See also: List of Malaysian dishes
Malaysian cuisine consists of cooking traditions and practices found in Malaysia, and reflects the multiethnic makeup of its population. The vast majority of Malaysia's population can roughly be divided among three major ethnic groups: Malays, Chinese and Indians. The remainder consists of the indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia, the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia, the Peranakan and Eurasian creole communities, as well as a significant number of foreign workers and expatriates.
As a result of historical migrations, colonisation by foreign powers, and its geographical position within its wider home region, Malaysia's culinary style in the present day is primarily a melange of traditions from its Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean citizens, with heavy to light influences from Thai, Portuguese, Dutch, and British cuisines, to name a few. This resulted in a symphony of flavours, making Malaysian cuisine highly complex and diverse.
Because Peninsular Malaysia shares a common history with Singapore, it is common to find versions of the same dish across both sides of the border regardless of place of origin, such as laksa and chicken rice. Also because of their proximity, historic migrations and close ethnic and cultural kinship, Malaysia shares culinary ties with Indonesia, as both nations often share certain dishes, such as satay, rendang and sambal.
Food and ingredients
Chilli peppers are indispensable to Malaysian kitchens, and both fresh and dried chilies are used. Chillies come in several sizes, shapes and even colours. As a general rule, two type of chilli cultivars are the most commonly available: the bird's eye chili (cili padi), which although small in size are extremely pungent and very hot; and longer varieties, which tend to be much milder. Green chillies are more peppery in taste, while red chillies, green chillies which have been left to ripen, have a slightly sweeter heat. If a milder flavour is preferred, the seeds and membranes are removed from the chili pods before they are cut, or the chillies are left whole and removed prior to serving. Some common uses include but are not limited to: grinding the chillies into a paste or sambal; chopping fresh chillies as a condiment or garnish; and pickling whole or cut chillies.
Belacan is essential to Malaysian cooking. It is a type of shrimp paste which is pressed into a block and sun-dried. In its raw form it has a very pungent smell. Once cooked, the shrimp paste's aroma and flavour mellows and contributes a depth of flavour to the dish. To prepare belacan for use, one typically wraps a small amount in foil, which is then roasted over a flame or placed into a preheated oven. Belacan is most commonly pounded or blended with local chilli peppers, shallots and lime juice to make the most popular and ubiquitous relish in Malaysia, sambal belacan. Belacan is also crumbled into a ground spice paste called rempah, which usually includes garlic, ginger, onions or shallots, and fresh or dried chilli peppers. A rempah paste is similar in form and function to an Indian wet masala paste or Thai curry paste, and is often browned and caramelised (Malay: tumis) to mellow the raw flavours of its component ingredients and produce a harmonised finish.
The coconut (Malay: kelapa) is another quintessential feature of Malaysian cuisine, and virtually all parts of the plant are used for culinary purposes. The white fleshy part of the coconut endosperm may be grated, shredded and used as is; dried to make desiccated coconut; or toasted until dark brown and ground to make kerisik. Grated coconut flesh is also squeezed to make coconut milk, which is used extensively in savoury dishes and desserts throughout the country. Coconut oil is used for cooking and cosmetic purposes, and may be either obtained by processing copra (dried coconut flesh) or extracted from fresh coconuts as virgin coconut oil. Coconut water, the clear liquid found inside the cavity of each coconut, is a popular cooler in Malaysia's hot and humid climate. Gula melaka is unrefined palm sugar produced from the sap of the coconut flower. It is the most traditional sweetener in Malaysian cooking and imbues a rich caramel-like flavour with a hint of coconut. Coconut fronds are traditionally used to wrap food, hollowed out coconut husks and shells may be used as a source of charcoal fuel for barbecued meats and traditional pastry making, and even the apical bud or growing tip of the coconut palm is a popular delicacy served in rural communities and specialist restaurants.
Soy sauce of different varieties is another important ingredient. Light soy sauce contributes its pleasantly salty flavour to a variety of stir-fries, marinades and steamed dishes. In some hawker establishments, freshly sliced or pickled chillies arrive immersed in light soy sauce to be used for dipping. Dark soy sauce is thicker, more intense in flavour and less salty. It is often used when a heartier flavour is desired, particularly with masak kicap (a style of braising with a blend of soy sauce varieties) dishes, and also to darken the color of a dish. Kicap manis, sweetened soy sauce sometimes flavoured with star anise or garlic, is also a popular seasoning for cooking. The sweet and savoury taste of kicap manis also functions as a substitute to approximate the combination of dark soy sauce and thick caramel sauce, which is primarily used to colour and season stewed dishes.
Common herbs include lemongrass (Malay: serai), a type of grass with a lemony aroma and flavour. Young, fresh stems are more desirable as older stems tend to acquire a woody texture: the tender white part closest to the base of the stem is thinly sliced and eaten raw in salads, or pounded with other aromatics to make a rempah. It is also used whole in boiled and simmered dishes. The pandan (screwpine) leaf is the Asian equivalent of vanilla in Western cuisine. The subtle aroma is released when the leaves are bruised by tying one or two long leaves into a knot, and used for cooking curries, rice and desserts. The leaves can also be used to wrap items like rice, chicken or fish for cooking. Pandan leaf is also available in liquid essence or powdered form to flavour and colour cakes. Turmeric (Malay: kunyit) is a rhizome popular for its flavour as well as colouring properties. The leaves and flowers of the turmeric plant are also used in cooking or eaten raw.
