Foreign Influences

Find out how Chinese, Indian and European cuisine has influenced Malaysian cooking...

Malay Indian Food

Indian food has had a strong influence on Malaysian cuisine. Malay Indian cuisine is distinct from Malay food in its spices and flavours. The two main influences on Malay Indian food are from Northern and Southern India.

Northern Malay Indian cuisine:

This type of cuisine typically includes breads such as chapattis or rotis, which are served with a curry. This type of cooking can be rather meat-heavy; however, vegetable curries are also common. These dishes are very distinctive in their flavour and aroma, and include well-known favourites such as kormas and Mughlai cuisine.

South Malay Indian cuisine:

In contrast to Northern Indian cuisine, Southern Indian cuisine consists mainly of fish and vegetables cooked in coconut milk and served with rice. The breads are lighter than those of Northern Indian cuisine, and are often made from rice flour such as dosas, vada and idli. Pulses (for example lentils) are used in dishes such as sambars, as are many spices and herbs.

Indian food is now very Malaysian in style, and Malaysian Indian food offers distinct dishes not found in India, and renowned for their use of spices.

Malaysian Indian restaurants

There are many Indian restaurants in Malaysia serving both Northern and Southern Malay Indian cuisine. There are also many regional specialities, and dishes may vary depending on the customs of particular religious sects.

The most prevalent types of Indian restaurants found in Malaysia are Indian-Muslim ones, known as Mamak stalls or restaurants, which serve popular Malay Indian cuisine such as tandoori chicken, murtabak (meat and egg turnover) and roti canai (Indian pastry pancake), nasi kandar (spiced steamed rice) and fish head curry. These dishes are often served on a metal tray and eaten either with cutlery or fingers. Many Southern Indian restaurants specialise in vegetarian or non-meat cuisine. This type of food is often served on banana leaves.

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Malay Chinese Food

Chinese make up some 26 percent of the Malaysian population, and their influence on Malaysian cuisine is apparent. There are many different styles of Chinese cuisine available in Malaysia, including Cantonese, Hokkien, Hainanese, Teochew and Hakka. Chinese Malaysian food is often spicier than traditional Chinese food, and many of the Chinese dishes found in Malaysia are unique to Malaysia, such as chili crab.

Cantonese style Chinese cuisine is the most popular in Malaysia. This type of cuisine is often stir-fried and includes cooling foods (Yin) and hotter foods (Yang). A Cantonese specialty is dim sum, which includes a variety of dishes such as steamed pork and shrimp dumplings, steamed crabsticks, steamed soft noodles with shrimp, deep-fried dumplings with salted eggs and desserts such as baked egg custard.

Less familiar types of Chinese Malaysian food include Szechuan, Hainan and Peking dishes. Szechuan dishes are often fiery, for example Szechuan beef, and hot and sour soup. Peking food is usually eaten with hot steamed buns, noodles and pancakes and includes well-known dishes such as Peking duck. Hainan food is also easy to find, and includes popular dishes such as Hainan chicken rice and steamboats (thin slices of meat, vegetables and seafood cooked at the table). Hakkien food includes Hakkien fried mee, which consists of thick egg noodles fried with meat or vegetables in a rich soy sauce, as well as spring rolls and bak kut the (pork rib tea soup). Tenchew cuisine features delicate and robust flavours, and is famous for seafood and rice porridge. Hakka dishes are also popular, including soya bean cakes and vegetables stuffed with fish or seafood paste, steamed in a broth and served with a chili dipping sauce.


Mooncakes are are served during the Mooncake Festival in mid-autumn. These are rich sweet cakes made from red bean paste, lotus seeds and egg yolk.

Malaysian Chinese restaurants

There are many Chinese restaurants and hawker stalls found across Malaysia as well as Chinese coffee shops (kopitiams).

Banana Leaf restaurants are very popular; they specialise in vegetarian food.

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Eurasian Food

The European influence on Malaysian food originated from European colonial settlement, predominately by the Portuguese, in Malacca. Marriage between local women and Portuguese settlers led to the emergence of the Eurasians. Although Portuguese customs continued, Portuguese cooking took on a spicier taste using local ingredients, and famous dishes such as Devil Curry were developed; this dish uses plenty of chilies and spices with meat such as chicken or pork.
Fish and seafood are also popular in Eurasian cooking, including pickled salt fish, dried threadfish, dried shrimp paste and baked fish.

Other European influences from Holland and Britain also influence Eurasian cuisine in Malaysia. Well known dishes include bergedel (potato patties), kedgeree (based on smoked haddock), brown beef stew, fish and chips, chicken pot pie, oxtail soup and Eurasian nasi goreng. Colonial influences are still evident, as afternoon tea is still served by some Eurasians and traditional teatime foods such as small sandwiches, jam tarts, banana cake, trifles and cakes are enjoyed.

Nyonya Food

Nyonya food is a mix of Chinese and Malay flavours. It is different from both Chinese and Malay food in that it has its own distinct flavour and seasoning. A key ingredient is belacan (shrimp paste), which is used in sauces and gravies. Indonesian, Thai and Eurasian cooking all influence Nyonya food. Many dishes include meats and fish marinated for a long time before cooking, using herbs such as lemongrass, ginger and turmeric.

Nyonya food is famous for dishes such as Nyonya fried rice and for kuih (cake or dessert).

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