Malaysia is for Foodies!

Malaysia is for Foodies!

After publishing 10 things to do in Kuala Lumpur, I immediately got an overwhelming response with people saying things like “eating better be at the top of the list!” and “9 out of 10 of those things better be eating!

And although my list wasn’t actually in a particular order, without a doubt, I would have to put eating at the top of it. Malaysian food is probably the most underrated food ever, and now I can’t get enough of it.

So if you don’t know what Malaysian food is, don’t worry. Before my trip I really hadn’t tried a lot of Malaysian food. Come to think of it, I think the only thing I really knew beforehand were laksas and rendang. But even though I personally hadn’t had a lot of experience with Malaysian food, I knew it was something people raved on and on about.

This gave me high hopes for eating on my trip, but yet I was a little afraid of trying new foods in a country that places so much emphasis on shrimp, which is something I’m allergic to. Where was I to start? How was I supposed to know if something had shrimp in it? I started to get a bit paranoid the more I worried about it.

However, that’s where Food Tour Malaysia came into play. I was super excited to be joining a food tour on my first night there to get the lowdown on what foods were delicious– and safe for me to eat!

Food Tour Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur’s original food tour, and while I haven’t been on any other food tours in Malaysia, I can’t imagine there being a better one.

Food Tour Malaysia promises that you’ll “taste the real Malaysia” while on their tours. Little did I know this meant embarking on an over 5-hour journey through local establishments on the outskirts of the city. Being led around by a local, to joints where only locals go, was an experience I couldn’t have easily replicated on my own.

As I’ve mentioned before, Malaysia is made up of primarily 3 cultures: Malay, Indian and Chinese, so it was only fitting that we sample a variety of dishes from each culture.

On top of that, after hours of conversation on culture, politics and general life in KL, I felt that I left the tour with a much better understanding of the country and its people.

So what’s better than learning about the staples of Malaysian cuisine and culture?

Actually eating the food!

So without further adieu, here’s a look at some of the best dishes from my introduction to Malaysian food:

Malay

Our first stop of the night was a hawker center for some proper Malay cuisine. Our small group of four sat down and within minutes baskets of food were being placed in front of us at our table.

Malaysia - Jan 2014

The first thing we tried was nasi lemak, which is unofficially known as the national dish of Malaysia. Traditionally, this is a breakfast item, but nowadays you can find people eating this at all times of day.

Nasi lemak is simply rice cooked in coconut milk, but this dish is all about the toppings. What this dish comes with varies depending on what region of Malaysia you’re in, but typically you’ll find a hard-boiled egg, peanuts, anchovies, and sambal piled on top.

Malaysia - Jan 2014

As we were shoveling spoonfuls of rice in our mouth, another basket was placed in front of us. Inside it looked like a bunch of thick leaves held together by toothpicks. Our guide Deric pulled out the toothpicks and the actual dish was revealed inside.

Malaysia - Jan 2014

Called otak-otak, Malay for “brains”, this dish is made of mashed fish paste that’s been infused with spices. Once all the ingredients have been nicely blended together, they spoon them into the leaf and barbecue it over a grill until the leaf becomes slightly charred.

While the texture looks a bit off-putting from first glance, once you bite into it, the flavor of the spicy fish keeps you eating more until its all gone.

Finishing what we could, we then had a short chat with the chefs, telling them how delicious we found Malay cuisine thus far. We watched as they quickly and effortlessly assembled more of the dishes we had just eaten before making our way to our next destination.

Malaysia - Jan 2014
Malaysia - Jan 2014

Chinese

Ah, Chinese food, something I’m at least familiar with due to living in Hong Kong. We arrived at another location that seemed similar to a hawker center, except for Chinese dishes only. Sitting around on plastic tables, talking, we waited for our food to arrive.

Malaysia - Jan 2014

Soon, dish after dish was brought to our table, and like proper Chinese, we began to pick what we wanted from each individual dish, family-style.

There were a variety of noodle-based dishes, like the Malaysian favorite Hokkien meeas well as things like spring rolls, peking duck and yin yang rice.

