins in China’s Hokkien province and was introduced to Malaysia by Chinese sailors after World War II.
A bowlful of Hokkein Mee contains a special broth made by stewing prawn heads, clams, pork, and dried fish. Two kinds of noodles – egg noodles and rice vermicelli – are then added along with kankong (or “water spinach”), bean sprouts, tender pork slices, squid, and shrimp then finishes with a hard cooked egg and a spoonful of homemade chili sauce.
Fried Bee Hoon
A popular breakfast staple in Malaysia, Fried Bee Hoon has made its way into the hearts of many tourists as a perfect deviation from the usual morning meal.
Bee Hoon is rice noodles, or vermicelli, which is soaked then stir fried with soy sauce, oyster sauce, chinese cabbage, bean sprouts, onion, garlic, ginger and any other variation of vegetables. Garnished with an egg, any style, spring onions and of course, chili sauce.
Similar to a turnover, Murtabak is a popular snack that was originally sold in Indian Muslim stalls and restaurants. Now it is offered nationwide and with many variations.
The classic Murtabak is a pancake or pan fried bread stuffed with minced beef or chicken, garlic, egg and onion. It is served with your choice of curry or gravy, sliced cucumber, syrup-pickled onions or tomato sauce.
Koay Teow Th’ng
The simplest and most affordable street food on this list is Koay Teow Th’ng. This soup is a clear broth with either duck, pork or chicken depending on the shop you visit. At most places you can top it up with fish balls. This dish is completed by a garnish of lettuce and chopped spring onions.
Whatever this flavorful soup may lack in complexity, it makes up for in taste.
Sweet Potato Balls
Another great treat while on the streets of Malaysia is an order of Sweet Potato Balls. One of my personal favorite snacks, these simple balls are made from mashed sweet potatoes, flour and sugar. The mixtures is then formed into balls and deep fried.
Some stalls may even top them with toasted sesame seeds to give it an extra nutty flavor.
Durian Cream Puff
Similar to an eclair or other puffs, the Durian Cream Puff is not to be thought of as ordinary. These flaky pastry puffs are baked fresh then stuffed with a cream filling made from the robust tropical fruit, durian. Despite its unpleasant odor and frightening appearance when still hanging from the tree, the durian is one of the most delicious tropical fruits there is.
Karipap (Curry Puff)
For a quick, on the go snack, pick up a Karipap or curry puff. Similar to the empanada originating in Portugal, these half moon shaped pies are flaky puff pastry stuffed with curried chicken and potatoes then either deep fried or baked. These are a popular snack among Malaysians and fit nicely in the palm of your hand, so they are easy to eat while walking.
You can also find them minus the chicken for the vegetarians.
Tau Sar Piah
Tau Sar Piah is a flaky, crisp, and buttery pastry with mung bean filling which can be either sweet or savory. I’ve found this traditional Singapore / Malaysian Chinese pastry in the local grocery stores in Malaysia, but those won’t compare to the ones baked fresh on the street.
Roti Jala (Malaysian net crepes)
Literally translated, Roti Jala means “net crepes” due to their unique lattice appearance.
Tender and delicate, Roti Jala goes perfect with chicken or beef curry, but can accompany any chutney you desire. Ground turmeric gives these roti a mild aroma and a nice yellow tint.
Malaysian night life would not be complete without trying this unique, Indonesian inspired bar-b-que. The irresistable aroma alone will be enough to draw you over to the stall.
Satay is pieces of beef, chicken or pork on bamboo skewers, marinated in a sweet and spicy satay peanut sauce, then grilled over a charcoal fire to give them that delicious smoky flavor. Served with red onion and cucumber slices for spearing.
Another late night snack and similar to Satay is Lok-lok. Only this one kicks it up a notch.
Endless trays of meats and vegetables on bamboo skewers, seasoned and ready to be cooked. You get a plate and choose your skewers, anything from beef, chicken, pork, mutton, bacon to a variety of veggies. Once you have made your selections, you cook your skewers in a simmering broth to your liking. Nothing could be more fun and delicious!
The work rojak translates to “mixture” in English, which is exactly what this dish is. A salad blend of the freshest fruits and vegetables around.
I like the sweet version, which is normally fresh tropical fruits, but you can also get the savory which consists of fried bean curd, vegetables, fritters and hard cooked eggs. Both are awesome and tossed in a tangy sweet sauce that brings the flavors together.
Rojak is best enjoyed when made fresh, though. If you leave it sit too long and it becomes soggy.
Cucur Udang (Prawn Fritters)
Commonly known amongst Malaysians as “jemput jemput udang”, Cucur Udang are soft, bite size, prawn fritters fried to perfection.
Fresh shrimp, corn, white onion, red chilis, and spring onions are blended together with flour and dropped by small spoonfuls into hot oil to produce this awesome snack which can be eaten plain, or dipped in chili sauce or peanut sauce.
I love watching them make this. It’s a simple pancake made from flour, eggs, sugar, baking soda, coconut milk and water then cooked in a large iron pan coated with palm margarine. Once flipped, it is stuffed with crushed peanuts and sweet creamed corn, then folded, like a turnover and cut making it easier to eat on the go.
You can find other variations which include shredded cheese and even chocolate sprinkles.
I have found so many varieties of this popular dessert soup whose name literally translates to “sugar water”. So many varieties in fact, that many stalls have gained fame with their specialty Tong Sui.
I’m not sure which one is my favorite, but some that I look for are red bean soup, peanut paste soup, black eyed peas soup, wheat porridge, tofu pudding, and sago (tapioca pearls) with shredded coconut in evaporated milk.
Whatever your tastes, you will find a Tong Sui to satisfy you.
I like this dessert on those hot days to escape the heat. It’s simple and super inexpensive.
Cendol is a generous bowl of shaved ice mixed with green rice flour jelly, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup. Add creamed corn for an extra layer of flavor and texture.
In English, the word cham literally translates to “mix” which is a fitting description for this refreshing beverage, as it’s a mix of coffee, tea and condensed milk served over ice.
For a healthier version, the condensed milk can be substituted for fresh or evaporated milk.
Five Flower Tea
I love this tea. It’s globally known for its medicinal value as well as its wonderful aroma and taste. It’s brewed from a mixture of honeysuckle, chrysanthemum, silk cotton, Plumeria rubra and Pueraria lobata.
It has anti-inflammatory properties which can help alleviate such ailments as fatigue, sore throat, indigestion, poor appetite, insomnia and urinary difficulty
In the western world, nutmeg is widely known as an intricate element in pumpkin pie and eggnog. However in Malaysia, the pale yellow fruit from the nutmeg tree is pressed into a sweet and tangy juice that is served streetside in a variety of ways.
There is bad news though. This delicious juice is only common in Penang. In other parts of Malaysia, you can find the nutmeg fruit candied or even as preserves.
To end this list, I chose one of the most delicious and unique drinks found throughout the country. Teh Tarik.
Teh Tarik means literally “pulled tea” and is the national drink of Malaysia. Similar to Cham Ice, this beverage is a mixture of black tea and condensed milk, but is served hot and can be found in street stalls as well as the fancier restaurants.
What’s unique about Teh Tarik is the way it’s prepared. First the tea and milk are combined, then repeatedly poured from a height between two cups. This thoroughly mixes the the tea and milk, cools the beverage to just the right temperature and gives it a nice foam on top, thus enhancing the flavor.
Teh Tarik is a great accompaniment to Roti canai and is a very popular and traditional breakfast among Malaysians.
And that sums up my list of must eat Street Food when visiting Malaysia. Do you have a favorite or have I missed a dish? Let me know in the comments below.