Malaysia. The only time I had ever really heard of this country before arriving in Southeast Asia was in Zoolander. Long live the Prime Minister. Coming all the way from the US it is kind of a random country to visit. However, AirAsia is headquartered there, and therefore flights to Malaysia are super cheap. So when coordinating a trip with my college friend Melissa who teaches in Vietnam, we decided to spend a week where it was cheap for both us to meet up.
Side note – Malaysia borders the southern tip of Thailand. You can actually take a bus from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur or Penang, but I hear the border is kind of sketchy.
What does one do in Malaysia? Malaysia is a primarily Muslim country, and the resulting heavy tax on alcohol shoots drinking prices through the roof. So it’s not really known for nightlife. The beaches and Perhentinian islands are beautiful, but still don’t really impress when you’re coming from Thailand. There aren’t very many UNESCO world heritage sites, or any other kind of monument that makes such a trek worth it. So what do you do in Malaysia? Eat.
Malaysia is an extremely diverse country, with an extremely underrated diverse street food scene. That’s pretty rare for Southeast Asia – Thailand is full of Thai people, Indonesia is full of Indonesian people, Vietnam is full of Vietnamese people, you get my point. People stare so much at people with different skin color because diversity isn’t really prevalent. Malayia is much different from this; there is a mix of Malaysian people, Indian people, and Chinese people, setting the stage for awesome local noms. The Chinese and Malay culture mix is called Pernankan, and Pernankan food is dankkkkk.
A Pernankan-style mansion in Penang.
So here’s some of the best food I had in Malaysia, and probably my entire life.
Nasi means “rice” in Malay, the same as Indonesian. Nasi Kandar is the Malaysian version of Indonesian Padang. It’s everything over rice, and you pay per item. When Sweet Lis & I were in Penang, we happened to be a nice little 3-minute walk from one of the best places in the city, Line Clear.
Line Clear was this little outdoor-giant-food-stall-on-crack down an alley. It was run by a bunch of super friendly Malay men, and was open 24/7, after the bar and for breakfast in the morning. The best things Melissa & I had with rice were fried chicken for her, and every mystery mix of vegetables that I tried. Sorry to be vague, but this was one of those point-and-grunt pick your food type situations.
Looks gross, tastes great. Our first round of take-away Nasi Kandar, and my pumped travel buddy Melissa. Look at that happy little clam.
Line Clear had a HUGE menu, including classic Malay fish-head curry, Indian-influenced roti, and others, which brings me to number 2…
Fish-head curry on deck in the back.
2. Roti Canai
Roti Canai(pronounced like rho-tee chan-eye) is the Indian-influenced Malaysian roti. We tried cheese with onion(I know not really Malay, there’s cheese, but we all have our vices), and upon recommendation from a nice guy that worked there we tried just the onion version. They even hooked us up with some curry sauce to dip it in, SOOOO friggin good.
At a different roti place in Tanah Rata(Cameron Highlands), we also dabbled with butter & sugar roti. Sooooo friggin good, I almost didn’t feel guilty after.
3. Teh Tarik
This is kind of like Thai tea, it’s a hot tea that’s super sweet and mixed with some kind of sweetened-condensed milk. The tea guy that pulls the liquid through the tea leaves does a super-dramatic 4-foot pour back and forth to give the tea a nice strong flavor. I wish I had it on video, it’s quite impressive.
Breakfast of champions.
The Rojak is that weird bowl of past in the front.
Okay this one wasn’t so great, but it’s a common Malaysian thing to eat, so it made the list. “Rojak” literally means “mix,” so it’s a mix of pasta with hardboiled egg, random vegetables, tofu, and other random things. It comes with a sickeningly sweet sauce that you pour over the whole thing. Pasta with a hardboiled egg and sweet sauce, REALLY not my cup of tea. In defense of the cuisine we got it from a South Indian restaurant(that had dank food otherwise), so maybe Malaysian food just wasn’t their speciality.
5. Indian Food
I apologize for the generic name of this one, but really ALL the Indian food we ate was amazing. Indian is my favorite cuisine, definitely one of the most underrated cuisines in the world, so we ate as much of it as we possibly could while we were there. Thailand is great, but they’re not much for international food, aside from expensive trendy western food in Bangkok.
This was a banana-leaf lunch special thing we got with mutton, and we actually tried eating it with our hands in traditional Malaysian-style. In public. 10/10 would do again.
6. Mie Goreng
Malaysia actually had a lot of the same food as Indonesia, including Mie Goreng. “Mie” means noodles, and it’s like their version of Pad Thai. You can also get Nasi Goreng, or the same thing with rice, and it’s pretty good as well. Below is a picture of Nasi Goreng that Melissa & I got at Gurney Drive, a well-known hawker center in Penang. Hawker Centers are like giant street-food food-court type deals. Heads up: if you visit you have to buy a drink if you want to sit down and eat your food.
Shark fin soup anyone?
It seems that mystery meat skewers are prominent in every country.
7. Chinese Pastries
These don’t really make the list because they were amazing; more because they were interesting. I’ve tried several Chinese pastries in little Dan Chang, and I just don’t think they’re for me. They usually include some combination of things that are too savory for me, like salted egg, red bean, and chicken floss. The chicken floss is actually bearable, but the salted egg…not so much. Here’s a mix of salted egg & flaky stuff, and custard & some flaky stuff.
8. Chicken Shwarma
Yes, I know this isn’t Malaysian, or even Asian for the matter, but it was SOOO FREAKING GOOD. By far the best shwarma I’ve ever had in my life. Point – there’s a TON of diverse food in Malaysia. In Kuala Lumpur, Little Arabia was right next to our hostel, where this epic shwarma was consumed. We also ate our way through Little India, dosas and mimosas, am I right?
Starbuck’s at the airport in Java, en route to Malaysia
I freaking love Starbuck’s. I know, I’m the worst, I hate all chain restaurants and love small business, but I love Starbuck’s. It’s good coffee, sue me. Like McDonald’s, Starbucks is one of my favorite things to check out and compare from country to country. There wasn’t anything too memorable on the menu at the airport in Indonesia, just this pastry. Is it a croissant? Is it a roll? No, ladies and gentlemen…it’s a TUNA PUFF!!! Not gonna lie, it was actually pretty good.