Malaysia - Jan 2014

While none of these were particularly new to me, I found the peking duck to be absolutely amazing and I kept picking away at it piece by piece. However, I did try one thing that was new, asam boi.

Asam boi is a drink often sold in hawker centers. It was bright and yellow in color, so I immediately got excited thinking it would taste like lemonade. That excitement quickly disappeared when Deric informed me that lemon flavored anything is extremely rare as lemons can’t grow in Malaysia, and the imported ones are extremely expensive. He corrected me by telling me the drink was made from limes.

Ugh, I hate limes. After hearing what it was, I was immediately reluctant to give it a try. I thought there’s no way I could like it. Asam boi is a drink not only made from limes, but it’s also been flavored with sour and salty dried plum.

There was really nothing that sounded appealing about this drink, but seeing as I’m always thirsty, and I needed something to accompany all that peking duck, I gave it a sip. Delicious.

While I still can’t say I like limes (since I’ve tried them post-trip in Hong Kong), there’s just something about these combination of flavors that was incredibly refreshing and thirst quenching!

Malaysia - Jan 2014

As we hopped in the car to seek out our next location, we happened upon a night market. Deciding it would be fun to experience one of KL’s “roaming night markets”, we scoured for a parking spot and made our way through the crowds.

Walking through the twisting path of stalls, we stopped to make small purchases of anything that looked appetizing. We grabbed a few bags of fish crackers, different meat satays, and a few desserts, before stopping near a vacant alley to eat them.

Malaysia - Jan 2014
Malaysia - Jan 2014

All the street food I sampled was exceptional, but my favorite was something called apam balik.

This sweet treat is basically a really thick giant pancake loaded with sugar and peanuts. It may sound really simple, but the flavors were what made it great. Watching the vendor skillfully make each pancake, we were amazed at the work and skill that went into making it.

We knew we weren’t the only ones who loved this snack, as a crowd of others gathered around us waiting for their turn to purchase one.

Malaysia - Jan 2014

Indian

When it came time to go sample some Indian food, we were all so full we didn’t think we could eat anymore. Luckily, it was a bit of a drive so our stomachs had some time to rest.

Ordering only two lighter dishes, I couldn’t have been happier with our choices.

Our first dish wasn’t exactly Indian, but rather a dish locals order late at night– perfect, since it was already past 10pm! As many places close early in Malaysia, it’s common for groups of friends to hang out or study in diner-like establishments until the wee hours of the morning. One of the most common dishes you’ll find served this late is maggi goreng made from instant noodles.

Served on a traditional banana leaf, these noodles came with fresh vegetables and an egg on top, so don’t think of this as the sub-par noodles you make from packets. These noodles had great texture, and an even better flavor.

Malaysia - Jan 2014

As for actual Indian food, we ordered a paper dosa, which is something I had heard of, but had no idea what it was.

Minutes after placing our order, a giant paper-thin sheet of bread was placed at our table, followed by a giant vat of four different sauces. We spooned a bit of each sauce onto the banana leaf plates before ripping the bread to pieces and digging in.

Malaysia - Jan 2014

I had just discovered my new favorite dish that I would continually eat for the week to follow.

There’s something about the thin bread being dipped into different flavored sauces. Some were curry, some were spicy, some were mint-based, but all of them delicious.

 The Durian

I couldn’t include this above since it doesn’t exactly fit into any of the three cuisines, but you can’t come to Malaysia without trying a durian. The ‘King of Fruit’ is a taste loved by all and a smell hated by just as many. There are over 100 different cultivars of durian, and many of them come from Malaysia.

Whereas other parts of Asia love durian as well, most don’t have shops dedicated to eating solely this fruit.

I don’t know why I think I’d get off scot-free without having to taste durian; I should have expected it, but I didn’t. It came as a bit of a shock as we pulled up to a street shop piled high with durians. Deric talked to the shop owner while we stood there looking around. The whole place reeked of that funky, pungent durian smell.

