Who needs fast food when you have Malaysian street food? Check out these cities well-known for their street cuisine.
One of the most difficult questions you can pose to a Malaysian is probably “Where shall we eat?” because there are just so many choices and so little time. Fear not, as it’s pretty easy to orient one’s trip solely based on the variety of food one gets to savour in the streets. So, if you’re planning your next food road trip within Malaysia, look no further – these are the cities you should check out!
Penang cuisine is an eclectic mix of traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes as well as fusion ones such as Baba Nyonya (also known as Peranakan). It’s little wonder, then, why the state of Penang is a frequent feature of both local and international best-of food lists. The capital of Penang itself is definitely your go-to: George Town is aptly described as ‘...possibly the best place to eat in all of Southeast Asia’ in Eater magazine’s ‘Places to Eat In’ list this year. Trawl around the streets of Little India and Chinatown, or visit the city’s many hawker centres, including the popular Gurney Drive hawker centre, for some of the city’s not-to-be-missed dishes including Char Kway Teow (flat rice noodles with shrimp, bean sprouts, eggs, and sweet Chinese sausage), Hokkien Mee (egg noodles in a broth with prawns, egg, bean sprouts, and water spinach), Assam Laksa (thick noodles in a spicy fish broth with a sour tamarind paste), and Rojak Pasembur (a salad of shredded cucumber, potatoes, beancurd, turnip, prawn fritters, spicy fried crab, fried octopus and various fish cakes served with a sweet and spicy nut sauce).
While Melaka has Peranakan influences similar to Penang in its food, the Melaka Peranakan cuisine is sweeter and richer due to the abundance of coconut milk and Malay spices being used. When coming here, make sure to time your trip to coincide with the weekends, as the Jonker Street Night Market only operates on Friday to Sunday nights. Must-haves include the famous coconut shake (coconut water and flesh mixed with vanilla ice cream), the Nyonya Laksa (rice noodles served in broth made of prawn stock, coconut milk and dried chilli), chicken rice balls, pai tee (tart-shelled kuih filled with finely shredded vegetables and prawns) as well as the classic Cendol Gula Melaka (shaved ice served with coconut milk, red beans, green ‘noodles’ and drizzled with gula Melaka).
Malaysian foodies have flocked to this charming town in the northern state of Perak for years due to its unique local varieties. Cantonese and Hainanese influences are quite strong in Ipoh cuisine, although you can still find the usual expected Malaysian cuisine varieties with Malay, Indian and Chinese influences. Try not to miss Ipoh’s famous white coffee, Yong Suan Coffee Shop’s Nasi Ganja - usually a combination of rice, vegetable, fried chicken, and curry (directly translated, Nasi Ganja means "Cannabis Rice", but there’s no cannabis involved here - it’s just so good that it’s addictive), Yee Fatt’s dry curry noodles, and Vegas Kopitiam’s Chee Cheong Fun (steamed rice noodle rolls with spicy sauce). Other Ipoh highlights include First Garden Night Market’s assortment of Popiah (Chinese spring rolls), Char Kueh (fried rice cake), Orh Luak (fried oyster omelette), satay, assorted skewers and barbecued chicken wings, as well as the Assam Laksa. Additionally, the creamy Sago Similu (sweetened ice and fruit slices with coloured sago) and mixed fruits at Tong Sui Kai (or ‘desserts street’ in Cantonese) off Jalan Sultan Idris Shah are not to be missed by those craving for something sweet.
It’s a rather convenient inclusion – but it’s also where you can find all the Malaysian dishes you could think of without having to go beyond the city’s borders. Located in the heart of Bukit Bintang, the Jalan Alor Night Market offers cheap Malaysian seafood fare such as the crispy oyster omelette, grilled fish and Lok-Lok (a selection of meat and vegetable on skewers) sticks. You can also head to one of Kuala Lumpur’s most famous foodie destination, Kampung Baru, where you can find a wide selection of Malay street food including Apam Balik (crispy pancake with chopped nuts or creamy corn filling), Keropok Lekor (fried fish sausages), Rojak (fruit and vegetable salad with spicy peanut sauce), Nasi Kukus Ayam Goreng Berempah (steamed rice and marinated fried chicken, served with gravy), and a variety of Indo-Malay cuisine including the ever popular Nasi Lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk) and Nasi Ambeng (a Javanese dish of rice with meat and condiments wrapped tightly in banana leaves).
There is so much more to explore when it comes to Malaysian street food, but the ones listed here should definitely be given a try when you’re at any of these cities. Malaysians are known for their love of food and you’ll understand why once you give these a try.