Hawker Food in Malaysia

Ask any Malaysian, and they will tell you that the best places for local cuisine are at the stalls. Excellent food at (sometimes) paupers' prices. Paupers' prices entitle you to open-air dining, on a plastic chair at a foldable plastic table, underneath the blue glare of florescent lights. But let not your eyes deceive you. Follow your nose instead, and let your sense of smell be your judge. Any Malaysian will assure you that your sense of taste will not be disappointed.

A general description of just some of hundreds of local food available:

Nasi Lemak

Let's not get into healthy eating. Start your day with some rice cooked in coconut milk. The sambal ikan bilis (anchovies) will certainly wake you up, all spicy and hot. Get a dose of protein from the fried anchovies and boiled eggs. And for more vitamins, indulge on the groundnuts. Sambal = chillie paste

Roti Canai (pronouced as roh-ti cha-nye)

Light crispy dough doused in oil on a hot plate. Best when eaten with spicy indian curry. Eating tip: soak it well in the indian curry or in dhall.

Chee Cheong Fun

Rolled steamed rice dough, begging to be swathed in some sweetened plum sauce. After a quick dip in boiling water, throw in the kangkong with the rest of the cast. And, your day has just begun. Note of caution for the weightwatchers association: this is no health food. Reason why the dough is so smooth and silky is attributed to an excessive use of oil in the process!

Yin-Yang Toast

Lashings of delicious coconut jam (kaya) spread evenly on toasted homemade white bread

Asam Laksa (Penang Asam Laksa)

Tangy, spicy fish sauce may not sound appealing, but it only takes a whiff of its aroma, and you may be sold. Chilli,lettuce, sliced cucumber, succulent herbs, fresh mint leaves, pineapple cubes tossed on rice noodles, and drowned in the broth.

Fried Kuay Teow (Penang Kway Teow)

Rice pasta fried and tossed around in a wok together with spices, prawns, chicken, a crunchy dose of beansprouts. Before eating, make a point to savour the steaming hot aroma of the dish. You can tell that what's coming would be even better.

Pan Mee

Fettucini noodles in clear broth, topped with fried anchovies, minced pork, sliced fungi and sweet potato leaves. At least this is one dish that you may not have to pick chillies from. Non-Spicy!

Prawn Mee Soup

Noodles in clear red sauce rich seafood broth, padded up with a crown of succulent juicy fat prawns just waiting for the taking. This taste will last long enough in your mouth that pretty soon you will be wanting more. For that added 'zinggg', a side dish of sambal chillie paste is provided.

Fish Ball Noodles Soup

It is not all about the steam emanating from the soup. Big fat fish balls with noodles soaked in a bowl of clear broth and coloured with choi sum - sounds ridiculously too healthy for an Asian dish. So drop that dollop of fried sambal, and everything would be just fine.

Nasi Bryani

Only to be taken if you are planning to siesta after the fiesta. Long basmati rice cooked with spices and ghee. The result : oppulence. Golden rice that can only afford to invite its rich ensemble of tender, chunky Indian beef or mutton cooked in fiery curry thicken with yoghurt. You can add in a portion of spicy tangy vegetables, but then again, that would be too sinful…

Chicken Rice

You can have your chicken steamed, roasted or even barbecued. But really, the winning factor is the magic garlic chilli sauce that makes all the difference. With this, any rice and black sauce would complement it just fine. The bonus is the soup : you can have some lotus seed one day, lettuce another, and for others, some groundnuts would also do the trick!

Curry Mee

At first sight, you would think that there is "The Battle of Condiments" in your dish. White vermicelli wrought around torpedo shaped long beans, trampelled upon by strips of chicken, under the heavy fire of soaking wet fried tofu trying to stay afloat on a sea of hot curry. All you have to do is stick your chopsticks in the gravy and show them victory.

Yong Tau Foo

This would be Chee Cheong Fun with a lot of fun. Help yourself to the array of steamed fishballs, fishcakes and a multitude of other steamed seafood delicacies. Toss on it a generous amount of sweetened plum sauce, some spicy red sauce, sprinkle a mouthwatering portion of toasted sesame seeds. And it's a homerun from there onwards.