Tofu products, specifically fried tofu, are widely used as cooking ingredients and as side accompaniments. While fried tofu can be bland in flavour on their own, its main contribution is texture and especially with tofu puffs, the ability to soak up the flavour of whatever they are cooked in. Fried tofu products are found as a versatile component ingredient for dishes like stir fried noodles, rojak (fruit and vegetable salad), noodle soups, and stews. A popular way of serving fried tofu on its own is a salad with bean sprouts, shredded cucumber and spring onions, covered in a thick sweet and spicy dressing and dusted with roasted ground peanuts. Fried tofu may also be stuffed with a mixture of ground meat or shredded vegetables.
Dried seafood products contribute a savoury depth of flavour to some Malaysian dishes. Small dried anchovies, known as ikan bilis, are very popular. It acquires a very crispy texture when deep-fried, and is served as an accompaniments or prepared as a sambal relish in this capacity. Ikan bilis is also boiled to make fish stock; in fact, instant ikan bilis stock granules are a popular seasoning in modern kitchens. Dried shrimp and salted dried fish are also used in various ways.
Other essential seasoning and garnishes include tamarind (Malay: asam jawa), specifically the paste-like pulp extracted from the fruit pod which contributes a tart flavour to many dishes. Candlenuts (Malay: buah keras) are similar in appearance to macadamia nuts, being round, cream coloured and have a high oil content. Candlenuts are normally ground to thicken sauces. Lup cheong is a type of dried Chinese sausage made from pork meat and spices. Mainly used by the Malaysian Chinese community, these sweet sausages are usually sliced very thinly and added for additional flavour and texture. Recent studied have shown that there are 62 commonly consumed Malaysian foods that include biogenic amines.
Rice (Malay: nasi) was and still is the most important staple food in Malaysia. According to Indonesian-born food and cookery writer Sri Owen, there is some evidence for rice cultivation found in the state of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo dated 2300 BC, and about 900 years of history for the state of Kelantan in West Malaysia. Today Malaysia produces about seventy percent of the amount of rice it needs to support itself, and the rest is imported. This is a matter of policy as the government believes that national resources can be used more profitably instead of attempting to achieve self-sufficiency with rice production; the prevalent attitude is that revenue generated from its industries enables the country to import up to half the rice it needs. Nevertheless, the government is fully committed and involved in planning, allocating resources and managing subsidies for the rice farming industry. The state of Kedah is considered the "rice bowl" (Malay: jelapang padi) of the country, accounting for about half of Malaysia's total production of rice.
Plain steamed white rice, to be served with side dishes of meat or vegetables, is typically prepared with an electric rice cooker at home. Some households and food establishments prefer to cook rice on a stove top with the absorption method or the rapid-boil method. Compressed rice, called nasi himpit, is another method of preparing and cooking rice: the rice is wrapped with fronds or leaves and compressed into the form of a cylinder, which is then cooked by boiling. The rice would compress and merge during the cooking process. Compressed rice is usually eaten cold with some sort of gravy, although it may be served warm in a broth or soup. A notable variant of compressed rice prepared by the Bugis community is burasak: rice is precooked with coconut milk before it is wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until fully cooked.
Besides the ubiquitous white rice, there are different types of locally grown and imported rice available in the market, and each type has a specific cooking method to bring out optimal results. Glutinous rice (Malay: pulut) is one example: because of its low amylose and high amylopectin content which results in a sticky texture after cooking, glutinous rice is prepared with different measurements and techniques and is not a suitable substitute for normal rice or vice versa. It is typically used for making snacks and desserts, but glutinous rice is also prepared as a savoury staple by indigenous peoples like the Orang Asli as well as the Dayak people of Borneo. Lemang is glutinous rice roasted in a hollowed bamboo tube, and is prepared for festive occasions like Ari Gawai, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and Hari Raya Aidiladha.
A popular dish based on rice in Malaysia is nasi lemak, rice steamed with coconut milk and pandan leaves to give it a rich fragrance. Of Malay origin, nasi lemak is frequently referred to as the national dish. It is customarily served with ikan bilis, peanuts, sliced cucumber, hard boiled eggs and sambal. Although it is often considered a breakfast dish, because of the versatility of nasi lemak in being able to be served in a variety of ways, it is commonly eaten at any time of the day. For a more substantial meal, nasi lemak may be served with fried chicken, curries, or a spicy meat stew called rendang.
