What are some famous dishes in Singapore
Malaysian Food: Try These 10 Foods in Singapore, Penang & KL
Singapore and Malaysia offer cultural heritage, beaches and nature. But the best part is the food with delicious Indian, Chinese and Malaysian dishes.Malaysia is a multi-cultural state. You notice that not only in the openness and friendliness of the Malaysians but also in the kitchen. Nowhere else in the world is there such a diverse food culture.
Even Thai cuisine cannot compete with the fusion of South Indian, North Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, European and Malaysian cuisine. I say so even though almost all of my favorite foods are Thai.
In the country where food is a popular sport, the island of Penang is synonymous with good food. If a noodle stand in Kuala Lumpur, Malacca or Singapore wants to sell more then it writes “Penang Char Koay Teow” or “Penang Hokkien Mee” on the sign.
Penang is not only the food capital of Malaysia but probably of the whole world. Fusion food has been trendy in Georgetown since the 18th century and you can't walk for 5 minutes without looking into several kitchens. The choice is breathtaking.
But you are also spoiled for choice in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Ipoh and Malacca. The offer is so large and varied that it is totally overwhelming the first time you visit. It took me a good month to find my way around.
To avoid total confusion, learn about the 10 basic restaurant types from Kopitiam to Banana Leaf, Nasi Kandar and Hawker Center to Steamboat.
Find out which specialties you shouldn't miss and where you can find them using maps with more than 120 recommended locations in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
1. Kopitiam (Southeast Chinese)
The traditional coffee house serves dishes from Southeast China, i.e. Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese cuisine. The food is available at stands around the Kopitiam, the drinks in the house itself. In Singapore, due to the restrictive street food laws, there are often no stands but only a menu from the Kopitiam itself.
Each stand in Kopitiam sells different foods. A few common dishes are:
- Popiah: Spring roll from Southeast China
- Lor Bak: Chinese fried sausages
- Chee Cheong Fun: steamed rectangular noodles with tofu and fish paste
- Char Kway Teow: fried broad rice noodles with prawns and meat. The “golden standard” dish
- Hokkien Mee / Hokkien Char: braised yellow and thin noodles with pork and prawns. "Number 2" after Char Kway Teow
- Wonton Mee: thin egg noodles with dumplings and pork
- Pan Mee: wide pasta with dried crispy fish
- Lor Mee: wide yellow noodles in thick sauce and with eggs
- Curry Mee: thin yellow noodles in coconut based sauce
- Kway Chap: wide rice noodles with pork, pork offal and eggs
- Claypot Chicken: Chicken fried in a clay pot with rice or noodles
- Kaya toast or egg variants: Simple breakfast that is not available from one of the stands but from the drinks people.
The pasta dishes taste quite similar. The differences are the type and thickness of the pasta, the type of meat and the sauce. There are often hot sauces for seasoning, but the food is still not particularly hot.
You can order almost every dish as a soup or dry, i.e. with sauce. Sometimes you also get a pot of hot water to decide for yourself whether to fill up or not.
There is also dim sum in some Kopitiam. These are steamed Chinese dumplings with a filling, good to take away.
Kopitiams are not halal, there is pork and alcohol.
For a rough overview, you should at least try soup, dry dishes and, above all, claypot chicken. Pan Mee still tastes very good to me.
The prices are between 4-6 RM per dish.
Because the Southeast Asian coffee is served here with sweet condensed milk, Kopitiams are especially interesting for breakfast. Of course there is also Chinese tea, as well as beer. On the conservative east coast, the Chinese restaurants are the only ones allowed to serve beer. Iced coffee is also available to take away in typical Malaysian plastic bags.
You order your drink at Kopitiam and the food at your preferred stand. You have to pay in advance, so when the food or drink comes. Please note that you cannot eat here without ordering a drink.
Kopitiams are extremely common on the west coast of Malaysia, especially in Penang, Ipoh, and Kuala Lumpur. On the east coast you have to go to the nearest Chinatown.
