Cuisine of Malaysia

Beef, Chicken, International Cuisine, Malaysia, Vegan, Vegetarian

Being a close neighbour to Australia, I have always been fascinated by the diversity of Malay food, by chance I happened to work with a great Malay Chef Latif, when I was running Functions at Twin Towns Resorts and Clubs. He taught me so much, for this I am forever in his debt.


Malaysia is situated in Southeast Asia. It’s unusual in that it consists of two separate parts (shaded light on the map): the Malaysian Peninsula to the west and the States of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo to the east, which are separated from each other by the South China Sea. The Western Peninsula is bordered by Thailand to the north with the Island of Singapore lying close to the south and linked to it by a causeway. The Eastern part has land borders with Brunei and the rest of Borneo (Indonesia).

Malaysia specifically is comprised of 13 states, and is home to predominantly Malays, Chinese and Indians, but the population is a wonderful hub of cultures and ethnic groups, making the gastronomy here an exciting blend of spices, flavors and cooking techniques. Historically, Malaysia was part of an incredibly successful spice trade, most records of which date back to the 15th century. Malaysia consists of large areas of heavy forest, plus lowland plains and hills. The climate is hot and humid- ideal for the growing of tropical fruit, vegetables and rice, although a cooler climate is to be found in the mountainous regions

Although not that much is known about the very early history of Malaysia, tools and implements dating back to 10,000 BC have been found. Certainly, by 6000BC there were occupants in the north, thought to have migrated via China and Tibet. They were nomadic hunter-gatherers who probably hunted smaller creatures which they cooked with the aid of crude instruments made from stone and mainly occupied the forests and jungles.

About 2,500BC Proto-Malays, whose ancestors were believed to have migrated from the Indonesian islands, arrived in the costal and river areas. They were technically more advanced than the earlier inhabitants and practised slash and burn agriculture whereby an area of rain forest was cleared by burning it, then crops were grown. Not surprisingly, their diets consisted mainly of fish and the crops they grew as well as the abundant indigenous fruit and vegetables. By the 1st century BC, trading links had been established with China and India, which were to have a major impact on the cuisine of Malaysia.

Other major influences on its cuisines were introduced by virtue of rulers or protectors of different regions over the preceding centuries including Cambodians, Sumatrans, Javanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and Japanese finally culminating with the British who, having taken control of areas in the East, encouraged the immigration of large numbers of Indians and Chinese workers to further develop the every growing rubber and tin industries

Malaysia was only established as a united country in 1963. The rich racial mix has created a unified cuisine which at the same time retains the unique qualities of traditional cooking methods and ingredients of Malay, Indian, Indonesian and Chinese cultures.

The welcoming and open-minded nature of Malay culture has meant that the influx of different nationalities has been portrayed through their cuisine, with ingredient choices taking influence from the north and east especially. Chinese influences can be seen in the use of soy sauce and noodles throughout Malaysia, with northern parts of the country also taking characteristics from Thailand, displayed through the use of lemongrass and ginger. Southern parts of Malaysia tend to have richer sauces. Although there are so many different attributes within Malay cuisine, the peninsula has accumulated all of the best parts of neighbouring culinary attributes and combined them to form a distinct cultural identity.. For hundreds of years, rice or noodles have been staples of the Malaysian diet and good use has always been made of the abundant supply of fresh locally grown fruit and vegetables. Seasonings such as galangal, chilli, lemon grass, lime leaves, coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, cardamom, clove, cinnamon and star aniseed are a must. Fish and seafood are still popular ingredients as is beef, mutton and chicken. Many people in Malay are of Muslim faith, so although meat is heavily used throughout the cuisine, you won’t find as many recipes using pork as beef, lamb and goat. The most popular dishes that do contain pork have beef counterparts. There is of course an abundance of seafood within all Malay cuisine, the peninsula utilizing its fishing coasts to the fullest. The light sauces and tangy spices included in many seafood dishes compliment the lightness of the meat perfectly. For vegetarians, eating across Malay can be a challenge, as meat and seafood can be difficult to avoid. Even in vegetable dishes, the bases and stocks often contain meat. There are however an array of delectable fruits to be savoured across Malaysia. Bananas here are cooked in their skins to perfection, guavas are healthy and bursting with vitamin C, and for those more adventurous types, durian is a lesser-appreciated option. When in season these football-sized fruits are green and thick-skinned, covered with spikes. Somewhat foul smelling on the outside, the inside reveals seeds and a pale yellow flesh with a distinct taste. Peanuts and coconut milk are also widely used in many dishes