Congee is a type of rice porridge or gruel popular among Malaysia's ethnic communities. It is eaten primarily as a breakfast food or late supper. It is also considered particularly suitable for the sick as a mild, easily digestible food. Congee is called bubur in Malay; 粥 written in Chinese, pronounced as zhou in Mandarin Chinese and juk in Cantonese; and kanji (கஞ்சி) in Tamil. It may be served plain with little embellishment, or cooked with ingredients like fish slices, seafood, chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, and even spices. The importance and popularity of congee in the Malaysian diet is such that bubur ayam or chicken congee is a permanent fixture on the menu of Malaysian McDonald's restaurants.
Noodles are another popular staple, particularly in Malaysian Chinese cuisine, but used by other groups as well. Noodles such as bi hoon (米粉, Hokkien: bí-hún, Malay: bihun; rice vermicelli), kuay teow (粿條, Hokkien: kóe-tiâu) or ho fun (河粉, Cantonese: ho4 fan2; flat rice noodles), mee (麵 or 面, Hokkien: mī, Malay: mi; yellow noodles), mee suah (麵線 or 面线, Hokkien: mī-sòaⁿ; wheat vermicelli), yee meen (伊麵 or 伊面, Cantonese: ji1 min6; golden wheat noodles), dongfen(冬粉, Hokkien: tang-hún, Cantonese: dung1 fan2; cellophane noodles), Lao Shu Fen (老鼠粉, Cantonese: lou5 syu2 fan2; silver needle noodles), and others provide an alternative source of carbohydrate to a serving of rice that accompanies every meal. Stir-fried noodle dishes (Malay: mee goreng) are ubiquitous throughout Malaysia's cities, towns and villages, with numerous localized variants prepared by various ethnic communities according to their culinary traditions and preferences.
Malaysia does not produce wheat, and all supplies are imported from wheat-producing countries. Nevertheless, Western style white bread and Indian breads made with wheat flour like roti canai are fairly common foods in the modern Malaysian diet today. A very typical way of serving white bread in Malaysia is having it toasted and spread with kaya, a sweet spread made from a base of coconut milk, eggs and sugar. Reflecting the British colonial influence in Malaysia, kaya toast or roti bakar is a popular breakfast staple and afternoon tea snack. It is typically paired with a cup of local brewed coffee or tea, and soft-boiled eggs to be seasoned to taste by the diner with soy sauce & ground white pepper. Roti kahwin is a variation where butter is sandwiched along with a layer of kaya between slices of untoasted white bread.
Traditional wheat-based pleated steamed bao or pao (Chinese : 包) is a Chinese staple which has become tightly woven into Malaysia’s gastronomic fabric. Pao are found in restaurants doing brunch dim sum trade, as well as specialist Chinese kopitiam. Sweet fillings may include tausa, lotus seed paste, kaya, pandan, ground peanuts, and custard; savoury fillings may consist of delicious stewed char siu (Chinese : 叉燒), chicken or pork. Malay versions (pau) may be found in night markets (pasar malam) and they are always halal, with fillings of curried potato, chicken or beef. Some variants have a quail egg in the middle in addition to the curry.
Oven-baked bread buns are also available in specialist bakeries, kopitiam, and restaurants. One local speciality in particular - a bun with a buttery core and topped with a crispy and fragrant coffee pastry crust - has achieved iconic status in Malaysia, and franchises like Rotiboy and Pappa Roti which specialise in these coffee buns have successfully expanded abroad to multiple nations and spawned hundreds of outlets. However, the popular buns that remain a favourite among Malaysians are the buns that are filled with a deliciously sweet shredded coconut filling, kaya (coconut jam), pandan kaya (screwpine with coconut jam), sweet corn, chocolate, red bean paste and butter buns.
Malaysian poultry is handled according to Halal standards, to conform with the country's dominant and official religion, Islam. Imported poultry is available at major hypermarkets, supermarkets and speciality stores especially in affluent areas where a significant expatriate community can be found.
Fish, both freshwater and sea, features prominently in the Malaysian diet. Most local fish is purchased soon after it is caught, while frozen fish is generally imported. Such fish, namely salmon and cod, are well received on the Malaysian table but are not found in Malaysian waters.
Many types of seafood are consumed in Malaysia, including shrimp or prawn, crab, squid, cuttlefish, clams, cockles, snails, sea cucumber and octopus. In general, members of all ethnic communities enjoy seafood, which is considered halal by Malaysian Muslims (and indeed all other Muslims), though some species of crabs are not considered Halal as they can live on both land and sea. Sea cucumbers are considered halal.
Beef is common in the Malaysian diet, though it is notable that the consumption of beef is proscribed by some followers of Hinduism and certain Chinese folk religious sects. Beef can be commonly found cooked in curries, stews, roasted, or eaten with noodles. Malays generally eat beef that is halal. Australian fresh beef which is prepared under supervision of the Government Supervised Muslim Slaughter System (AGSMS) is imported into Malaysia and that beef is halal.
Malaysian Malays, who form about half of Malaysia's population, are Muslim and therefore do not consume pork since Islam forbids it. This does not prohibit others from producing and consuming pork products, and thus pork can be found in wet markets, supermarkets and hypermarkets, usually displayed with a non-halal disclaimer. Pork is consumed by the Chinese Communities, the Iban, the Kadazan, Murut, Lun Bawang / Lundayeh, the Orang Asli, and expatriates.
