Malay Food

Find out about typical Malay dishes as well as regional specialities in Malaysia...

Malay food originates from the Malaysian Peninsula and some of the islands close to Sumatra and Borneo, and is also influenced by neighbouring lands. The variety of cultural influences on Malay food has resulted in a rich and exotic cuisine. It is usual in Malay cooking to use plenty of fresh herbs and spices such as ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chilies, and less well known spices such as daun kemangi (a type of basil), laksa leaf and kunyit basah (turmeric root). In Malay cooking fresh and dried spices are often used to make a rempah, a spice paste that is used as a base for many dishes.

Rice is a staple in Malay cooking and can be served for lunch, dinner and sometimes breakfast. Seafood such as shrimp and squid and local fish such as tuna and herring are popular. Fish is often served stuffed and grilled. Malay meals are traditionally served in banana leaves and eaten with fingers.

Typical Malay dishes

  • Masak Lemak - dishes with a coconut milk base; not hot, but rich and creamy
  • Masak Pedas (sambal) - hot chili dishes
  • Masak Assam - sour and tangy dishes, flavoured with tamarind
  • Maska Merah - dishes with a tomato sauce
  • Masak Hitam - dishes with a dark, sweet soy sauce

These basic types of dishes are made with all kinds of meat, poultry and seafood.

Regional and well known Malay dishes

  • Beef Rendang - a popular Malay spiced coconut beef dish
  • Sup Kamhing - mutton soup
  • Satay - meat on a stick cooked over hot charcoal and served with cucumber, onion and spicy peanut dipping sauce
  • Nasi Pedang - a meal consisting of rice and a combination of meat, fish and vegetable dishes
  • Otak Otoak - fish mousse
  • Nasi Goreng - fried rice
  • Mee Goreng - fried noodles
  • Nasi Kerabu - a traditional dish from the state of Kelantan, in which the rice is tinted blue from flower petals called bunga telang
  • Roti Jala - a type of crêpe or thin pancake often eaten with rich curry dishes


Typical Malay desserts are made using coconut milk, fresh coconut and palm sugar. For example: kuih talam, a steamed coconut pudding; pulut inti, glutinous rice with a coconut topping; and pulut hitam, a black rice pudding.

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Popular desserts in Malaysia include:

  • Aiskrim Potong - ice cream made from coconut milk flavoured with ingredients such as red beans, rose syrup, durian and jack fruit
  • Babur Cha-cha - sweet potato and yams cooked in coconut milk with pandan leaves, sugar and salt
  • Cendol - thin, green, pandan flavoured noodles topped with coconut milk and shaved ice
  • Cheng Tng - a brown soup with lotus seeds, agar-agar strips, white fungus, longans, barley, ginko nuts and water chestnuts
  • Honeydew Sago - made with honeydew melon served in chilled coconut milk and sago pearls
  • Kuih - bite-sized cakes, pastries and cookies which can be sweet or savoury, made mainly from glutinous rice, tapioca flour or rice flour and flavoured with ingredients such as grated coconut, coconut cream, pandan and gula melaka. The most common are:
    • Kuih lapis (layer cake). The layers are usually coloured red, pink and green and are made from butter, eggs and sugar
    • Kuih talam (tray cake). This has two layers; the top (white) layer is made from coconut milk and rice flour and the bottom (green) layer from green pea flour and pandan
    • Kuih serimuka: another two-layered cake made with coconut milk and rice flour on the top and steamed glutinous rice on the bottom, flavoured with pandan juice
  • Onde-onde - bite-sized balls containing gula melaka covered in glutinous rice and grated coconut
  • Pulut inti - glutinous rice covered in caramelised coconut flesh, shaped like a pyramid
  • Peanut pancake - a Hokkien speciality where ground peanut paste is sandwiched between two pancakes and fried
  • Pisang goreng - fried banana
  • Pulut Hitam - black glutinous rice cooked with sago, longan flesh, gula melaka and pandan leaves and served with coconut milk
  • Tau Fu Fah - soya bean curd served with a clear sweet syrup


There are many different types of fruit available to buy in shops and at the roadside, including durian, which has a foul smell but is very popular among the locals. Other local fruits include jackfruit, cempedak, mangosteen, rambutan, star fruit, langsat, pineapple, lychee, longan, mata kucing and bananas.