Local Malaysian snacks
Malaysians are always willing to go the distance when it comes to food. Be it rain or shine, you will always spot eager foodies roaming around every day of the week just to get their hands on their favourite meals or snacks.
It could be for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even supper; our willingness to travel through numerous traffic jams (which is a daily occurrence) just to get our favourite meal or snack knows no bounds.
To help you satisfy those mid-day munchies, we’ve rounded up a list of 20 local Malaysian snacks you MUST-try.
1. Fried Carrot Cake (Chai Tao Kway)
Fun fact: the reason it’s called ‘fried carrot cake’ is because it’s cooked with daikon, a kind of radish which is also known locally as ‘white carrot’. Apart from its name, there is nothing similar between this dish and the American version of carrot cake. And no, there aren’t any carrots in it.
It’s usually eaten with dim sum, but you can also have it on it’s own. Some would consider this dish a snack while others would say it’s a full meal. However, most people would definitely say, “why not both?”
The dish consists of radish cake (a mixture of rice flour and white daikon) stir-fried with eggs, preserved radish and other garnishes like bean sprouts, chopped spring onions, and loads of garlic, so be sure to bring along a pack of gum after having this (unless you’re in Singapore, then mouthwash should do just fine).
Some might consider this a meal but many others consider it a tea time snack. Rojak is sold at the corner of almost every neighbourhood street, and there’ll often be a cendol stall next to it. These two go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and bacon; you can’t have one without the other.
With an assortment of fruits, vegetables, potatoes, prawn fritters, bean curd, and hard-boiled eggs bathed in a rich, sweet, and spicy chilli sauce, this is one dish every Malaysian has to have for a hearty afternoon snack.
Not to be mistaken with ais kacang aka ABC (Air Batu Campur), cendol is another signature snack that’s perfect to be had with rojak. It’s best had when the weather is blistering hot (which is every day in Malaysia), as it strikes the perfect balance between an ice cold beverage and an ice-cream.
Who would’ve thought a simple combination of shaved ice, coconut milk, palm sugar, and pandan jelly noodles could go so damn well?! For added oomph, add some glutinous rice (pulut) and red beans. The taste of the pulut mixed with red beans and coconut milk is so refreshing and satisfying.
4. Goreng Pisang
Directly translated to ‘frying banana’ (Bahasa Melayu is awesome), goreng pisang is a local delicacy which can be found at almost any roadside stall around Klang Valley. Just look for a hot wok full of crispy and crunchy bananas bathed in a sumptuous batter. It’s also fun to stand and watch the hot cooking oil crackle against the goreng pisang as it is being fried.
Although it may not look like much, goreng pisang is one of the most sought-after snacks for Malaysians as we can have many of them at one go (the guilt comes later).
5. Keropok Lekor
If you aren’t a fan of fish, I’d highly recommend you cover your eyes and skip to the next item on this list.
Are you still here? Okay, good. Keropok lekor is another local delicacy that can be found anywhere in the Klang Valley, and often in stalls where you can also find goreng pisang. Keropok lekor comes in three different forms, mainly: lekor, which is long and chewy; losong, which is steamed; and keping, which is thin and crispy.
This traditional Malaysian snack is made out of – yes you guessed it – fish! The fish is ground into a paste, lathered with sago flour, and thrown into a hot wok to be cooked. It is mostly eaten with a traditional chilli sauce which gives the snack a sweet and spicy kick to complement the flavour of the fish. If spicy food isn’t your thing, you can always have it on its own.
Although satay – or sate if you like fancy spelling – originated from Indonesia, it has become a household name for many Malaysians. Just go to the local hawker centre and look out for vendors fanning skewed meat over a charcoal fire.
With a huge variety of meat to choose from like the common chicken, beef, lamb, and mutton to the more uncommon choices of pork, horse, and ostrich, satay is a tantalizing snack that appeals to all tastebuds. It’s served with a side dish of freshly diced cucumbers and rice cubes that go very well together.
The sauce for satay however, is what makes it oh-so very memorable for first timers. Satay is served with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce that complements the skewed meat to perfection.
7. Chicken Wings
Another snack that is very popular among Malaysians is the chicken wing. Chicken wings are found in many local hawker centres, and almost always next to a satay stall.
Malaysian chicken wings differ from the regular chicken wings you find in western restaurants as the barbecue sauce is replaced with a generous spread of honey glazed seasoning. They are then barbecued over a charcoal fire to produce a sweet, juicy, and smoky taste.
8. Smelly Tofu
Considered to be somewhat of a niche snack as it only appeals to people with an acquired taste no sense of smell, the smelly tofu has got to be one of the more unique and interesting snacks found around Klang Valley. It makes durians taste and smell like rainbows and unicorns.