In Malaysia, the term "mutton" refers to goat meat; lamb, or the meat of a young sheep, is always imported from countries like Australia and New Zealand. In the past mutton was primarily associated with the cooking of the Malaysian Indian community, and was not as widely eaten due to health concerns as well as its perceived gamey flavour. Today, dishes like whole spit roast of mutton, mutton briyani and mutton soup are now a common sight at banquets and events. Today, the demand for mutton during the fasting month and Hari Raya period has now far exceeded that for Deepavali and Christmas combined.
Locally grown vegetable produce is available year-round as Malaysia is a tropical country and does not have four seasons. During rainy seasons, vegetable yields may decrease (which may result in an increase on market price), but rarely if ever stop altogether. Imported produce has made inroads into the market in recent years, either to supplement local demand for essential ingredients like garlic and potatoes, or to supply produce which do not grow well in Malaysia's climate and soil conditions. A few regions in Malaysia, like Cameron Highlands and the foothills adjacent to Mount Kinabalu provide the appropriate mean temperatures and soil conditions for the cultivation of temperate produce like Camellia sinensis or tea.
Malaysian-grown greens, tubers and vegetables commonly found nationwide include but not limited to amaranth (bayam), bean sprouts (taugeh), brinjals (terung), bitter gourd (peria), bok choi (sawi), cabbage (kobis), choy sum, cucumber (timun), Chinese celery (daun sup), coriander (daun ketumbar), ginger (halia), green beans, kangkung, "lady's fingers" (bendi), leeks, lettuce, lotus root, maize (jagung), napa cabbage (kobis cina), sweet potatoes (ubi keledek), spring onions (daun bawang), Sauropus androgynus (cekur manis or sayur manis), pumpkin (labu), shiitake mushrooms (cendawan), stink beans (better known as petai), tapioca (ubi kayu), taro or yam (ubi keladi), tomatoes, yambean or turnip, turmeric (kunyit), and yardlong beans (kacang panjang).
In some areas in Malaysia local produce is grown on a small scale, and many rural communities like the Peninsular Orang Asli and certain tribal peoples of Sarawak forage wild edible ferns or vegetables to supplement their diet. Diplazium esculentum, better known as pucuk paku pakis, is perhaps the most widely available fern and is found in eateries and restaurants throughout the nation. Stenochlaena palustris is another type of wild fern popularly used for food. Endemic to East Malaysia, it is called midin in Sarawak and is prized for its fiddleheads by locals and visitors. Stenochlaena palustris is known by the native peoples of Sabah as lemiding, lembiding or lombiding, where both the leaves and the fiddleheads of the plant are eaten. The young shoots of plants like bamboo and coconut are popularly harvested as food by communities outside urban areas.
A popular way to cook leafy vegetables like kangkung and sweet potato leaves is stir frying with a pungent sauce made from belacan (shrimp paste) and hot chilli peppers. Other vegetables popularly cooked this way include bean pods and fiddlehead ferns like paku pakis and midin. Vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, onions and yardlong beans are used to make a localised variety of pickle called acar. Vegetables and herbs are also popularly served undressed and often raw in some rural indigenous communities as ulam. An ulam spread may include items such as banana blossoms, cucumber, winged beans, pegaga leaves, petai, and yardlong beans, typically eaten with a pungent dipping sauce like sambal belacan.
Malaysia's tropical climate allows for fruit to be grown all year round. A huge variety of common and obscure fruits, either locally grown or imported are available throughout the country. While the vast majority of fruits grown in Malaysia naturally thrive in the tropics, a few areas in the country like Cameron Highlands or Kundasang in Sabah have a different climate zone which enables the cultivation of temperate fruits like strawberries. Fruit are commonly served after a meal as desserts, and fruit juices are highly sought after as drinks of choice in a climate that is hot and humid all year round. Pickled fruits or jeruk are popular and widely available, whether sold from street stalls or specialist shops. Many localities are named after native fruits, most notably Alor Setar (buah setar) and Malacca (buah melaka).
Fruits are used to make a popular salad dish called Rojak (Chinese: 水果囉喏). Pieces of fruit and vegetable bound with a viscous dark sauce made from shrimp paste, sugar, chili, and lime juice. The Penang version is particularly popular and well regarded. The dish is usually topped with a generous sprinkling of toasted ground peanuts.
Notable fruits which are cultivated in Malaysia include:
- The banana, or pisang in Malay. Many different cultivars are available on the market, and plantain is used for pisang goreng. Other parts of the banana plant may be used for culinary purposes.
- The calamansi lime, or limau kasturi in Malay. Widely used as a souring agent in Malaysian cooking, the juice of the calamansi lime is also savoured on its own with ice and secondary flavourings like green apple juice, pandan leaves and dried preserved plums.
- The cempedak, a fruit with a large and rough pod like body. The edible flesh coating each pod is sweet in taste, and has a soft texture that is custard-like.