You can recognize the coffeehouse by the writing “Kopitiam” or “Kopi Kedai”, on the tables and on one or more food stalls that are in front of or directly at the entrance.
Kopitiams are usually only open in the morning and at noon.
2. Banana Leaf (South Indian)
Most of the Indian-born Malaysians were originally relocated from Tamil Nadu by the English during the colonial days when Penang was part of "India". This is reflected in an abundance of traditional South Indian restaurants. These restaurants are particularly known for their Banana Leaf Thali, i.e. curries and rice on a banana leaf.
In a Banana Leaf restaurant you not only eat Indian but also like in India. That means the waiters go around with their rice pots and curry tiffins and always bring more supplies.
- Roti Canai: Flatbread with curry
- Roti Dhal: Flatbread with lentil stew
- Biryani: South Indian Fried Rice
- Paratha: Pancakes with a filling
- Thosai: South Indian dosa with curry - only in the morning
- Idli: Rice bagels with chutney and sambal - only in the morning
- Banana Leaf Thali: 4-5 different curries with rice and papadams - only at lunchtime
- Kotthu: Fried roti strips with meat or cheese - only in the evening
Larger Banana Leaf restaurants also offer curries and other Indian dishes to order.
Sometimes in Indian restaurants there are also snacks to take away, e.g.
- Samosa: deep fried dumplings with potato filling
- Curry Puff: baked dumplings with curry filling
- Nonya Kuih: small sweet malaysian kitchens
- Indian sweets: extremely sweet desserts such as halwa, barfi, laddu, gulab jamun, ...
The Mamak stalls even have dishes to go, especially nasi lemak, coconut rice in banana leaves.
Banana Leaf restaurants are often vegetarian. There is usually no alcohol.
For a rough overview, you should try at least Masala Thosai, Banana Leaf Thali and Kotthu. If you can find it on the menu, be sure to try Palak / Saag Paneer. I think Biryani is totally overhyped, but for many Indians it is also essential. Of course there are many more dishes in South Indian cuisine.
The prices are very cheap and start at around 3 RM per dish.
The Tamil drink par excellence is sweet Indian Chai, better known in Malaysia as Teh Tarik. Unfortunately, coffee is only available as an instant, and “Coffee Bru” is not brewed coffee, but only an instant coffee brand. Exceptions are the Mamak stalls, which sell real coffee, also as iced coffee in the typical plastic bags to take away.
You order drinks and food from the waitress and receive a slip of paper with the items you ordered. This is used to pay at the exit.
Banana Leaf restaurants are most common in the respective Little India, but also spread across the cities. There are almost no Malaysians with Indian roots and no Tamil restaurants on the east coast of Malaysia.
You can recognize a banana leaf restaurant by the fact that it is usually very small. At the entrance of the restaurant there is a large hot plate for dosa, kotthu, roti etc. Sometimes South Indian restaurants are just mobile stands, the so-called mamak stands.
Banana Leaf restaurants are mostly open all day.
3.Nasi Kandar (Indian Muslim)
There is also North Indian cuisine in Malaysia. The Indian-Muslim seafarers brought not only trade goods but also their curries to Penang with their ships, from where Nasi Kandar spread. Nasi Kandar is white rice with various curries from the buffet. In Singapore, Nasi Kandar is also called Nasi Padang.
Typical main ingredients for curries in a Nasi Kandar restaurant are:
- Shrimp or squid
- Bitter melon
There are endless side dishes with the curries, especially vegetables.
Many Nasi Kandar also offer dishes from the Banana Leaf restaurants.
The curries are halal, which means chicken, lamb and fish instead of pork. No alcohol.
After the first nasi curb, you have a good overview. The variations are of course endless and once is not once;)
The price depends on how many and which curries you choose. Meat dishes are more expensive than vegetarian ones. I would calculate 5-7 RM for a plate of 2 curries.
The drinks are the same as in the Tamil restaurant. Be sure to try an Indian lime juice or a refreshing lassi.
