Kitchen Tips

Authentic Malay Dishes You Must-Try

Malaysia is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic populace and we know that the cuisines are an amalgamation of the same. Just as unique as it is in its own ways, it is also important to understand the authenticity of the Malay cuisine as we did with culture.

 So what exactly is Malay cuisine?

The Malay peninsula is surrounded by southern Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and other small islands. These regions have had a great impact on the culinary traditions and influenced the Malay cuisine to a large extent.

Described as spicy and flavorful, Malay food utilises a melting pot of spices and herbs. Primarily the traditional Malay culinary style has been greatly influenced by the traders from neighboring countries and so Malay food is known by its geographical location.

On the west of Malaysia, the northern states are well known for their hot and spicy food. The central part of Malaysia is known for its rich gravy based dishes while the southern parts of Malaysia are known for their thick and sour spicy sauces.

The eastern parts of the Malaysian coast are known for their sweet glutinous rice.

Characteristics of Malay food:

The principle characteristic of traditional Malay cuisine is the generous use of spices and coconut milk, which gives it a rich and creamy texture.

The other important ingredient is the shrimp paste known as belacan, generally used as a base for making the famous condiment sambal paste used in many of the dishes. This however actually depends from region to region and culture in Malaysia (i.e. Traditional Malaysian’s use more Chilli as their base, whilst other regions use more Balacan as the base). Furthermore the application of the sambal paste to the dish can also indicate whether more balachan or chilli needs to be used in the paste.

Malay cuisine also uses lemongrass, banana leaves, flowers, bamboo shoots and galangal in abundance along with other herbs which reflects the openness of the cuisine to other culinary traditions.

Rice is a staple food in Malaysia and is commonly served along with most of the dishes.

How is Malay food prepared?

Traditionally, Malay food is generally prepared using local ingredients. The spices and herbs are grounded manually and the food is cooked using local firewood or coconut husks and coconut shells or on stove tops with traditional utensils, served on tropical edible leaves and eaten using the hands by delicately picking the food with the fingers without staining the palm.

Here are some authentic Malay dishes you must try:

Authentic Malay Dishes:

Some of the popular Malay dishes are:

Lemang , a traditional dish of glutinous rice cooked in hollow bamboo stick and coconut milk which comes from the Iban Dayak community from Borneo.

Lemang malay food

Image Courtesy: zolmuhd used under the Creative Commons Licence

Ketupat, a dumpling made from glutinous rice, wrapped in a young palm leaves made into a pouch. It is served during Lebaran Ketupat, six days after the fasting following Id ul Fitr. Ketupat is usually eaten with beef rendang or chicken rendang.

ketupat malay food

Image Courtesy: Sham Hardy used under the Creative Commons Licence

Nasi Dagang, one of the main course Malay dishes, it is made of rice cooked in coconut milk along with fish curry and boiled eggs. Dangang literally means ’Trading Rice’ and is popular in Terengganu and Kelantan of east Malaysia.  It is a popular dish during Id ul Fitr.

Popular Malay breakfast items:

Pulut inti , is a popular breakfast dish made with steamed glutinous rice topped with sweet coconut shavings wrapped in banana leaves.


Image Courtesy: boo lee used under the Creative Commons Licence

Nasi lemak, known as the national dish of Malaysia, Nasi lemak is rice cooked in coconut milk and served with sambal, fried crispy anchovies, toasted peanuts, and cucumber.

Authentic Malay Snacks:

Keropok, is a famous Malay snack made by grinding fish into a paste which is then mixed with sago and deep fried. It is also called as a fish sausage/ fritters and is served with many dipping sauces.


Image Courtesy: Li Tsin Soon used under the Creative Commons Licence

There are two types of Keropok Lekor:

Keropok Lekor Goreng, is more chewy and shaped into sausages.

Keropok Lekor Keping is shaped into slices and has crispier texture.

Cucur badak:

A popular savoury snack in Malaysia, Cucur badak is made of sweet potato with spicy coconut filling along with onions, shrimp and lemongrass.


Image Courtesy: eatingeast used under the Creative Commons Licence

Authentic Malay Desserts

Lempeng,  is a popular Malay pancake made with bananas, molasses and garnished with coconut shaving.

Apam Balik:

A classic street food snack, apam balik is a pancake filled with crushed peanuts, honey, bananas and chocolate.


Image Courtesy: Yun Huang Yong used under the Creative Commons Licence


A famous dessert made with coconut milk, jaggery and rice flour which involves a tedious process.

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