- The durian, a fruit with a spiky outer shell and a characteristic odour is a local tropical fruit that is notable because it provokes strong emotions either of loving it or hating it. It is also known as the "King of the Fruits". Several species of durian exist throughout Malaysia - common cultivars come with pale cream or yellow coloured arils, whereas some varieties found in Borneo are naturally bright red, orange or even purple in colour.
- The guava, called jambu or jambu batu in Malay. It is a crunchy fruit often eaten plain or garnished with a tart seasoning mix.
- The honeydew, or tembikai susu in Malay. This aromatic green melon is often cut up and served with cooked sago pearls in chilled coconut milk as a dessert.
- The jackfruit, or nangka in Malay. It is an enormous fruit similar in appearance to cempedak, but quite different in taste and texture. The fleshy covering of each pod is firm and sweet. Unripe jackfruit is occasionally used for cooking savoury meals.
- The langsat, a fruit which are borne in clusters similar to grapes and resemble tiny potatoes, with a taste likened to a sweet and tart combination of grape and grapefruit. A second, larger variety known as duku generally bear fruit which are large, generally round, and have somewhat thick skin that does not release sap when cooked. The seeds are small with thick flesh, a sweet scent, and a sweet or sour alin.
- The longan, which means "dragon eye" in Chinese. A related species called mata kucing (literally "cat's eye" in Malay) has a virtually identical taste to commercially cultivated longan. However, the mata kucing fruit (Euphoria malaiense) is smaller, the fleshy aril is thinner, and the yellow rind is bumpy and leathery like a lychee fruit.
- The mango, or mangga in Malay. The state of Perlis is famous for its Harumanis variety (from the mangifera indica cultivar), which is registered as a product of geographical indication (GI) with the Malaysian Intellectual Property Organisation (MyIPO). Another notable species of mango found only in Borneo and used extensively in local cookery is the mangifera pajang, known in Sabah as bambangan and Sarawak as buah mawang.
- The mangosteen, or manggis in Malay. In contrast to the durian, mangosteen is often called the "Queen of the Fruits".
- The papaya, or betik in Malay. Another common fruit available year-round in Malaysia, and widely eaten to conclude a meal.
- The pineapple, or nanas in Malay. It is widely eaten as a fruit and used extensively in local cooking, such as a curried pineapple dish called pajeri nanas.
- The pitaya, better known locally as dragon fruit. Dragon fruit is available in red and white fleshed varieties.
- The pomelo, or limau bali in Malay. Pomelos grown in the Sungai Gedung area in the state of Perak has been granted GI status. It is also called limau tambun, after the town of Tambun which is also famed for its pomelo produce. As pomelos are associated with traditional Chinese festivities, most farms harvest twice a year in conjunction with Chinese New Year and Mid Autumn Festival.
- The rambutan, as the name suggests, have fleshy pliable spines or 'hairs' on its outer shell which is usually red or yellow in colour. Once the hairy exterior is peeled away, the tender, fleshy, sweet and sour tasting fruit is revealed.
- The rose apple, called jambu air or jambu merah in Malay, which is not to be confused with jambu batu or guava. The term refers to various Syzygium species which are grown for their fruit. The fruit may be eaten on its own, or tossed through a rojak salad.
- The sapodilla, better known locally as buah ciku. Its flesh has a grainy texture akin to ripened pear with a sweet malty flavour.
- The soursop, known as durian belanda in Malay and lampun to the Dusun people of Borneo. The fruit is commonly made into juice and smoothies, and the leaves of the soursop plant are boiled and taken as a herbal infusion.
- The starfruit, or belimbing in Malay. Malaysia is a global leader in starfruit production by volume and ships the fruit widely to Asia and Europe.
- The tarap, also called marang, is a fruit that is native to Borneo and is related to cempedak and jackfruit. While the fruits are about the same size and shape as a durian and also emits a noxious odour, the spines of the tarap are soft and rubbery compared to the durian's hard, thorny spines. The fruit itself is smooth, soft and creamy, and the flavour is reminiscent of sweet custard apple with a hint of tartness.
- The watermelon, or tembikai in Malay. This popular fruit comes in red and yellow varieties.
Kuih (plural: kuih-muih) are usually, but not always, bite-sized foods associated with the Malay and Min-speaking Chinese communities of Malaysia. In the context of the term being cultural as opposed to being physically descriptive, the concept of kuih may refer to a selection of cakes, cookies, confections, pastries and sweetmeats. Kuih may be eaten throughout the day for light breakfast, afternoon tea (a tradition adopted from the British), as a snack and increasingly as an after meal course.
More often steamed or fried and based on rice or glutinous rice, kuih items are very different in texture, flavour and appearance from Western oven-baked cakes or puff pastries. Most kuih items are sweet, and may be classified and eaten as desserts, but some are also savoury. Kuih is an important feature for festive occasions and is traditionally made at home, but are now available for purchase from home caterers, street hawker vendors, market stallholders and specialist cafes, shops and restaurants. It is difficult to distinguish between kuih of Malay or Peranakan (also known as "Straits Chinese") origin because the histories of traditional kuih recipes have not been well-documented, and cross-cultural influencing over the centuries were commonplace. Even the word kuih itself is derived from the Hokkien/Teochew word 粿 (pronounced kueh or kway).
