Out of 10, how many of these Malaysian street foods have you tried?
Malaysians often boast that their country has the best street food in the world thanks to multiculturalism, and they just might have a point. Some dishes, such as nasi lemak and char kuey teow, are best enjoyed at rickety tables and chairs on the side of the street, whereas others, like apom balik and keropok lekor, can be eaten standing up or on the go. But 'dapao' or 'bungkus' (takeaway) culture is also huge here, which means that any meal can be packed to go for enjoyment in your own home.
1. Ais Kacang
Ais kacang literally means 'iced beans', a name that harks back to the dessert's humble beginnings, when it comprised of just shaved ice and red beans. Nowadays, the cold dessert comes with all sorts, such as red syrup and/or Gula Melaka, corn, cendol, grass jelly, agar-agar, peanuts and, if you're lucky, attap chee, the fruit of the Nipa Palm. Penang has the best ais kacang, hands down.
—Nicole Andres, Account Director, Tatler Malaysia
2. Apom Balik
Although there are polarising views on how apom balik should be—Malaysian street vendors even sell Nutella and cheese versions of this thick pancake—my personal preference is for apom balik in its simplest form, filled with crunchy peanuts or, very occasionally, scented with pandan or screwpine. I've always believed that apom balik from night markets taste better than those served at restaurants or in shopping malls, and my favourite can be found at Taman Megah Pasar Malam [in the city of Selangor] on Sunday nights.
—Tania Jayatilaka, Senior Digital Writer, Tatler Malaysia
No Malaysian food list is complete without cendol, an iconic dessert consisting of coarsely shaved ice topped with bright green pandan jelly and drizzled with a healthy helping of coconut milk and palm sugar. It is the perfect dish to beat the sweltering mid-day heat or when you are in the mood for something cold and sweet.
The true origins of cendol remains a mystery due to the fact that there are limited written records of food history in the region. But you can find this classic dessert around Southeast Asia under different names. For example, it is known as lot chong in Thailand, dawet in Indonesia, chè ba màu in Vietnam and mont let saung in Myanmar.
If you are looking for the best bowl of cendol in The Klang Valley, look no further than Kwong Wah in Section 17, Petaling Jaya. You can’t miss it as long lines usually snake around the shop located a hop and a skip away from its former location in Happy Mansion.
—Chong Jinn Xiung, Gen.T and Associate Editor, Tatler Malaysia
4. Char Kway Teow
Evergreen and hearty, this popular dish sees flat rice noodles combined with peanut oil, prawns, cockles, taugeh, chili paste, and soy sauce, all brought together by fried egg. In the northern state of Penang, duck egg is used to give it a distinct flavour. Char kway teow is best eaten piping hot and straight from the wok in order to savour its wok hei.
—Elizabeth Soong, Print Editor, Tatler Malaysia
5. Fried Nian Gao
Making its way from China to Malaysia and most of Southeast Asia (Mauritius too, has its own variant, thanks to Sino-Mauritians), nian gao is a type of glutinous rice cake that gets its light brown sheen from caramelised sugar. Its presence on the dinner table usually coincides with Chinese New Year, but that doesn't stop fans (read: me) from eating it year round.
A more casual way of serving the stodgy 'cake' wrapped in banana or bamboo leaves is by cutting each block into slices, coating them in a crispy batter and dunking them into a bubbling vat of oil.
I cherish my inherited knowledge of my mother's favourite fried nian gao stall in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. The stall's name—Brickfield's Pisang Goreng—leaves little room for doubt as to Mr Chiam's speciality (banana fritters), but it's the fried nian gao here that rouses my appetite. The three-toned snack sees melty nian gao sandwiched between slabs of purple sweet potato and yam; shatteringly crispy batter cradles the whole lot. Totally worth the clogged arteries.
—Samantha Lim, Editor, Tatler Dining Malaysia
6. Indian Rojak
Not to be confused with Chinese rojak, Indian rojak comes with a sweet peanut-based sauce (whereas the former is served with a shrimp paste sauce). You can 'level up' your plate by adding fried chicken or squid. My suggested spots are Rojak Dan Cendol Antarabangsa on Jalan Bukit Pantai, Kuala Lumpur or Rojak Mustaffa in Section 17, Petaling Jaya.
—Cheryll Lim, Senior Account Executive, Tatler Malaysia
7. Keropok Lekor
This dull grey snack may look unappetising at first, but rest assured, one bite will have you hooked on its chewy, fishy goodness.
Keropok lekor can be found just about anywhere in Malaysia, from local street vendors to night markets. Perhaps the best place in the country to find the most delicious keropok lekor is its home ground in Terengganu or the neighbouring city of Kuantan where stalls are aplenty. The traditional Malay snack started as a means to use up an overabundance of fish. The word lekor is derived from the word lingkar, which means 'to roll', as the mixture is rolled by hand before being deep-fried. The paste sees a blend of fish (herring, threadfin bream or sardine), sago flour, sugar and salt.
There are two types of deep-fried keropok lekor: goreng (sausage-like with a chewy texture) and keping (cracker-like and crispy). Both are best eaten with a special homemade chilli sauce that's on the sweet side, but modern iterations of the snack can be drizzled with mayonnaise or stuffed with mozzarella.
—Lainey Loh, Digital Director, Tatler Malaysia
Lok-lok trucks offer a huge selection of skewers, from quail eggs and fish balls to sausages and beancurd sheets, that are dunked into boiling hot soup or oil to cook. You can also dip your cooked sticks into a selection of sauces, including chilli, peanut and mala. They're the perfect snack post-dinner (especially after clubbing) and an affordable and quick alternative to hot pot.
—Zue Wei Leong, Digital Writer, Tatler Malaysia
9. Nasi Lemak
Nasi lemak is a national treasure to me. It's impressive how the bungkus variety, which is designed for takeaway, contains so much—coconut rice, a hard boiled egg, a kick of anchovy sambal and roasted peanuts—in such a small, tidily packed parcel. Nasi lemak was that one dish I always thought about when I was away at university.
My favourite nasi lemak has got to be my mum's Nyonya nasi lemak; the way she serves hers, you get to choose from fried fish, assam prawns, fried chicken and/or beef rendang for your sides. My second and third favourites come from Village Park Restaurant and Tanglin Nasi Lemak in Kuala Lumpur.
—Geraldine Beh, Managing Director, Tatler Malaysia
10. Wantan Mee (Melaka variety)
A night-time favourite in Melaka, the wantan mee in my hometown is unique in that it's complemented by a clear instead of a dark sauce. It has a lighter note and more broth; you can really taste the delicious goodness of the pork jus. The stalls that I frequent also make their own noodles, guaranteeing a springy bite with every order. The wantan mee is a hit and miss with outstation guests, but having grown up with it and now that I’m living in KL, I often crave it and it's an absolute must when I’m back.
My go-to stalls include: Hong Sheng in Kampung Bukit Cina (I come here if I want the noodles liberally doused in sauce); Medan Makan Boon Leong on Jalan Bunga Raya (this is the original stall and their noodles still taste as good as ever, if "drier" than the Bukit Cina version); and Chop Beeng Cheong in Kampung Lapan (a bit of a drive from the city, this stall is run by a descendant of the Bunga Raya stall).
—Brian Cheong, Digital Editor, Tatler Malaysia
TATLER TIP: All three stalls are so popular that you can expect to wait a while if you're not early. If visiting the Bunga Raya stall, a side order of or chien (oyster omelette) is de rigueur.