After a while beating about the bush and not really indulging as I should have, I recently began to experiment more with the local cuisine in Malaysia, and in particular paid a lot of attention to the street food served up in these parts. Eventually, I was overjoyed with some of the treats I found!
When trying Malaysian street food, you’ll be overwhelmed by the endless choices available. Malaysia shares a lot of its food with neighbours Singapore and Indonesia, but it’s culinary influences come from even farther afield. For example, visit any hawker centre or noted food street (such as Gurney Drive in Penang or Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur) and you’ll encounter Malay specialties that are vying for attention with dishes concocted by other ethnic communities. The Peranakan (Straits Chinese), more recent Chinese immigrants, and South Indian Muslims who settled in Malaysia, have all left their imprint via the Malaysian noodle dishes and Malaysian Indian food available from the country’s many street stalls and hawker outfits. Particular cities, too, are renowned for their food, like the culinary scenes in Penang and Melaka, but as a country overall, let’s now look at a dozen of the tastiest street food snacks found in Malaysia!
I think it’s important to start off the list with the street food version of Malaysia’s national dish, nasi lemak, which is simply called Nasi Lemak Bungkus. It is typically a pyramidal shape of sticky rice served in a banana leaf. Sambal and the odd prawn (udang) can come with the serving.
Rojak is a fruit salad of sorts and is immensely popular in markets all over Malaysia, where I have seen it served in plastic bags! Suitable for vegetarians, rojak is also served gleefully in Indonesia.
Bakkwa Bread (or bakkwa subs) are a kind of sandwich that uses the Peranakan snack of bakkwa (dried meat) as a filling inside traditional western-style bread. The result is a very filling lunch that can be eaten on the move!
Cucur Udang are prawn fritters that bear similarity to the curry puff in Singapore in terms of shape and size. With prawn being one of the most common items of seafood on the menu as street food in Malaysia, you can be sure to find it wherever you go – and it’s very cheap too!
Otak-Otak is a grilled fish cake made of ground fish that is mixed with tapioca and spices. It is traditionally served fresh, wrapped inside a banana leaf, and can be eaten solely as a snack or with steamed rice as part of a meal.
Bambangan is a foul-smelling fruit native to parts of Borneo. It grows high up in the trees and is harvested by the locals to sell on their market stalls. It can be purchased whole or as a fruit salad in a bowl. Bambangan is more bitter than its Singaporean cousin the Durian, but thankfully it doesn’t smell quite as bad…
Apam Balik is an oversized sweet pancake that can be seen in markets around the country. This pancake is very crispy on the outside and can be filled with jam or sambal or anything that takes your fancy. In fact, it can also be served for dessert in restaurants.
Char Kway Teow is a Chinese-Malay noodle speciality dish that has also spread to neighbouring Singapore, where it is just as famous. Undoubtedly one of the most common dishes seen in pasar malams in Malaysia.
Much like char kuey heow, Sate is a cheeky addition to this list as it is known as an Indonesian snack. However, in pasar malams all over Malaysia you will find sate being grilled while you wait! The meat on skewers can be anything from duck to chicken to lamb, but never pork (with Malaysia being a Muslim country).
Cendawan Goreng is the local name for deep-fried mushrooms. It may not sound like the tastiest snack on this list, but don’t knock them before you try them, as they both cheap and moreish!
A traditional Malaysian snack made of glutinous rice, coconut milk, and salt, Lemang is cooked in a hollowed bamboo stick that is lined with banana leaves in order to prevent the rice from sticking to the bamboo. The bamboo tube containing glutinous rice, salt, and coconut milk is placed slightly slanted on a small fire with the opening facing upwards. If you’re lucky, you may see this process in action on the streets of Malaysia!
After eating street food around the night markets in Malaysia, Teh Terik is a perfect way to round off any light meal. This special brew of tea is made by the technique of ‘pulling’, which is certainly unique to Malaysia! It tastes amazing, too!
That concludes a brief overview of the most popular street foods of Malaysia, but it really only just scratches the very surface if you’re wanting a more detailed look at some of the larger meals in Malaysian cuisine (including desserts).