Examples of notable kuih-muih include:
- Ang koo kueh (Chinese: 紅龜粿) - a small round or oval shaped Chinese pastry with red-coloured soft sticky glutinous rice flour skin wrapped around a sweet filling in the centre.
- Apam balik - a turnover pancake with a texture similar to a crumpet with crisp edges, made from a thin flour based batter with raising agent. It is typically cooked on a griddle and topped with castor sugar, ground peanut, creamed corn, and grated coconut in the middle, and then turned over. Many different takes on this dish exist as part of the culinary repertoire of the Malay, Chinese, Peranakan, Indonesian, and ethnic Bornean communities; all under different names.
- Bahulu - tiny crusty sponge cakes which come in distinctive shapes like button and goldfish, acquired from being baked in moulded pans. Bahulu is usually baked and served for festive occasions.
- Cucur - deep-fried fritters, sometimes known as jemput-jemput. Typical varieties include cucur udang (fritters studded with a whole unshelled prawn), cucur badak (sweet potato fritters), and cucur kodok (banana fritters).
- Curry puff - a small pie filled with a curried filling, usually chicken or potatoes, in a deep-fried or baked pastry shell.
- Cincin - a deep fried dough pastry-based snack popular with East Malaysia's Muslim communities.
- Dadar/Ketayap is a rolled crepe (usually flavored with pandan juice) and filled with grated sweet coconut filling (flavoured with gula melaka (Malaysian palm sugar)).
- Jelurut - also known as kuih selorot in Sarawak, this kuih is made from a mixture of gula apong and rice flour, then rolled with palm leaves into cones and steam cooked.
- Kapit, sapit or sepi - crispy folded coconut-flavoured wafer biscuits, colloquially known as "love letters".
- Kochi - glutinous rice dumplings filled with a sweet paste, shaped into a pyramid-like and wrapped with banana leaves.
- Niangao (Chinese : 年糕) or kuih bakul - a brown sticky and sweet rice cake customarily associated with Chinese New Year festivities. It is also available year-round as a popular street food treat, made with pieces of niangao sandwiched between slices of taro and sweet potato, dipped in batter and deep-fried.
- Pie tee - this Nyonya speciality is a thin and crispy pastry tart shell filled with a spicy, sweet mixture of thinly sliced vegetables and prawns.
- Onde onde - small round balls made from glutinous rice flour coloured and flavoured with pandan, filled with palm sugar syrup and rolled in freshly grated coconut.
- Or Kuih (Chinese : 芋粿) - a steamed savoury cake made from pieces of taro (commonly known as "yam" in Malaysia), dried prawns and rice flour. It is then topped with deep fried shallots, spring onions, sliced chilli and dried prawns, and usually served with a chilli dipping sauce.
- Pineapple tart - flaky pastries filled with or topped with pineapple jam.
- Pinjaram or penyaram - a saucer-shaped deep fried fritter with crisp edges and a dense, chewy texture towards the centre. It is widely sold by street food vendors in the open air markets of East Malaysia.
- Putu piring - a round steamed cake made of rice flour dough, with a palm sugar sweetened filling.
- Seri Muka - a two-layered kuih with steamed glutinous rice forming the bottom half and a green custard layer made with pandan juice.
- Wajid or wajik - a compressed Malay confection made of glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk and gula melaka.
Structure of meals
There is no standard breakfast (Malay: sarapan) menu due to Malaysia's multi-ethnic social fabric as well as the advent of modern influences. Western-style breakfast like breakfast cereal, cooked eggs and toast have become commonplace in homes and when dining out, but heartier traditional fare based predominantly on noodles and rice dishes are still very popular. One may choose to start the day with the ubiquitous nasi lemak or kuih; venture for Chinese-style congee, dim sum and noodle soups; or settle for Indian-influenced fare such as roti canai, idli (Tamil: இட்லிiṭli/ɪɖlɪ/), thosai (Tamil: தோசைtōcai/t̪oːsaj/), and upma. In the state of Kelantan, the term nasi berlauk refers to a breakfast meal which consists of a small serve of rice and complementary dishes or lauk.
For lunch and dinner, food is not customarily served in courses but rather concurrently. A meal may consist of a single dish for solitary diners, or rice with many complementary dishes shared by all. At restaurants where food is cooked to order, there is often no distinction between appetizers/starters and main courses, and food will arrive at the table whenever it is ready. At some traditionally-run eateries where pre-cooked food is served, diners are meant to help themselves by starting with a plate of plain rice and choose from a buffet spread of assorted dishes. Like the Indonesian Nasi Padang, this is not an all-you-can-eat for a fixed price dining experience. The cost of the meal would depend on what the diner selects and how many different items were placed on the plate for consumption. In Malay-run warung (a small family-owned casual eatery or café) or restaurants (kedai makan), this style of dining is known as nasi campur which means "mixed rice". A similar concept exist at some eateries serving home-style Malaysian Chinese food, where it may be known as economy rice (Chinese: 杂饭).