Everyone seemed to be enjoying their durian, talking with friends. And then it was our turn.

Malaysia - Jan 2014

A durian was brought to the table and freshly hacked open by a machete. I grabbed my piece, and could barely stomach it. Every time I give durian a try it tastes like something different. Tonight, it tasted like onions. Bleh. We also got a bag of mangosteens, which I certainly preferred over the durian.

But at least now I can say I ate durian in Malaysia!

Malaysia - Jan 2014

Would I recommend this tour?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes! I mean, I love anything food related, but this was so much more than a food tour.

Our guide Deric was absolutely wonderful and knowledgable about KL and Malaysia. He was also just a blast to hang out with and incredibly passionate. I loved hearing about the culture behind the food and the bits of information about each place that made it even more special.

One of the things I like most about this tour, is that there is no set itinerary. When we started out, there were actually two different groups being led by two different guides for the night. Even though we saw them at our first destination, we never ran into them again. The places you are taken to change depending on where the guide feels it’s best to go that night. I could take this tour 10 times over and still enjoy trying new places and new dishes.

This also means that the tours are extremely flexible. If we had been on a set schedule, we probably couldn’t have enjoyed the night market we ran into, or have tried extra items we thought sounded good. Everything was tailored to us. Anytime we made a comment about always wanting to try such-and-such, a few minutes later, Deric would order it for us. And the whole reason we stayed out until almost midnight was because everyone in our small group was so interested in the different foods and enjoyed talking together.

By the end of this tour, I really did feel as though I had tasted the real Malaysia.

[stextbox id=”besudesu” caption=”Know Before You Go”]

“Off the Eaten Track” tour runs daily, but advanced bookings are required.

Time: 7pm until ~11pm

Price: RM 160 per person

Meet at Taman Paramount LRT station at 7pm.

Book your tour today online at Food Tour Malaysia.

[/stextbox] [divider]

What Malaysian dish would you like to try?

A huge thank you to Food Tour Malaysia for showing me the best of Malaysian cuisine, and to Deric for being an awesome guide for the night! I kindly received a complimentary tour, but as always, all opinions are entirely my own.

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63 Comments

  1. May 26, 2014 / 12:08 pm

    I visited during the Lunar New Year so unfortunately A LOT of food places were closed!!! :'( I still did manage to eat some amazing Indian food, local noodle dishes, Burmese food and Melakan Laksa

    • Beth Williams
      May 28, 2014 / 8:55 pm

      Aw, yeah. I was there a week before Lunar New Year so most places were still open, and already showcasing some of the New Year traditions! You need to go back so you can try all the food!

    • Beth Williams
      March 14, 2014 / 8:08 am

      Yeah, totally not a fan!

  2. March 9, 2014 / 8:06 am

    Note to self: Do not read foodie posts when you’re starving and Mary is cooking dinner 5 feet away… I’ve actually never done a food tour, but we frequently do restaurant tastings for our freelance work and always love it. I’ve only had Malaysian food a couple times, but everything you sampled looks fantastic! Well, except for the durian.

    • Beth Williams
      March 9, 2014 / 8:32 am

      How lucky! I think it would be really fun to do restaurant tastings as part of me job :)

  3. March 8, 2014 / 12:34 pm

    Yum!! Looks delicious–I love food tours!

    • Beth Williams
      March 8, 2014 / 8:39 pm

      Me too. I haven’t been on many, but I certainly wouldn’t complain to go on more!

  4. March 7, 2014 / 1:51 pm

    Yum!! We’re by no means foodies, but would love to take this tour. We haven’t yet been to Malaysia but it looks like Food is going to play a big part in our itinerary when we do eventually get there!! I love Chinese food especially :D

    • Beth Williams
      March 8, 2014 / 8:38 pm

      Food is a big part of Malaysia for anyone I think.
      I also really love Chinese food, but I ended up loving the Malaysian and Indian food even more!

  5. March 5, 2014 / 9:03 am

    I’ve always thought the food in Malaysia would be phenomenal,this post made my mouth water!

