Want to learn about Malaysian food? Looking for Malaysian recipes? Read Mandy Yin's guide to Malaysian cuisine and Malaysian street food, then learn about Singaporean food and Omani food in our local guides.


What is Malaysian food?

The food of Malaysia is the result of the merging over centuries of indigenous ingredients and cooking methods with external influences, adapting ingredients and techniques from countries such as China, India, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and Britain. Then there are also influences from Thailand and Indonesia. Malaysian dishes are food for the soul and offer full-on, in-your-face, satisfying flavours. Many dishes delicately balance sweetness, sourness and saltiness, often marrying chilli heat and a hint of bitterness.

Key ingredients include coconut milk, chillies, pandan leaves, belacan (fermented shrimp paste), tamarind, lemongrass and makrut lime leaf.

Malaysians are a nation of avid snackers – it is normal to eat five or six times a day. At any get-together it is normal to see a variety of stir-fries, curries and stews served with a large cooker full of rice, kuih muih (sweet and savoury snacks, cakes and fried titbits), fried or braised noodles contrasted with refreshing salads, pickles and sambals, all served at once.

National dishes include nasi lemak (coconut rice with accompaniments), roti canai (a flaky flatbread served with a curry), satay, rendang, Hainanese chicken rice, popiah (spring rolls) and noodle dishes such as curry laksa, assam laksa, char kway teow (fried flat rice noodles), wonton mee (springy noodles with dumplings) and prawn noodle soup.

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Malaysian recipes

Recipes adapted from Sambal Shiok: The Malaysian Cookbook by Mandy Yin (£25, Quadrille).

Prawn sambal

This dish is redolent with shrimp paste, lime leaf and lemongrass – the sauce is stupendous and pairs incredibly well with the hard-boiled eggs served on the side.

Sambal Shiok's Prawn Sambal

Spicy herbal salad

This vibrant salad of vegetables and herbs is dressed with a fiery sambal, shrimp paste and lime to bring everything together.

A white plate piled high with cucumber and red onion salad, with a meat cleaver in the background

Fried rice vermicelli

This fried mee hoon rice vermicelli is a popular addition to any meal, and from a busy parent’s perspective a godsend as it provides a quick, no-fuss, one-pot meal.

A red table laid with a plate and pan filled with thin noodles, a fried egg and shredded chicken

More Malaysian recipes

Malaysian prawn and pineapple curry with crispy onions

Try this easy prawn curry, it takes under an hour for four people. Pineapples are abundant in Malaysia, and add sweet and sour notes to this savoury curry.

Two plates of Malaysian prawn and pineapple curry with crispy onions and chillies

Asam boi sour

This Malaysian preserved plum cocktail from Med Salleh in London looks sophisticated and is surprisingly easy to make.

Asam boi sour cocktail garnished with a wedge of lime

Hainan chicken rice

Make the condiments while the chicken cooks, and this recipe from Malaysian street food restaurant Med Salleh will be quicker than it first appears.

Decorated red plate topped with Hainan Malaysian chicken and rice dish with fresh cucumber slices

Beef shin rendang

Enjoy this aromatic, slow-cooked beef curry with friends as it serves 12. No need to worry about waste as the remainder can be frozen and whipped out later.

Pan of beef shin rendang curry topped with coriander and chilli


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