A practice known as "open house" (Malay: rumah terbuka) is popular during festive seasons, and even as an elaborate occasion to celebrate birthdays and weddings. Open house events are traditionally held at the home of the host: well-wishers are received and that everyone, regardless of background, is invited to attend. Home-cooked or catered food is provided by the host(s) at their own expense, and while it is acceptable for guests to bring along gifts for the host, they are expected to help themselves to the food as much as they like. Open house events may also be held at restaurants and larger public venues, especially when hosted by government agencies or corporations.
A kopitiam or kopi tiam is a traditional coffee shop patronised for meals and beverages, predominantly operated by Chinese proprietors and especially members of the Hainanese community. The word kopi is a Malay/Hokkien term for coffee and tiam is the Hokkien and Hakka term for shop (Chinese : 店). A common sight in Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore, menus often feature offerings like nasi lemak, boiled eggs, roti bakar, noodle dishes, bread and kuih. The owners of some kopitiam establishments may lease premise space to independent stallholders, who sometimes offer more specialised dishes beyond standard Chinese kopitiam fare. Typical beverages include Milo, a malted chocolate drink considered iconic to Malaysians of all ages, as well as coffee (kopi) and tea (teh). Diners would use slang terms specific to kopitiam culture to order and customise drinks to their taste.
The omnipresent Mamak stall is a Malaysian institution. Available throughout the country and particularly popular in urban areas, Mamak stalls and restaurants offer a wide range of food and some are open 24 hours a day. The proprietors of these establishments are members of Malaysia's Tamil Muslim community, who have developed a distinct culinary style and wield an enormous influence on Malaysian food culture disproportionate to their numbers. A type of meal served buffet-style at some Mamak eateries is called nasi kandar, which is analogous to the Malay nasi campur where you pay for what you have actually eaten. The diner is to choose from a variety of curried dishes made with chicken, beef, mutton, or seafood. A mixture of curry sauces is then poured on the provided rice: this is called banjir (literally means "flooding").
Cuisines of Malaysia
Main article: Malay cuisine
For a traditional Malay meal, rice is considered the centerpiece of a meal, with everything else considered as an accompaniment, relish or side for the rice. Malay cuisine bears many similarities to Indonesian cuisine, in particular some of the regional traditions from Sumatra. It has also been influenced by Chinese, Indian, Thai and many other cultures throughout history, producing a distinct cuisine of their own. Some regional Malay dishes, such as arisa and kacang pool, are examples of influence from Arab cuisine due to longstanding historical and religious ties. Many Malay dishes revolve around a rempah, which is usually sauteed in oil (tumis) to draw out flavours to form the base of a dish. A dipping relish called sambal is an essential accompaniment for most Malay dishes.
- Air bandung - a cold milk drink flavoured with rose cordial syrup, giving it a pink colour. Despite the name, there is no connection to the city of Bandung in Indonesia. Bandung within this context refers to anything that comes in pairs or is mixed from many ingredients.
- Asam pedas - a sour and spicy stew of meat, with the core ingredients being tamarind and chili. Depending on region, tomatoes, lady's fingers, shredded torch ginger bud and Vietnamese coriander (Malay: daun kesum) may also be added. Usually cooked with fish like mackerel or stingray, although some recipes use chicken and even oxtail.
- Ayam goreng - a generic term for deep fried chicken, typically marinated in a base of turmeric and other seasonings prior to cooking.
- Ayam masak merah - this dish literally means red-cooked chicken in English. Pieces of chicken are first fried to a golden brown then slowly braised in a spicy tomato sauce. Peas are sometimes added to the dish, and it is garnished with shredded kaffir lime leaves as well as coriander. It is often paired with nasi tomato - rice cooked with tomato sauce or paste, milk, dried spices, and a sauteed rempah base of garlic, onions, ginger.
- Ayam percik - also known as ayam golek in some states, ayam percik is grilled marinated chicken basted with a spiced coconut milk gravy.
- Bubur lambuk - a savoury rice porridge consumed during the fasting month of Ramadhan, made with a mixture of lemongrass, spices, vegetables, and chicken or beef. It is usually cooked communally at a local mosque, which is then distributed to the congregation as a meal to break the fast every evening. In the state of Terengganu, bubur lambuk is prepared with wild herbs, budu, sweet potatoes, and seafood.
- Gulai - the Malay term for a curried stew. The main ingredients for gulai may be poultry, beef, mutton, various kinds of offals, fish and seafood, and also vegetables such as cassava leaves and green/unripe jackfruit. The gravy is usually yellowish-brown in color due to the sauteed and browned rempah which forms its base, and the addition of ground turmeric. The gravy's consistency may vary in thickness depending on the cook.
- Ikan bakar - barbecued or char grilled fish, usually smeared with a sambal-based sauce. It may also be accompanied with air asam, a dip made from shrimp paste, onion, chillis and tamarind juice.