    • Beth Williams
      March 8, 2014 / 8:08 pm

      Hopefully you can go eat some Malaysian food soon!

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 10:29 am

      If you’ve never been, do go!

  6. March 4, 2014 / 12:52 am

    I couldn’t bare to eat the durian, the smell about knocked me out, but we had many in our group that did and loved it! ha!

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 9:55 am

      This wasn’t my first time eating durian, but I didn’t like it anymore than the first time. Actually, this time tasted strongly of onions–which I hate– so I didn’t get very far into my piece!

  7. March 3, 2014 / 11:34 pm

    Yum yum, that really makes me miss Malaysian food. I went to Malaysia 2 years ago and just couldn’t get enough of all those lovely curries.

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 9:59 am

      The curries (especially the Indian ones) were some of my favorite dishes.

  8. March 3, 2014 / 10:57 pm

    Funny I really didn’t expect Malaysian food to be so vast! You hear of Thai food for South East Asia but the rest gets forgotten!
    I’m gonna have to try that!

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 10:00 am

      It really does! Apart from Thai as you said, the rest of SEA really gets left behind. Malaysian food is certainly underrated!

  9. March 3, 2014 / 8:05 pm

    This made me so hungry

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 10:04 am

      Good! Now you can go try some Malaysian food ;)

  10. March 3, 2014 / 8:02 pm

    Yum!

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 10:03 am

      It was yum indeed!

  11. March 1, 2014 / 10:04 am

    Love this post, but then again I love malaysian food. Nasi Lemak for breakfast is tops.

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 9:50 am

      I didn’t get to try it for breakfast, but I can imagine it’s a great way to start your day.

  12. March 1, 2014 / 5:01 am

    The maggi goreng looks goood, not so sure about the otak-otak!

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 9:49 am

      The texture of the otak-otak is what put me off, but as soon as I tried it, I finished all of it! It wasn’t very fishy tasting, you just taste a lot of different spices.

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 9:47 am

      I wish I could fly back to get some more!

      • March 5, 2014 / 9:58 pm

        I get you. A friend of mine told me about curry from Durian, and all the possible desserts they do from it!! I so want to try! I mean I have tried Durian already but just like a piece of fruit, would be interested to see what can be done from it :)

        • Beth Williams
          March 8, 2014 / 8:08 pm

          The world’s smelliest, and more versatile fruit… haha

  13. February 28, 2014 / 4:14 pm

    Malay is definitely the best cuisine ever. It took me awhile to realise it but my birth country definitely kills it on the food front hands down.

    I think we’re really lucky in Auckland to have a TON of good Malaysian food, there are lots of Malaysian immigrants here and a lot of Malaysian restaurants as a result. I am not sure it’s the same in other countries though.

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 9:45 am

      Yeah, that seems super lucky! It’s rare in the US (at least where I live) and even here in HK there are only a few places… and they aren’t the most authentic.

  14. February 28, 2014 / 3:39 pm

    everything looks so delicious, and so exotic to me! I would love to try all these dishes!!

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 9:44 am

      Do give it a chance if you can! Everything was really delicious!

  15. February 28, 2014 / 2:48 pm

    Hi Beth,

    Fantastic write up! Thanks for being part of our experience! Hope there’s a next round – as we’re now open in Penang!

    • Beth Williams
      March 4, 2014 / 9:43 am

      Thanks! If I’m ever in Penang, I’ll certainly give you guys a call ;)

  16. February 28, 2014 / 11:58 am

    Looks like you had a lot of fun experiencing Malaysia’s food culture! Great option for first timers, or those wanting to get a little deeper into the diversity of the countries food.
    One thing you can never have too much of is the satay – even Malaysia Airlines serves them.

    I wasn’t brave enough to try durian when I was in the country, or in any of the Asian countries I’ve visited. Maybe next time when I get over the smell. =P

    *shakes fist* damn you for making me hungry just before I go to bed! Haha.

