Over the centuries, the Malay Peninsula saw ships arriving from the Middle East, India, Europe, China and Indonesia. This resulted in a melting pot of culture and cuisine that has managed to retain its own unique flavour to this day.
1 Jul 2008 - 9:00 AM  UPDATED 31 Mar 2021 - 11:45 AM

In particular, Malaysian food is heavily influenced by Thai, Chinese, Indonesian and Indian cuisine. These influences extend from the use of the wok to the combinations of spices used in many popular dishes.

Malay food is generally spicy. Dishes are not always necessarily chilli-hot per se, but there will always, at the least, be a chilli-based sambal on hand. Traditional Southeast Asian herbs and spices meet Indian, Middle Eastern and Chinese spices in Malaysian food, leading to fragrant combinations of coriander and cumin (the basis of many Malay curries) with lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, cardamom, star anise and fenugreek.

As elsewhere in Asia, rice is an essential staple. Local or Thai rice is the most common, but Indian basmati is used in biryani dishes. Nasi lemak (‘fatty rice’), a dish of rice steamed with coconut milk and served with dried anchovies (ikan bilis), peanuts, hardboiled eggs, dried shrimp, cucumber and sambal, is considered Malaysia’s national dish and may be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is often served with a choice of curries or a popular spicy meat stew (usually, though not always, beef) known as rendang. Noodles are another popular starch staple, as are Indian breads such as roti canai, idli, puri and dhosa, which are commonly eaten with breakfast.

Early Chinese settlers often wed local Malay brides and this gave rise to a generation of mixed Chinese-Malays known as Peranakan. The Malay word "nonya", a term of respect for older women, has become synonymous with the distinctive Malaysian-Chinese cooking style of the Peranakans. The best known example in Australia is the popular spicy noodle soup laksa, of which there are two main types, curry laksa and asam laksa. Curry laksa is a coconut curry soup with noodles, while asam laksa is a sour fish soup with noodles.

Malaysian desserts are wonderfully colourful and creative, including layered rice flour and coconut sweets, multi-layered butter cake known as Lapis Legit, and sweet coconut rice balls. A popular dessert is Kueh Bahulu, mini sponge cakes that are dipped in black coffee.


View our Malaysian recipe collection here.


Malaysian Food Safari recipes
Malaysian laksa (cheat's laksa)

This laksa combines fresh ingredients with a commercial laksa paste, meaning a lot of the prep work is done for you. To make this recipe even easier, place the garnishes in the centre of the table, allowing diners to assemble their laksa to taste.

Belacan sambal

Belacan sambal is traditionally a condiment but can also be used as a ready-made sauce to stir through seafood or served on the side of fish curries. It can also be eaten with plain rice.

Food Safari's roti canai

Restaurateur Simon Goh loves making Malaysia's favourite bread, the flakey, golden roti. It is often served with curries for scooping. Search the Malaysian recipes on our website to find your favourite.

Sago pudding (sago gula melaka)

When it is cooked, sago looks like little pale pearls. Add the mellow caramel made from palm sugar, and this recipe is a match made in heaven. This pudding looks really impressive when it’s set in a fluted ring mould.

Food Safari's beef rendang

This is a Malyasian curry recipe to treasure, and make again and again. Try to source all the ingredients from Asian food stores for the best authentic flavour, and remember that once you’ve found turmeric leaves, they’ll freeze well for next time. Like all great slow-cooked dishes, beef rendang calls for meat with a bit of fat through it – it will become succulent, soft and absolutely delicious.

Satay (temasek)

Meat skewers are an essential part of many Asian cuisines. This recipe for chicken satay with peanut sauce is a Malaysian interpretation.

Food Safari's char kway teow

This recipe for char kway teow is everything a good dish should be – full of great flavour and contrasting textures.

Coconut rice (nasi lemak)

Nasi lemak is known as the national dish of Malaysia and is served with ikan bilis, roasted peanuts, hard-boiled eggs and spicy sambals. Delicious and fragrant, nasi lemak is a perfect accompaniment to beef rendang. I never cook plain old rice any more after learning this recipe! You can cook this in a rice cooker if you have one.


Malaysian essentials
Featured businesses: Malaysian
Contact the businesses featured in the Malaysian episode of Food Safari.
Tips: Malaysian
These expert tips will help you achieve the perfect balance of flavours.
Utensils: Malaysian
Find out which special utensils you’ll need on hand during cooking.
Key ingredients: Malaysian
Make sure your kitchen is stocked with these essential ingredients.