Traditionally, an everyday meal consist of rice, a meat or seafood dish and a vegetable dish. All the dishes are served at the same time with up to 6 dishes being placed on the table.


Let’s get onto the Recipes….. hot and Spicy all the way




Malaysian Curry Powder


2 tbls Coriander seeds

1 tbls Cumin seed

3⁄4 tbls Fennel seed

1 1⁄2 tbls Chilli powder

1⁄2 tsp Turmeric powder

1⁄4 tsp Gnd Clove

1⁄4 tsp Cinnamon

1⁄4 tsp Cardamom

1⁄4 tsp Black Pepper



Place all ingredients in a spice grinder, and blend.




Malaysian Kapitan Spice paste


Spice Paste:

120 gm Spanish Onion

4 Garlic cloves chopped

3 Lemongrass stalks , white part only

5 Red chillies

10 dried Red Chillies ( soak in hot water for 10 minutes)

3 cm piece Galangal

1 cm piece Turmeric

1 cm piece Ginger

3 macadamia nuts

1/4 tbls Belacan



Add all the spice paste ingredients into a food processor and blend to a fine paste.






2 cm Belachan

400g Spanish Onion

30g Dried Chillies

50g Red chillies

5 Garlic cloves

2 Lemongrass stalks, white part only

8 Macadamia nuts

3 tbls tamarind pulp, soaked in equal amount warm water

4 tbls Palm sugar

120 ml Coconut



  1. Toast Blechan in a dry pan, chopping at it with your spoon to break it up .
  2. Blend Belachan, Onion, Chillies, Garlic, Lemongrass and macadamias until a smooth paste.
  3. Fry the paste, stirring once in a while so it doesn’t burn. 10 mins, Add the Tamarind water
  4. Add Palm Sugar, let it disolve and cook into the hot sambal chilli stir to combine.
  5. Stop stirring when the oil separates from the mixture, about 30 mins.
  6. Leave to cool before storing. The sambal will keep about 1 month in the fridge, with the layer of oil on top to keep it from spoiling, or freeze for months in smaller containers.



My Penang Chilli Sauce


1 cup Water

½ cup White sugar

1 Tbsp Fish sauce

2 Garlic cloves

¼ cup Lime juice

3 cm Galangal

8 Macadamia nuts

6 Bird’s eye chillies



  1. To make the Chilli sauce, add the Sugar, Water and Fish sauce into a pan. Simmer and cook for 10 mins, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, pour into food processor and blend until smooth. Pour into a jars and refrigerate. This chilli sauce can be refrigerated for up to three months.




Hot Chilli Tofu noodles


360 gm Tofu, dried sliced

250 gm Chinese dried Wheat noodles

360 gm Firm tofu cubed 1cm

3 tbls Sesame oil

3 tbls Ginger chopped

1/2 tsp Asafoetida

1 bunch Choy sum sliced

3 tbls Soy sauce

2 tbls Sambal oelek

3 tbls Lemon juice

160 gm Bean shoots



  1. Soak dried Tofu slices in hot water for 15 mins. When softened, cut into 2 cm cubes, drain, and pat dry.
  2. Cook the Wheat noodles in boiling water. Drain, refresh, and drain again.
  3. Heat oil in wok over high heat, and deep-fry the Tofu cubes until golden brown. Remove from pan and drain.
  4. Next deep-fry the cubes of dried Tofu until golden brown and slightly blistered, remove and drain. Heat Sesame oil in another wok on high heat, saute the chopped Ginger for 1 min. Add the Asafoeitda and Choy sum and stir fry until soft. Add the Soy sauce, Sambal oelek, Lemon juice, Tofu and Noodles. Stir fry for another 2 minutes or until the Noodles are hot. Serve.




