6 of Malaysia's Can't-Miss Dishes
Malaysia brings together culinary traditions from around the region—China, India and many others—to form a cuisine that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. While there are hundreds of incredible local dishes to sample during your next visit, you simply can’t miss the six below.
① Assam Laksa
Assam laksa is a sweet, sour and spicy minced-fish noodle soup made with shrimp paste and tamarind (assam in Malay). This staple of the island city of Penang is a perfect way to start the day—it awakens the senses. As the boiling hot broth cools, the barrage of flavors continue to meld, constantly changing as the sweetness of the tamarind and bright fishiness of the broth shift in proportion from one bite to the next.
② Curry Mee
When it comes to distinctly Malay dishes, curry mee might just be the most popular. At the heart of the dish is a mound of fresh rice noodles, accompanied by a rich curry broth, chicken, tofu, bean sprouts, green onion, herbs and pig’s blood, all of which comes together to create one of Malaysia’s spiciest and most umami-rich staples. It’s a fresh burn, best experienced as a late breakfast or early lunch.
③ Nasi Lemak
Indian by origin but adopted throughout Malaysia, nasi lemak is little more than a small pyramid of rice, a large dab of sambal and anything from fried eggs to dried anchovies to spiced vegetables, all wrapped inside a banana leaf and steamed. The ubiquitous street food can be found everywhere in Malaysia, from cafés and convenience stores to street corners.
④ Wantan Mee
Like much of Malaysia’s best food, wantan mee stands as a perfect example of a Chinese-Malay hybrid. Made with fresh egg noodles fried in a dark, sweet and spicy soy sauce, and then topped with char siu (BBQ pork), wontons, choy sum and pickled green chiles, wantan mee takes traditional Chinese elements and brings them together in a distinctly Malay fashion.
⑤ Nasi Kandar
For those looking to feast Malay-style, nasi kandar is the meal to seek out. This heaping plate of rice comes with a mix of curries that feature chicken, mutton, fish and vegetables, and is easily found in any of Malaysia’s many Indian Muslim communities. While silverware is available, most locals opt for the hands-as-utensils technique. This takes time to master, but you’ll get bonus points just for practicing.
⑥ Char Kway Teow
One of Malaysia’s most beloved comfort foods, char kway teow is readily available on both the streets and in makeshift cafés around the country. Char kway teow includes wide rice noodles that are stir-fried with soy sauce, chiles, prawns, shrimp paste, bean sprouts and egg, and shares a lot of similarities with neighboring Thailand’s most famous culinary export, pad Thai.
Max Bonem is a writer, eater and traveler. If you need him, he’s probably off eating noodles somewhere. You can follow him on Instagram at @bonematlarge.
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