You point to different curries that are heaped on a plate with rice. You can order drinks from the waitress at the table. You will receive a slip of paper with the dishes you have ordered and use it to pay at the exit.
Nasi Kandar is extremely common on the west coast of Malaysia and rarely found on the east coast.
You can recognize a Nasi Kandar by the row of pots with Indian curries in all shades of red, brown and yellow.
Nasi Kandar is only available for lunch and dinner.
4.Nasi Campur (Malay Chinese)
The Malaysian copy of Nasi Kandar is called Nasi Campur. The restaurants also known as “Economy Rice” or “Chap Fan” also have a buffet, but the dishes are Malaysian-Chinese.
The possibilities are overwhelming:
- Sweet pork
- Sour pork
- Braised tofu
- Braised salad
- Steamed custard
- Stir-fry vegetables
- fried eggs
Nasi Campur are halal in the country, but not in the city.
The Ee Beng Nasi Campur restaurant in Penang stands out, replacing all types of meat with tofu. If all vegetarian food was this good, I would eat less meat. ;)
After the first Nasi Campur you will have a good overview. The variations are of course endless and once is not once;)
The price depends on which dishes you choose. Meat dishes are more expensive than vegetarian ones. I would calculate 5-8 RM for a plate of 4 dishes.
There are the same drinks as in the Kopitiam, e.g. a Southeast Asian iced coffee. Have you already tried the rose milk bandung?
Get a plate of rice and load it up from the buffet yourself, depending on your mood. When you are done you go to the checkout and the cashier can see exactly what you have to pay with a scrutinizing look. Drinks are ordered at the table and paid for immediately.
Nasi Campur is ubiquitous at bus stations and motorway service stations and is also abundant in cities.
Often it says “Economy Rice” on a sign. You can also recognize it by the incredible number of pots of Malaysian dishes in all colors of the rainbow. At least 1 in 4 dishes is prepared with fish heads, the Ministry of Fish Heads has enacted this as a law. ;)
Nasi Campur are only open in the morning and at noon, or as long as the food cooked in the morning lasts.
5.Tandoori Chicken (North Indian)
Like Nasi Kandar, Chicken Tandoori also comes from Northern India. The grilled chicken with fiery sauces is a traditional specialty there.
There is grilled chicken with mint chutney, dhal, BBQ sauce and onions.
You can also order a naan flatbread or special versions such as butter naan, garlic naan or cheese naan.
Tandooris also often serve dishes like those in the Banana Leaf Restaurant. In very large Indian restaurants you can even find everything combined, i.e. tandoori, nasi kandar and a kitchen with Tamil dishes. The best example is the super delicious Nasi Dalcha Kassim Mustafa in Penang.
Chicken is halal, as is everything else that is served.
You haven't been to Malaysia without even having eaten tandoori chicken. You have to know for yourself whether once is enough.
The chicken with sauces costs around 5 RM, a plain naan around 2 RM.
There are the same drinks as at Nasi Kandar and in the Tamil restaurant. Have you tried the fresh fruit juices yet?
You order the Tandoori Chicken from the waitress at the table, as do drinks. It takes a while to prepare. You will receive a slip of paper with the dishes you have ordered and use it to pay at the exit.
Tandoori Chicken is mainly found in larger restaurants in Little India.
You can see the skewers on which red marinated chicken pieces are skewered from afar. The skewers are placed in a special clay oven, the tandoor.
Tandoori Chicken is only available in the evening.
6. Steamboat (Thai / Chinese)
Steamboat is inspired by the preparation method of the Thai Moo Kata or the Chinese hot pot. Various ingredients are fried or boiled with a table grill. The table grill can be confused with a steamboat, hence the name "Steamboat".
There are different types of meat for the grill, as well as vegetables and seafood for the soups, as a side dish with rice or noodles.
Unlike the Thai Moo Kata and similar to the Yunnan Hot Pot, there are usually 2 soups, one of which is spicy.