  17. Jaime
    February 27, 2014 / 6:10 pm

    Thank you for posting about the amazing food scene in Malaysia!!! So glad you enjoyed the food, if you ever head back that way try to aim for the festive seasons, either Chinese New Year to sample festive specials or Hari Raya Aidilfitri (Malay term for Eid) for the Ramadan bazaars.

    p/s: small typo on ‘redang’, should read as ‘rendang’…sorry but being Malaysian I had to say something ;D

    • Beth Williams
      February 28, 2014 / 12:57 pm

      Oops, I had already fixed the typo, but thanks for letting me know!

      I would really love to go during a festival period, especially during Ramadan. I was there a week before Chinese New Year began, so I still got to experience some celebrations at least!

  18. February 27, 2014 / 11:45 pm

    Wow, makes me hungry !

    • Beth Williams
      February 28, 2014 / 12:58 pm

      You should try Malaysian food if you haven’t already Sammi!

  19. February 27, 2014 / 5:52 pm

    Thanks for featuring my home country Beth, in Malaysia, other than sightseeing, you cant do much other than to eat, eat and eat!

    Hahaha.

    Simon Lee

    • Beth Williams
      February 28, 2014 / 12:54 pm

      Haha. It’s true! But I have no problems spending a week eating Malaysian food!

  20. February 27, 2014 / 4:29 pm

    Great follow up post! Despite just having dinner, reading this has made me hungry again. Yum!!!

    • Beth Williams
      February 28, 2014 / 12:54 pm

      I just had lunch, but thinking about Malaysian food, I think I could eat again :)

  21. February 27, 2014 / 10:45 am

    Malaysia looks like a food heaven to me. I definitely love its simplicity. The rice cooked in coconut milk looks so yummy I could eat it right away!

    • Beth Williams
      February 28, 2014 / 12:51 pm

      It was good heaven! Though, I’m sure you had equally good food in Singapore and Indonesia!

  22. February 27, 2014 / 9:58 am

    This sounds like such a wonderful tour! I have a question for you – we are both vegetarians, do you think they would be able to find vegetarian options in a tour like this for us? Thanks :)

    • February 27, 2014 / 5:56 pm

      Hi Lauren,
      Allow me to answer on behalf of Beth.

      Yes, you can find many vegetarian restaurant in Malaysia, mostly run by Malaysian Chinese and Indian.

      To estimate, you can find vegetarian food with a ratio of 3:10 with reference to general restaurants.

      Hope this helps,

      Simon Lee

      • Beth Williams
        February 28, 2014 / 12:56 pm

        Thanks for helping to answer Simon! We encountered a lot of vegetarian restaurants during our trip, and almost all the Indian food I ate was vegetarian as well.

    • Beth Williams
      February 28, 2014 / 11:46 am

      The tour in particular caters to people who have different dietary needs. So they were really helpful in finding me dishes without shrimp, and I know they’d be the same for those who are vegetarians. Plus, as Simon answered already, Malaysia has great vegetarian food!

  23. February 27, 2014 / 6:48 am

    The food looks delicious!

    • Beth Williams
      February 28, 2014 / 11:39 am

      It was! Can you find Malaysian food on the west coast? I can’t think of any places in the mid-west.

  24. February 27, 2014 / 3:03 am

    Looks delicious! I love how there are culinary influences form so many different countires and cultures in Malaysia – that’s what makes it one of the best foods in the world – I’m so hungry reading it!

    • Beth Williams
      February 28, 2014 / 11:38 am

      I was hungry writing it! Unfortunately Hong Kong doesn’t have terribly good Malaysian food

  25. February 27, 2014 / 2:17 am

    Yum! We LOVED the food in Penang when we lived there in 2004. Sadly, we have yet to return to Malaysia, but it’s a top 3 on our list of fave cuisine (next to Japanese and Italian)

    • Beth Williams
      February 28, 2014 / 11:37 am

      Japanese food is another favorite of mine! And I’m looking forward to trying true Italian food in Italy this summer.
      I’m not sure I could live in Malaysia or I’d gain 20 pounds. :)