Everything You’ll Want to Know about Malaysian Food

February 12, 2015
Everything You Need to Know about Malaysian Food

Originally from the Netherlands, my home town is exactly 10,184 kilometers from Kuala Lumpur. So how did I ended up here? Well, first I came here for a wedding. Not just any wedding, but my brother’s wedding! My sister-in-law is Malaysian. Instead of staying for three weeks like the rest of my family,  I planned to stay for three months. But these three months eventually became nine. While living in Malaysia and interning at SOLS 24/7 Malaysia, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about Malaysian culture, and especially Malaysian food.

Food is a very important part of Malaysian culture. Not only do people socialize around food, but instead of greeting each other with, “How are you?”, people might ask, “Have you eaten?”

Here’s everything you need to know about Malaysian food and eating etiquette:

Everything You’ll Want to Know about Malaysian Food

1.  Rice is the staple food of the country.

You will find it in every food store, and it’s likely that you’ll eat it at every meal.

2. Most of the food is halal.

As Malaysia is a Muslim country, most of the food found in supermarkets, restaurants and mamaks is halal.  The exception is the tidak halal section of supermarkets, where you can find alcohol and pork.

3. Mamaks are everywhere.

Mamaks are restaurants that serve Indian Muslim food. They are usually open for 24 hours, and have a TV screen, which shows soap operas or football matches. You can eat a proper meal at a mamak for 5 RM.

4. Kuala Lumpur has diverse restaurant options.

Beside Malay restaurants, you can find Indian and Chinese restaurants too. Keep in mind that most Indian food is not meant for people who cannot handle spicy food, though you can ask the waiter to make it less spicy. There are also Western restaurant options, including American chains like KFC, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks. But be a good traveler and try the local food first!

5. Utensils vary depending on the restaurants.

While mamaks usually serve their food with a fork and a spoon, quite a number of people eat with their hands. This is why every restaurant has a washing table to clean your hands before and after the meal. You won’t find knives, so you get ready to cut your food with a spoon!

In Chinese restaurants, you can eat with chopsticks, or a fork and spoon.  In Indian restaurants, most people eat with their hands, but you can also request a fork and spoon. If you are eating with your hand, remember to only use your right hand! Put the food on the end of your fingers, so you don’t have to stick your entire hand in your mouth.

6. Don’t tip.

The service charge is included in the bill. The waiter won’t expect to get a tip, so save yourself some money.

Everything You Want to Know about Malaysian Food

7. If you are a guest at someone’s house, bring food.

For example, fruit is a great gift to bring.  This will be very much appreciated.

8. Try the local food.

Here are some of my personal favorites:

Roti: Roti literally means bread, but doesn’t look like the bread that I’m used to at home. It looks more like a pancake. You can order roti with banana (pisang), cheese, milo (chocolate), butter, egg (telur) or just canai (plain). It will be served with curry as a dip.

Chicken Tandoori: This chicken is delicious, but quite spicy. Eat it with mint sauce.

Nasi goreng ayam kunyit: Nasi goreng means fried rice, ayam is chicken and kunyit are the spices. This is my favorite mamak dish!

Lassie: A yoghurt drink mixed with fruit. My favorite is mango lassie.

Limau Ice: You can find this refreshing drink with lime at every mamak. It usually costs only 1 or 1,5 RM.

Tom Yam: A spicy soup that is eaten with rice. Tom Yam is commonly served with seafood, but you can also order it with chicken instead.

Banana leaf meal: You can order this lovely dish at Indian restaurants. Smaller dishes, like veggies, curry, papadum, and chicken with be served on the banana leaf. Eat this meal with your right hand if you want to look like a local.

Fruit: Malaysia has a lot of delicious tropical fruits, including jack fruit, mango steen, rambutan and mangos. Definitely try the durian as well. This fruit is known for its smell (it is forbidden in most public places because it stinks).  Most foreigners don’t like it, while most Malaysians do. If you are a bit anxious, start with durian cake, durian chocolate or durian ice cream.

Everything You Need to Know about Malaysian Food
Eating in Malaysia!


Everything You Need to Know about Malaysian Food top photo credit by Unsplash.com 

About Esther Spijker

I’m a 22-year-old woman from The Netherlands–Hoofddorp to be exact (15 minutes from Amsterdam). I studied Cultural Heritage at the Amsterdam School of the Arts. I graduated in July 2014, and then traveled to Malaysia. After my time in Malaysia, I’m planning to continue my studies by doing a Masters degree. I like art, history, music, travelling, meeting new people, going out, cats and food.

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