Steamboat is not everyday for Malaysians but something for a special occasion with friends or family, for example a birthday. Your special occasion? You are in Malaysia! ;)
Steamboat isn't cheap. One serving for one person costs at least 25 RM. Sometimes there is Steamboat as an All You Can Eat at the buffet, which is even more expensive.
There are all kinds of drinks, often alcohol.
Find a waitress and tell her how many people you are. You will be assigned a seat. The table grill and the ingredients come to the table. All You Can Eat is rather rare in Malaysia, as is the case with Thai Moo Kata. Then there is a buffet that you choose from. You pay at the end.
Steamboats are more likely to be found outside of the city center in the suburbs.
You can recognize a Steamboat restaurant by the small crickets on the tables. Usually “Steamboat” or “Thai Steamboat” is on the sign, more rarely “Moo Kata”.
Steamboats are only open in the evening.
7. Peranakan / Baba Nonya (malay)
Peranakan or Baba Nonya comes out when Chinese men who are looking for happiness in Penang, Singapore and Malacca meet Malaysian women. The Peranakan cuisine is a traditional fusion of these two cuisines as well as Thai and Indonesian and is known for its extremely elaborate preparation.
Peranakan is a collective term for all possible fusion dishes, typically the rempah spice mixture is used:
- Asam Laksa: Well-known fish soup, the sour taste of which is better balanced than the Vietnamese Canh Chua Cá
- Otak-Otak: Fish in coconut curry cooked in a banana leaf over the coal grill.
- Curry Capitan: The nonya version of coconut chicken curry. Allegedly a captain should have asked the cabin boy what he was eating. The answer was, "It's curry, Capitan". This became Curry Capitan.
- Cap Cai: The Nonya version of the Indonesian vegetable stir-fry
- Perut Ikan: Stew made from pickled fish stomach with vegetables
- Ayam Pongteh: Chicken and Potato Stew
- Mee Siam: Noodle soup influenced by Thai cuisine
- Bak Chang: Stuffed chunks of rice in banana leaves, similar to the Chinese zongzi
- Babi Chin: Steamed pork belly with soy
- Sambal Udang: Prawns with sambal belacan paste and rice
- Ayam Buah Keluak: Chicken with "black nuts", the seeds of a rare tree
The sweet Nonya mini cakes Kuih in all rainbow colors are also very popular. These even compete with the otherwise popular Malaysian deserts Cendol and Ice Kacang.
Some Baba Nonya dishes are also available in the Hawker Center. The most popular Asam Laksa in Penang, for example, is available at a small, inconspicuous stand in the Air Itam market.
Good Asam Laksa takes your shoes off and is one of the dishes that you absolutely must not miss. Otak Otak literally means “brain brain” and is therefore a must-eat. It doesn't contain a brain, by the way. ;)
The dishes are quite expensive, starting at 20 RM. Find Baba Nonya dishes at a hawker center for normal prices.
There is an extensive drinks menu.
Order from the waitress using the menu.You pay at the end.
Baba Nonya developed in the 3 ex-colonies of Penang, Malacca and Singapore, but can also be found in larger cities such as Kuala Lumpur or Ipoh.
A Baba Nonya restaurant is closest to what we mean by a restaurant. These are high-priced venues with white tablecloths for special occasions.
Baba Nonya restaurants are open in the evening, sometimes also at lunchtime.
8. Hawker Center (everything!)
Hawker centers are the epitome of Malaysian food. An incredibly dense concentration of food stalls, sometimes covered, sometimes outdoors. There is often live music. In Singapore, the Hawker Centers play an even bigger role as the last retreat from street food and are also open during the day.
The most famous Hawker Centers Gurney Drive and New Road in Penang have become a legend that almost every Malaysian raves about. The same applies to Jalan Alor Food Street in Kuala Lumpur and to Old Airport Road and Lau Pa Sat in Singapore. Fascination Southeast Asia has an incredible overview of hawker centers in Singapore.
There is everything to eat that has been mentioned so far and much more.
Hawker centers also often have stalls selling international food, mostly Italian, Japanese, and Korean. The Malaysian interpretation of Mexican or Thai food is unfortunately remembered for the wrong reasons.