Goreng Pisang

This is banana fritters with a difference! A wooden shack under the shelter of a tropical tree. A gentle lady slipping bananas into a huge wok. Golden bananas bobbing happily in piping bubbling hot oil. In goes the laddle, and the oil, bananas and bubbles hiss in unison. Be sure to grab those fritters when they are still sizzling.

Curry Puffs

A spicy marriage of chunky chicken or beef with soft potato cubes wrapped in crispy pastry. Heavenly when eaten hot.

Rojak (penang/indian)

The excitement really begins from the moment the vendor lifts his cleaver as he sets out his assault on crunchy fried pastry and cucumber, sengkuang, fried juicy prawns and boiled eggs. From deep in the trenches of the chopping board, come flying - bits and pieces of fruits and vegetables skilfully rediverted into a bowl. In a single swoop, the vendor accomplishes his mission by drenching these ingredients with some savoury fiery peanut gravy.

Mee Goreng

It starts with sunny yellow noodles being thrown into some sizzling chilli and garlic in a wok, consequently drowned in black and brown sauces. Next to jump in are the shrimps, fishcakes, chicken and green vegetables. Fry, fry, fry , toss, toss, toss. And what was yellow is now all brown. Nevertheless, it is to die for, all the same !!

Hokkien Mee

Yellow noodles fried in a seasoned wok laid over a charcoal fire. (The secret of getting the flavour just right is in the fire!).

Chicken wings

Chicken wings marinated in spices, honey and a dash of sesame oil. Fried in hot oil, to be savoured with spicy chilli dish.

Banana Leaf Rice

This ritual begins with the laying of a piece of banana leaf before you. Plonk! A waiter vigorously ladels some rice onto your banana leaf . Next comes the plonk-plonk-plonks! Five different varieties of condiments are doled out next to your rice; a variety of vegetables, chutney, fried snakegourd, fried preserved dried chilli. Another waiter comes and asks whether you want lentil or curry sauce, and he plonks your choice spot on to where you are pointing. When you are finished with your dish, make sure you fold your leaf correctly the right way round to let them know you're happy with the food. Different regions of India express their satisfaction quite differently.

Lontong/ Lodeh

A humble man's dish with a whole market-ful of produce in the gravy. Coconut milk mixed in with fried chilli and fired up with several locals herbs. Throw in prawns, strips of cabbage, turnips, carrots, soya cakes, and that's not all of it. Pour the gravy in a bowl filled with cubed compressed rice. Then you have a choice between sambal ikan bilis or peanut sauce to enhance the flavour of this meal.


Tender bits of marinated chicken and beef skewered over hot charcoal. Fanning the coal using a fan made of palm leaves causing dust to fly about is said to add flavour and taste. The satay is then served together with compressed cube rice , sliced onions and cucumber. Dunk the satay in some peanut sauce. If spicy is not your cup of tea, tell the waiter not to add chillie oil into the sauce.

Nasi Kerabu

Have a healthy treat. The lovely earth coloured rice is really a result of it having been steamed in some healthy herb concoction. In your plate, a colourful and fresh array of finely chopped herbs and vegetables are arranged around your coloured rice. Mix them together with the special sweet spicy gravy. This dish is also accompanied with savoury fish or chicken - Heavenly!

Nasi Kandar

The word 'Kandar' is Malay for yoke. In the old days, vendors used to carry around their wares to sell from house to house to their ready customers . And hence, the 'Nasi Kandar' man was born! It was not uncommon to see old Indian men balancing yokes laden with delicious piping hot rice and curry, walking up and down streets calling out, 'nasi kandar, nasi kandar!' in the early evenings.

Ikan Bakar

Fish marinated, slapped and enveloped in glorious spices and chilli grilled over hot charcoal. Get your chopsticks ready, sprinkle some lime juice for good measure. To further accelerate your heartbeat, dip your fish in some killer hot sambal.

Sago Gula Melaka

Chilled sago topped with coconut milk and gula melaka(melted coconut sugar)

Pengat Pisang

An exceptionally delightful pudding for the sweet-toothed. Sweet ripe sliced bananas dunk in fresh rich coconut milk mixed with lots of brown sugar. Oooo sweet …..!!