Vegan Laksa Malay stylee


Laksa Paste

2 tsp Coriander seeds

½ tsp Fennel seeds

1 tsp gnd Turmeric

2 ½ cm fresh Ginger

1 Green Cayenne Chilli

½ tsp Cayenne Pepper

1 stalk lemongrass

3 cloves Garlic

2 tbls Cashews, soaked for 15 mins

1/3 bunch Coriander

1 tsp Lime juice


Laksa Curry

1 tsp oil

Laksa curry paste (above)

150 gm Mushrooms sliced

180 gm Carrots sliced

100 gm Red Capsicum sliced

3 cups veggie stock

440 ml Coconut milk

200 gm brown Rice noodles

60gm baby Spinach

½ tsp Salt

50 gm Coriander

mint for garnish

100gm Tofu cut in batons and shallow fried,



Make the paste

  1. Toast the Coriander and Fennel seeds for 2 to 3 mins or until fragrant. Blender in a spice grinder and grind to a coarse mixture.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients to food processor and blend until pasty. Add a tbls of water if needed. The paste can be refrigerated for up to a week and frozen for longer.
  3. Make the Laksa
  4. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add all of the Curry paste (1/3 to ½ cup) and fry for 3 mins. Stir occasionally.
  5. Add the Mushrooms and cook for 2 mins.
  6. Add the veggies, stock and Coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Add the Rice noodles and simmer for 10 mins.
  7. Fold in the Spinach. Taste and adjust Salt and heat. Add more Coconut milk if needed. Simmer for another few mins. Garnish with fresh Coriander, Mint, Bean sprouts & crisped Tofu and serve.




Kapitan Chicken Curry


1 Chicken cut into 12 pieces

4 tbls Rice Bran oil

4 Kaffir lime leaves, torn

2 cups Water

½ Lime juiced

1 batch of my Malaysian Kapitan Spice paste


1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tbsp Coconut sugar

2 tbsp Coconut milk



  1. Heat oil in Wok. Then add blended spice paste and sauté for about 30 seconds. Then add ½ the torn Kaffir lime leaves, and sauté the spice paste for another 2-3 mins until aromatic.
  2. Add Chicken pieces and stir-fry for one min, ensuring each Chicken piece is well coated with the spice paste.
  3. Add Water boil. Then add in the rest of the torn Kaffir lime leaves, reduce heat to medium-low. Stir continue cooking the Chicken for about 20-25 mins until the chicken is tender and sauce thickens. If the sauce gets too dry add in a bit more water.
  4. Season with Salt and Sugar, and add the coconut milk.
  5. Squeeze in some lime juice and serve hot with steamed rice, roti or a baguette.




Malay Chilli Eggplants


4 tbls Vegetable oil

1 large Eggplant

450ml water

2 Lemongrass stalks, bruised white part only

1 tbls Tamarind paste

1 tsp Salt


6 Birds Eye chillies seeded and chopped

1 Habanero Chilli seeded and chopped

100 gm Spanish Onion,chopped

3 Garlic cloves chopped

6 macadamia nuts

15g Galangal chopped

½ Nori sheet, toasted and crumbled

1 ½ tsp fresh turmeric chopped



  1. Put the spice paste ingredients into a blender and pulse until a paste.
  2. Heat 3 tbls of Oil in a saucepan. Fry spice paste for about 2 minutes, until lightly coloured and fragrant.
  3. Add the Water, bruised Lemongrass, Tamarind and Salt. Bring to boil and simmer for about 5 mins.
  4. Cut Eggplant in half lengthways. Then cut these halves into half-moon shapes.
  5. Add Eggplant to simmering stock. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until soft. Remove the Lemongrass, Adjust seasoning if necessary.
  6. Served this with steamed rice.