Because of the huge selection, hawker centers are ideal for heterogeneous groups. Everyone will find something here.
Eat your way through dishes that you can't find anywhere else and don't feel ashamed to order pizza or lasagne when you feel like comfort food after an exotic meal.
The prices for Malaysian food are normal, between RM 5-8. International food can cost 10 RM or more.
There is alcohol and it is not too scarce.
Make a note of the table number if available and say it at the booth of your choice along with your order. You can order drinks from the waitress. Payment is made when the ordered item arrives. As in the Kopitiam, you are required to have something to drink for a seat.
You can find Hawker Centers everywhere, the further outside the city center, the bigger.
You can hear or see many hawker centers from afar. The whole city seems to come together here in the evening.
Hawker centers are mostly only open in the evening, but in Singapore they are also open during the day.
9. Food court (everything)
Food courts in shopping malls and large supermarkets are a good idea if you have just come to Malaysia or if you have hygiene concerns. In Singapore, the boundaries between the hawker center and the food court are fluid.
There is Malaysian, Chinese and Indian food and also a few international dishes, depending on the food court.
Because of the large selection, food courts centers are ideal for heterogeneous groups. Almost everyone will find something here.
Try your first Malaysian dishes in a "safe atmosphere".
The prices are at the normal level, between 5-8 RM.
There is no alcohol, but everything else at extra drinks stands.
Often there are value coupons in food courts at a central counter that you have to buy first. You either get a chip card or a piece of paper. So first look around what you want and what it costs to buy a suitable coupon value right away. Otherwise you can exchange unused coupons back.
Pay directly at the stand when you order. Your number will be called up when your meal or drink is ready. Choosing a table is free, similar to a cafeteria.
You can find a food court in almost every shopping malls and in large supermarkets, e.g. Aeon or Tesco
Food courts are signposted, mostly on the top floors.
Food courts are open all day.
10. Warung (Malay-Indonesian)
Warung are the typical family businesses in more rural areas, which in Thailand would be called a "corrugated iron restaurant". There is a menu with several dishes to order.
In the Warung, Malaysian and Indonesian dishes are on the menu, depending on the region.
For noodle dishes, you order the type of noodle, type of meat and preparation, e.g. Bihun Goreng Ayam for fried rice noodles with chicken.
Types of pasta
- Mee: thin wheat noodles
- Maggi: Instant noodles
- Bihun: thin rice noodles
- Kway Teow: wide rice noodles
Types of meat
- Ayam: chicken
- Daging: Beef
- Ikan: fish
- Kambing: mutton
- Goreng: fried
- Banding: with sauce
- Sup: as soup
Combine the 3 as you like. It is similar with rice dishes, e.g. Nasi Goreng Daging is fried rice with beef.
In addition to these typical Indonesian dishes, there is sometimes a mix of Indonesian and Malaysian dishes:
- Asam Laksa: The well-known and popular sour Nonya fish soup
- Nasi Lemak: Rice cooked in coconut milk, Malaysia's national dish
- Rojak / Pasembur: Unique fruit and vegetable salad, sweet, sour and spicy
- Beef rendang:spicy beef goulash from Indonesia
- Mee Rebus: Noodle soup with potato sauce
- Tom Yam: Vegetable soup inspired by Thai Tom Yam or better "uninspired" ...
- Ikan Bakar: spicy fried fish
- Satay: Marinated meat skewers
- Bakso: Indonesian noodle soup with meatballs
- Soto: Indonesian noodle soup with pieces of meat
Warungs are halal, so no pork.
Asam Laksa is an absolute must and Nasi Lemak is the national dish. I would also try rojak and beef rendang.
The prices are at a reasonable level, between 4-6 RM.
There is no alcohol, but everything else you can imagine from soft drinks to iced coffee.
Order from the waitress using the menu. You pay at the end.
Warungs are the most common restaurants in the country and suburbs, and almost impossible to find in the city because there are better deals there. If you travel to the islands, to the east coast or to Taman Negara, Cameron Highlands, you will see almost exclusively Warungs.