Kuih Lapis

Don't be deceived by its humble appearance. The kuih lapis is made by those with endurance, its ingredients are laid layer by layer, the subsequent layer placed only after the preceding one is cooked. The result is a multiple coloured layered kuih. Made specially for those who prefer to patiently peel and eat it layer by layer than devouring it at a go.

Kuih Koci

Especially recommended for an afternoon of gastronomical adventure. Peel away the banana leaf wrapping, and you get this disappointingly boring grey coloured sticky blob (its sole purpose is to fool you.) Sticky is the word! Once you sink in for first bite, you'll find yourself pretty goo-ed. Before you manage to free yourself from this outer coating, you face your second phase of shockwaves as you pierce through the centre bit of the kuih, into this shockingly mega sweet taste of the coconut mix. Confusion will only drive you to chew on, because there is really nothing much that you can do now. And somewhere in the middle of all that, you realise that the pandamonium mixture of blandness and sweetness and the strangeness of the texture complement each other. And it is not a 'bad' glutinuous kuih after all.


The art of preparing chendol has not really changed for over 50 years. An elderly Indian man stands by what looks like an old fashioned sewing machine. He spins the wheel, and the contraption moves a block of ice forwards and backwards, the ice grating itself against an ultra sharp blade. Underneath the blade lies a bowl filled with some green soft springy baby noodles made of green beans and flour (which is evidently the "chendol"). The Vendor spins and spins the wheel until he gets a mountain high of ice flakes in his bowl. Then he pours some coconut milk, and later in goes some syrup made of brown sugar. It is divine on a hot sweltering day.

ABC (Air Batu Champur)

Here is something for you to decide. Can we call it the modern version of the Chendol ? Grated ice falling on a bowl filled with boiled kidney beans, multi coloured jelly, chendol noodles, cream of corn, peanuts. On the ice is poured some evaporated milk, syrup of all colours of the rainbow. Drop a blob of ice-cream. And enjoy the concoction as the coolness tingles down your throat all the way into your abdomen. This dessert is especially concocted for Hot Tropical Climates!

Tau Foo Far

Curdled soya bean sounds undeservedly unflattering, but that is what it is. The ancient art of preparing it is so charming. A concoction of soya milk, domestically prepared with a lot of attention and precision, is set to curdle in a wooden barrel for several hours. The tau foo far can be served hot with some syrup, or cold with some cold soya bean drink. Blissfully nutritious and very healthy provided you cut down on the syrup.

Local fruits

A truly healthy option. Walk down the streets at any time of the day, and you will find vendors selling local fruits. Observe the locals to gauge the more popular fruits. If there isn't a huge traffic of consumers, engage in a conversation with the vendor, who might just be too happy to accommodate you and all your questions on his produce.

Fresh Coconut Juice

Cool, refreshing coconut juice - down your oesophagus, branching out in little streams into other parts of your body, sending out invigorating messages everywhere. It is as if your whole system has willingly let itself be engulfed in some tropical paradise and all it wants is to be lost in there.


Once you have tried sugarcane juice, the sight of the long poles of sugarcane at the stalls will send your heart pumping in merry anticipation. The vendor feeds the sugarcane pole into a contraption that squeezes the juice out into a jug. You can have the juice with or without ice. Ask for some to take away and share it with a friend who would appreciate it beyond words.

Teh Tarik

"teh" = tea. 'tarik' = pull or stretch. It gets its name from the dramatic act of the vendor stretching as far as his arms could go, pouring tea from one container into another. The result: foamy tea. Ingredients : two portion thick tea, one and a half portion condensed milk, and one portion sugar. A MUST TRY!! If you prefer a little spice in your life ; try Teh Halia( Ginger Tea) - small emotions, just added a twang of ginger. It's….an acquired taste.

Air Bandung

Plain red syrup with condensed milk and a dash of water. Shocking !!

Soya Bean

Derived from the healthy and nutritious soya bean. Some like it hot. Some like it cold. Vendors love this quite a lot. Laughing down the bank they rolled.

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