Sambal Shiok's spread of snacks with hands tucking in

Cook like a local: Malaysia

Explore the balance of sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavours of this Southeast Asian country

Want to learn about Malaysian food? Looking for Malaysian recipes? Read Mandy Yin’s guide below.

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


Malaysian cuisine

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.


Malaysian recipes

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.


Spicy herbal salad

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


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.