- Ikan goreng - a generic term for shallow or deep fried fish, which is almost always marinated prior to cooking. There are countless recipes and variants for what is arguably the most popular and typical method of cooking fish in Malaysia.
- Kerabu - a type of salad-like dish which can be made with any combination of cooked or uncooked fruits and vegetables, as well as the occasional meat or seafood ingredient. There are many kerabu recipes, which often have little common in preparation: kerabu taugeh is made with blanched bean sprouts and quintessentially Malay ingredients like kerisik, while preparations like kerabu mangga (shredded green mango salad) resemble a Thai-style yam salad in taste profile.
- Keropok lekor - a speciality of the state of Terengganu and other states on the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia, keropok lekor is a savoury fritter made from a combination of batter and shredded fish. Sliced and fried just before serving, it is eaten with hot sauce.
- Ketupat - a variant of compressed rice, wrapped in a woven palm frond pouch. As the rice boils, the grains expand to fill the pouch and the rice becomes compressed. This method of cooking gives the ketupat its characteristic form and texture. Usually eaten with rendang (a type of dry beef curry) or served as an accompaniment to satay, ketupat is also traditionally served on festive occasions such as Eid (Hari Raya Aidilfitri) as part of an open house spread.
- Laksam or Laksang - a different variant on laksa found in the northern and northeastern states of the Peninsular. Laksam consists of thick flat rice noodle rolls in a full-bodied, rich and slightly sweet white gravy of minced fish, coconut milk and shredded aromatic herbs.
- Masak lemak is a style of cooking which employs liberal amounts of turmeric-seasoned coconut milk. Sources of protein like chicken, seafood smoked meats and shelled molluscs, perhaps paired with fruits and vegetables such as bamboo shoots, pineapples and tapioca leaves are often cooked this way. Certain states are associated with a specific variant of this dish: for example, masak lemak cili api/padi is an iconic speciality of Negeri Sembilan.
- Nasi dagang - rice cooked with coconut milk and fenugreek seeds, served with a fish gulai (usually tuna or ikan tongkol), fried shaved coconut, hard-boiled eggs and vegetable pickles. Nasi dagang ("trader's rice" in Malay) is a staple breakfast dish in the northeastern states of Kelantan and Terrenganu. It should not be confused with nasi lemak, as nasi lemak is often found sold side-by-side with nasi dagang for breakfast in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
The Malaysian franchise industry continues to achieve healthy growth. As of December 2016,
there were 214 master franchisees of foreign brands, 61 Malaysian franchisors and 557 franchisees in Malaysia. Approximately 40 percent franchise concepts in Malaysia are foreign owned. The United States has the largest share, predominently in food and beverage concepts. Malaysian entrepreneurs and investors are increasingly savvy on franchise concepts. Niche concepts with unique product value proposition would be of interest to the Malaysian franchisee.
2016 Malaysian franchise market by sector are divided into:
- Food and Beverage -39 percent
- Clothing and Accessories - 11 percent
- Education and childcare -11 percent
- Services- 11 percent
- Beauty and Healthcare concepts -10 percent
- ICT- 3 percent
- Convenient Stores - 2 percent
- Others - 13 percent
The Malaysian government’s continuous encouragement and promotion of franchise as a means to improve the number of entrepreneurs is slowly gaining traction. Perbadanan Nasional Berhad (PNS) is a corporatized government entity tasked as lead agency in developing the Franchise Development Program. It is under the purview of the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism. Even though PNS mainly focuses on encouraging home-grown franchise concepts, they are not adverse to exploring collaboration with foreign franchise concepts. The agency’s function is to identify, acquire, launch, facilitate and encourage both local and international franchise brands. PNS is leaning towards lower cost service sectors as the next prime mover for entrepreneurs.
In Malaysia, franchising is governed by the Malaysian Franchise Act 1998. This Act applies to the sale of franchises throughout Malaysia. All franchisers that are selling their franchises in Malaysia are required to register with the Registrar of Franchise (ROF). A franchise amendment bill was introduced in June 2012 and has been in operation since January 1, 2013. The bill works to strengthen administration and enforcement of franchise law, and it amends the Franchise Act to ensure the Act is consistent and up to date with current franchise development.
As over 60 percent of the Malaysian population is Muslim, U.S. food and beverage related franchise companies that intend to sell to Muslim consumers should be aware of Halal requirements. Halal is defined as what is permissible under the Islamic Sharia Law. Malaysian standard MS1500:2400 is used in the production, preparation and handling of Halal food. This standard prescribes to the practical guidelines for the food industry on the preparation and handling of Halal food and serves as a basic requirement for food product and food trade or business in Malaysia. It is used by JAKIM (the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) as the basis for certification. JAKIM is Malaysia’s Halal certifying body. In actual practice, standards and testing have remained unclear in some instances, and foreign companies have had difficulties with the certification process. JAKIM recognizes two Halal certification bodies in the United States: Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) based out of Chicago, Illinois, and Islamic Services of America (ISA) based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.