Either the kitchen is visible or you can see a counter, as well as tables and chairs. The sign probably says “Makanan” (food) or just “Selamat Datang” (welcome). The term warung is not as common in Malaysia as it is in Indonesia.
Warungs are open all day, but many only have their kitchens open at meal times, i.e. around lunchtime and after sunset. The rest of the time there are only small items or even just drinks.
Google Maps: Penang, Singapore, KL
Discover more than 120 recommended locations from all 10 restaurant types in Penang, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Bonus: Wonderfood Museum, Penang
Do you want to know more about Malaysian food? The Wonderfood Museum has been located in the food capital of Penang since 2016. Here an absolute foodie has built a great monument to Malaysian food.
The educational exhibits are all extremely lovingly made. The replicas of the food stalls are absolutely amazing in terms of their level of detail and the replicated food looks so good that you want to bite into it right away.
So that it doesn't get boring, you can take selfies with oversized Laksa and Ice Kacang, pose with your Teh Tarik skills or look for the Mona Lisa in the food.
Best museum in the world, don't miss it!
FAQ: Frequently asked questions
A) chopsticks, cutlery or by hand?
Noodle soups are eaten with chopsticks and a curved Chinese soup spoon, Indian food by hand and everything else with normal cutlery. Even in an Indian restaurant, as a non-Indian, you will automatically receive cutlery.
B) What about hygiene?
In terms of hygiene, restaurants and street food in Malaysia and Singapore are absolutely harmless. If you want to try original Indian food without Delhi Belly, you've come to the right place.
C) Do you give tips?
No, you don't tip in Malaysia, Singapore or anywhere else in Southeast Asia. Please don't start with it. If you want to show your appreciation, smack your lips and come back!
D) Is Singapore expensive?
Singapore is one of the most expensive places in the world and even street food prices are much higher than in Malaysia. As a donkey bridge, you can translate the Ringit Numbers (RM) one to one into Singapore Dollars (SGD), that's roughly true. The SGD is worth 3 times as much as the RM, so food and drink in Singapore is about 3 times as expensive - and everything else too.
F) prices in euros?
Most meals cost between 1 and 2 euros, drinks no more than 0.50 euros. You will get the exact euro prices if you convert the prices in Ringit using the current exchange rate. As of the article's publication date, the prices are extremely good: almost 4.5 ringit for 1 euro. A few years ago the rate was RM 3 per euro.
G) prices for beer?
Alcohol is heavily taxed in Singapore and Malaysia and is therefore very expensive, even in the supermarket. For a big beer you are going to pay at least 15 RM, which is twice as much as a chang in a restaurant in Thailand. The cheapest brands are Angkor, Jaz and Skol. In the supermarket you have to pay for beer and pork in the harar (non-halal) section. Muslims are prohibited from buying alcohol in Malaysia.
H) Why is Malacca missing?
Malacca is the third culinary giant alongside Penang and Singapore. Unfortunately, Malacca is only 2 hours from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and has been extremely disneyfied by hordes of weekenders from the two metropolises. So my recommendation is to avoid Malacca. Penang and Singapore are the better Malacca.
I) Why are there no dishes from Borneo?
I've never been to Sabah or Sarawak and once Kolo Mee hardly makes me an expert on Borneo cuisine. If the food in the east of Malaysia is similar to the east coast, I honestly prefer to stay on the west coast;)
Corrections and additions are welcome in the comments. I was in Penang for 2 months, Kuala Lumpur for 2 months, Singapore for 1 week and Rest of Malaysia for 2 weeks, but I still couldn't eat everything.
Which Malaysian food makes your mouth water?
More about delicious dishes and the 10 food commandments in the blog parade: Your food is not my food
Find out what you can do in Penang to pass the time between meals in the Georgetown Walking Tour and in the 6 best day trips in Penang.
The travel camera for my photos is a Canon professional compact *
* Affiliate advertising link: If my information helps you, please use it to buy - nothing extra!
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