Malaysia is a colourful melting pot of many ethnicities, resulting in cuisine that presents a delectable melding of the gastronomy of Malaysia, China, India and Eurasia. Malaysia food is known for a liberal use of spices, particularly anise, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves; while coconut milk and fresh herbs are common ingredients in the staple Malay curries, stews and dips.
Regional specialties are delicious and varied, but be sure to ask about ingredients when ordering, as different dishes may carry the same name in various locales. As eateries in small towns and villages are often tucked off the beaten track, check with the locals for recommendations.
Popular Malay dishes include satay, barbequed skewers of meat in a spicy peanut sauce; redang, a spicy curried meat; and nasi lemak, creamy rice cooked in coconut milk. Peranakan cuisine, a spicy melding of Malay and Chinese, features such dishes as ayam pongteh, a soy-flavoured chicken; chilli crab, an irresistibly delicious whole crab stuffed with sticky chilli sauce; and the fragrant soup called laksa. Chinese favourites in Malaysia include popular char kui teow noodles, and Steamboat, a soup where diners pick ingredients from a menu of fish, vegetables and meat. Fish head curry is a popular Indian meal, as is mee goreng, a stir-fried noodle dish.
Traditionally food is eaten with a fork and spoon, though most Malays are handy with chopsticks. Some foods are eaten by hand, but if you decide to follow this method, use only the right hand. Sharing serving dishes is common when eating in a group, but you’ll get your own dish of rice.