Although this hasn’t always been the case, Malaysia is now a multicultural success story worth congratulating. Malaysians are divided into three primary ethnic groups; Chinese, Indian, and Malay. This diversity is the main reason why Malaysia is known for having some of the most varied and delicious food in Asia. If you’re a meat lover, a vegetarian, a snacker, or you have a big appetite, Malaysian food will leave you feeling more than satisfied.
We all love the deliciously greasy chow mein, lemon chicken, and ginger beef that can be bought in China-Towns across the western world, but on the food-vendor strewn streets of Kuala Lumpur or Georgetown, Penang, you’ll find mouth-watering Chinese style dishes that you’ve never seen before. And it’s cheap. If you don’t mind seeing a rat scurry by every once in a while, street food is the way to go. You’ll find a huge variety of options, you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck, and you’ll get to witness the hustle and bustle of a busy Asian city while you enjoy your food from a road side table. One of the unique Chinese-style street vendors you’ll find is a huge selection of raw meats and vegetables on sticks and a do-it-yourself BBQ or boiling pot. These are fun and quirky stalls because you can try some of everything, or just have a snack. The sticks are individually priced, and each food-on-a-stick stall has it’s own unique and delicious set of dipping sauces. The sauce is the real reason you go to these stalls. Whether it’s a sweet and sour sauce or a spicy peanut sauce, it will be hard to resist buying kebab after kebab just so you can drench it in the delicious sauces.
The Indian food in Malaysia offers yet another set of aromatic flavours. Samosas and other fried snacks can be bought at road-side street stalls, but if you’re looking for a full Indian meal go for one of the many hole-in-the-wall Indian buffets to be found on almost any street in every Malaysian city. These buffets will include rice, naan bread, a huge variety of meat and vegetarian curries, and a selection of fried foods like samosas and pakoras all for one flat rate per person, so go with an empty stomach. If you choose not to take any meat curries, you can usually bargain the price down a little bit. If you want to be adventurous and throw away your western-world sensitivities, try eating without cutlery and use your right hand instead. Most local Indian-Malaysians will eat these curries this way, so why not try it out? You can use your naan bread to pick up your rice and curry, and it doesn’t have to be to much of a mess (with some practice). Just remember to only eat with your right hand, in many Asian countries the left hand is used for something else. You’re probably aware enough of basic hygiene to wash your hands before eating with them, but still avoid eating with your left hand as it isn’t the custom and might raise some eyebrows.
The third kind of cuisine found everywhere in Malaysia, and perhaps the most exotic to the average westerner, is Malay food. Malay-Malaysians are descendents of people who moved down from southern China to the peninsula that is now western Malaysia about ten thousand years ago. Malay food generally tastes like a combination of an Indian curry and a Chinese stir fry. When you order Malay food from a little buffet restaurant, it’s very similar to the all-you-can-pile-on-one-plate Indian restaurants. You’ll start with a scoop of rice in the middle of your plate, then you’ll pile on spicy meat and vegetables to your heart’s content, and to top it off you can add a piece of fried chicken, a fried egg, and roasted peanuts. It’s a little strange at first, but if you like spicy food and you have an adventurous palette you’ll love Malay food.
Georgetown, on the island of Penang is known for having the best food in Malaysia and it’s definitely a city worth checking out. If you stay at one of the many cheap hostels or guesthouses around Love Lane, you’ll be surrounded by street stalls and restaurants galore. Plus you can check out some unique street art a few blocks away, and drink beers at a chilled out backpacker bars in the evening. If you’re a foodie, Malaysia is a must-see country on your trip through South East Asia.