My Malay Vegie Curry


1 Tbls. Rice Bran oil

200 gm Spanish Onion

3 Lemongrass stalks, chopped finely

1 Tbls. Cumin seeds,crushed

400gm diced Jicama

1 Red Capsicum.

1 cup Pawpaw diced

1 cup Pineapple diced

3 Tbls Soy sauce

1 Tbls Lime juice

1 Tbls Honey

2 tsp ABC chilli-garlic sauce

⅓ cup Coriander Chopped



  1. Heat oil in wok over high heat. Add Spanish Onion, Lemongrass and Cumin stir-fry 2 mins.
  2. Add Jicama and Capsicum, stir-fry 3 mins. Stir in Pawpaw, Pineapple, Soy sauce, Lime juice, Honey and Chilli-garlic sauce. Stir-fry 1 min. Garnish with Coriander.




Chiili Crab


1 Mud Crab 1.2 kg

12gm Coriander , chopped

1 tbls Palm Sugar

2 tbls tamarind juice

2 gm Salt

2 tbls Rice Bran oil

1/4 cup Water

Spice Paste

8 dried Red chillies (soak in hot water and deseeded)

1 tbls Taucheo (Soy bean paste)

3 Garlic cloves

2 ½ cm fresh ginger

Tamarind Juice:

5 tamarind seeds




  1. Clean the Crab and chop it into pieces. Save the green stuff inside the shell and set aside.
  2. Pound the spice paste with a mortar and pestle. Make sure that the spice paste is finely pounded.
  3. Soak the tamarind seeds in some warm water for 15 mins. Extract the juice and discard the seeds.
  4. Heat up your wok and add Oil.
  5. Stir fry the spice paste until fragrant and spicy.
  6. Add the Crab and 1/4 cup of water and do a quick stir. Cover the wok with its cover for 3 mins.
  7. Add the green stuff from the shell and stir well.
  8. Add in Sugar, Tamarind juice, a little Salt to taste and continue stirring for about 2 mins or until all pieces of Crab turn red.
  9. Dish up, garnish with chopped Shallots and Coriander, serve hot.




Sambal Udang


1 kg Prawns

120 gm Onion thinly cut

2 tbls Sugar

2 gm Salt

20 ml Tamarind juice

Cooking oil for frying

10 dried Chillies

100 gm Spanish Onion

2 Garlic cloves

2 cm Belacan



  1. Clean the Prawns and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil and fry the ground ingredients until fragrant, then add the Sugar, Tamarind, Salt and continue to cook and stir sauce until Oil breaks.
  3. Add the Prawns, Onion and continue to stir until all the ingredients are cooked. If the sauce is too thick add a little water.




Sambal Pork Belly


500 gm Pork belly

1 Lemongrass Stalk

220 gm Brown Onions

5 Tbls Sambal oelek

1 Tsp Salt

3 Tsp Rice Bran oil

⅓ Cup Water



  1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the Pork Belly.
  2. Add Salt and let it simmer for 10 mins. Remove and let cool, Once cool Pork Belly into 3cm cubes
  3. Clean a stick of lemon grass and bruise it to release fragrance.
  4. Slice Onions,
  5. Heat up pan, drizzle some Oil and start frying the Onions. Stir fry in low heat to slowly caramelised the Onions.
  6. Add the Sambal. Mix well with the caramelised Onions , add more oil if you find the paste too dry.
  7. Add chopped Lemongrass and keep frying in medium heat until fragrance. stirring with, do not let the chillies burn
  8. After 10 mins of frying the paste, add 1/3 cup Water. Mix well and continue frying over medium heat.
  9. Add Salt.