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Malaysian Cuisine - Eating Out

by The Expatriate Lifestyle Editorial Team 3 Jun 2013
Malaysian Cuisine - Eating Out



Hygiene is a concern for many expatriates relocating to a new country. And though the hawker and mamak stalls that line the country’s streets may look far from what you’d typically consider hygienic, you can be sure that if the eatery was unhygienic, it would not survive in this food-loving nation. Such stalls are based on the premise of returning custom keeping the business afloat and, therefore, the upkeep of their eatery is usually of utmost importance.

Otherwise, more established restaurants are subject to government cleanliness tests and, again, should they be found unhygienic and a health risk to patrons, they would not remain open for business.

Tax and Service Charge

Towards the bottom of your restaurant bill, you’ll often encounter an added 15 per cent charge, labelled government tax (5 per cent) and service charge (10 per cent), and usually displayed on the menu as ‘++’ (i.e. a plus symbol for each additional charge).

Confusing though this may be for newcomers to Malaysia, don’t be put off by apparently surprising and mysterious charges; they are as uncomplicated as they sound and actually make the billing and tipping system considerably easier.

Most dining establishments will apply these charges to your final bill so you should take the extra 15 per cent into account when adding up the overall cost of your meal or when dividing the bill amongst a group.


As restaurants automatically add 10 per cent service charge to all bills (see above), the service staff should receive a portion of your final bill. As such, tipping in Malaysia is not necessary although in the finer establishments, diners often leave a token to the wait-staff. Many expatriates, in particular, feel inclined to tip good service as a way to ensure the rewards go to the intended staff and such gestures are typically well received.

Making Sense of the Menu

The following translations should prove useful for when you eat out and can’t understand the menu. However, don’t forget that half the fun of eating at a hawker stall is to just sit back and try whatever delicacies are served up. Bon appetit!


Mee – Noodles
Mee goreng – Indian-influenced fried noodles in a spicy sauce with greens and seafood
Mee rebus – Yellow noodles in a spicy gravy, garnished with bean sprouts, egg and fried onion
Laksa – Seafood soup with a crunchy vegetable garnish; the Malacca version is coconutty whilst the Asam version from Penang is spicy and sour
Wantan mee – Noodles and vegetables served in a light soup containing dumplings
Char kuay teow – Fried flat noodles with prawn, fish cake, egg, vegetables and/or chili
Meehoon – Thin rice noodles
Hokkien fried mee – Yellow noodles fried with pork, prawn and vegetables


Nasi – Rice
Nasi lemak – Rice cooked in coconut milk with a garnish of peanuts, tiny fried
anchovies, cucumber, boiled egg and sambal
Nasi goreng – Fried rice with vegetables often with prawn and/or chicken added
Nasi campur – Rice served with an array of meat, fish and vegetables dishes
Nasi briyani – Saffron flavoured rice cooked with chicken, beef or fish
Nasi putih – Plain boiled rice
Nasi ayam – Roasted/steamed chicken served with garlic flavoured rice
Nasi kandar – Rice with a meat/chicken dish served with a blend of curries
Daun pisang – A South Indian meal with chutneys and curries served on a mound of rice on a banana leaf
Claypot – Rice topped with meat cooked in an earthenware pot to give it a smoky taste


Ayam goreng – Malay-style fried chicken
Ayam percik – Barbeque chicken with creamy coconut sauce
Bak kut teh – A Chinese dish of pork ribs in soy sauce, ginger, herbs and sauce
Char siew pau – Cantonese steamed bun stuffed with roast pork in a sweet sauce
Dim sum – Chinese titbits—dumplings, rolls—steamed or fried and served in bamboo baskets
Dosai – Southern Indian pancake, made from ground rice and lentils, and served with dhal (lentils) and spicy dips
Ikan bilis – Deep-fried anchovies
Murtabak – Thin Indian pancake, stuffed with onion, egg and chicken/mutton
Otak-otak – Fish mashed with coconut milk and chilli paste and steamed in a banana leaf
Satay – Barbecued chicken/beef served on a wooden skewer and served with spicy peanut sauce
Roti bakar – Toast
Roti canai – Indian-inspired, griddle-cooked flat bread served with dhal or fish curry dips
Roti john – Simple Indian dish, egg, onion and spicy tomato sauce spread on bread and heated
Popiah – Chinese spring rolls filled with peanuts, egg, bean-shoots, vegetables and sweet sauce
Sambal – Shrimp-based spicy sauce
Keropok – Prawn or fish crackers
Ikan bakar – Fish marinated in spices and baked
Rendang – Dry, highly-spiced coconut curry with beef, chicken or mutton
Rojak – Indian fritters dipped in chili and peanut sauce, Chinese version is a salad of green beans, bean sprouts, pineapple and cucumber in a peanut-prawn sauce
Steamboat – Raw vegetables, meat or fish dunked into a steaming broth until cooked


Air – Water
Bir – Beer
Jus – Fruit juice
Lassi – Sweet or sour yoghurt drink of Indian origin
Teh tarik – Sweet, frothy, milky tea
Teh-O – Black tea
Teh susu – Tea with milk
Kopi-O – Black coffee
Kopi susu – Coffee with milk


Bubur Cha cha – Sweetened coconut milk with pieces of sweet potato, yam and tapioca balls
Cendol – Coconut milk, palm sugar syrup and pea-flour noodles poured over shaved ice
Ais Kacang – Shaved ice with red beans, cubes of jelly, sweet corn, rose syrup and evaporated milk.
Pisang goreng – Fried banana fritters
Fork – Garpu
Knife – Pisau
Spoon – Sudu
How much is it? – Berapa harga?
Cold – Sejuk
Hot (temperature) – Panas
Hot (spicy) – Pedas
I don’t eat meat/fish – Saya tak makan daging/ikan
I want to pay – Saya nak bayar
Please bring the bill – Tolong bawa bil
Please bring two beers – Tolong bawa dua bir
I don’t want it spicy – Saya tak mahu pedas
What is today’s special? – Apa yang istimewa hari ini?
Chicken – Ayam
Pork – Babi
Beef – Daging
Fish – Ikan
Mutton – Kambing
Crab – Ketam
Vegetable – Sayur
Sotong – Squid
Egg – Telur
Prawn – Udang
Salt – Garam
Sugar – Gula
Food – Makanan
Drink – Minum
Sweet – Manis

Restaurant Listings

Over the years, the food reviewers at Expatriate Lifestyle have sampled the best restaurants in Malaysia. Over the next few pages, all those that have gained our approval are listed to help new arrivals get the best possible “first table” in the country.

The following places have passed our strict guidelines (below), hence why we call our restaurant write-ups “recommendations”, not “reviews”.

• The restaurant has no knowledge of our visit
• We pay for our meal like any other customer
• We pay attention to the quality of the food, the attentiveness of service and the ambience
• Every restaurant we recommend will be one we would always go back to
• An advertisement does not guarantee a recommendation

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