While Chinese and Indian influences are strong in Malaysian kitchens, a distinctly Malaysian cuisine persists and is plentiful. If you’re looking for a truly Malaysian experience, there are plenty of places to turn. Many regions and villages have their own specialties, so pay attention to what locals are eating and suggesting.
Ready your taste buds for plenty of spices and herbs, as nuance is rarely a quality in Malay cooking. Based primarily in curries, stews, and dips, Malay dishes such as Rendang (or “dry curry,” a meat stewed in spices for hours on end) are incredibly flavorful, but not necessarily spicy, so you shouldn’t have a problem if you’re not keen on hot food. Satay is very popular, and comes in many varieties, often accompanied by a spicy peanut sauce for dipping. You will come to quickly recognize the term Sambal, which is a generic word for chili-based sauces. If it’s breakfast you’re after, it doesn’t get more Malaysian than Nasi lemak (“cream rice”), rice cooked in coconut milk with peanuts and cucumbers on the side.
The hawker stalls are reliable sources for good food and cheap prices, though in contrast to regular restaurants, it is not recommended to drink the water provided. Dietary restrictions are usually navigable, as the Muslim, Buddhist, Chinese, and Indian populations all have their certain dos and don’ts. Halal restaurants will be signified by a sign on a wall, and vegetarianism is easily accommodated at Chinese and Indian restaurants. If you need meat-free meals, however, do take care to indicate this very clearly to the staff, as menu items can often be vague.