Smelly tofu is basically fermented tofu, and it has a very distinct smell which can be traced from miles away. It is deep fried to strengthen the pungent taste and smell, and is often paired with vegetables. You can also choose to either dip it in chili sauce or have it alone. Smelly tofu was made for adventurous foodies willing to take the risk into the unknown.
Mostly found in mamaks (Indian hawker centres) around Malaysia, wadeh is a South Indian delicacy that has been a popular snack among the locals for many years. It resembles a typical American doughnut with its circular shape and hole in the middle. The big difference is the spice involved when it comes to wadeh.
It is normally prepared with a thick batter of black gram and a mixture of seasonings which consist of cumin seeds, onions, curry leaves, chillies, and black pepper grain. Its spicy and savoury taste together with its chewy texture creates a sensation in your mouth that you can’t find in any other dish.
10. Curry Puff
Mostly sold alongside wadeh, curry puffs are yet another local snack that has been around for many years, cementing its name as one of the most sought after snacks in Malaysia. It has a very distinctive shape; picture a calzone but miniaturized into a small pastry which can be downed in one swift bite if done right. However, it shares greater similarities with the Cornish pastry in terms of shape and structure.
There are plenty of variations when it comes to the curry puff which makes it perfect for a multi-cultural and diverse country like Malaysia. It is usually cooked with potatoes and a special thick curry which will not ooze out and create a mess. Other types also include ingredients like hard-boiled eggs and chicken.
11. Apam Balik
Usually sold in morning and night markets as well as hawker centres, apam balik is a delicious and diet-friendly snack. Although small in size, apam balik should not be looked down upon as it will fill you up without you even knowing it.
It consists of a folded pancake with ground peanuts, and it’s cooked over a thick iron skillet to enhance that sweet and savoury flavour of the peanuts and the chewy texture of the pancakes.
12. Ais Kacang
Another delicious snack/dessert that shares similar traits with cendol, ais kacang is a great snack to have when Malaysia is literally too hot to handle. Just like cendol, ais kacang strikes the perfect balance between an ice-cold beverage and ice-cream. The only difference is the spectrum of colours surrounding the shaved ice, making it look like a rainbow in a bowl.
Like cendol, ais kacang consists of shaved ice topped off with a healthy dose of condensed milk and syrup. There’s also a variety of ingredients you can add in such as attap chee (palm seeds), red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly, cubes of agar-agar, aloe vera, nata de coco, and even ice-cream.
If you managed to get through keropok lekor, this should be a cakewalk. Otak-otak can be found in plenty of mamaks around Malaysia, especially in Muar and Johor Bahru.
The taste and smell of otak-otak is unlike anything else – you get a whiff of banana leaf barbecued with ground fish meat and mixed with tapioca starch and various spices. After a thorough barbecue, the fish meat will have a reddish-orange or brown colour due to the spices added, giving it that savoury kick.
Normally found in Chinese-centric hawker centres, popiah is a staple go-to snack that’s great to have between meals.
Popiah is one of those snacks which have a little bit of everything in a single bite. From the soft and thin paper-like crepe skin, to the crunch from the bean sprouts, fried shallots, and finely grated turnip, to the soft and sweet texture of the fried tofu and shredded omelettes, to the spice you get from bean sauce, this snack is one big party in your mouth.
15. Chinese Cruller (Yao Zha Guai)
A perfect snack to have at any time of the day, be it on its own or with fresh soy milk, porridge, or bak kut teh. This golden-brown stick of goodness is mostly seen in bak kut teh restaurants as it comes hand-in-hand with the broth – the yao zha guai soaks it all up to give a crunchy and chewy consistency.
Yao zha guai can also be eaten for breakfast! You can pair it with porridge for a more salty and savoury approach, or have it with soy milk if your sweet tooth is itching.
16. Tau Foo Fah
A simple, light and delightful snack that can be found all across the Klang Valley is none other than tau foo fah, also known as tofu pudding or soybean pudding. A simple bowl of fresh soybean pudding drizzled in either clear, sweet syrup or sugar syrup, it’s a sweet snack that’s bound to satisfy with every slurp.
17. Kuih Kapit
Kuih kapit is a traditional wafer snack that’s mostly eaten during the Chinese New Year. Also known as love letters in English, kuih kapit is known to be sinfully delicious and addictive, much like a good page-turner. This is one snack you will not want to put down once you have it in your hands.
Made by clasping egg batter together using an iron mould which is heated on a charcoal stove, kuih kapit delivers a nice crunch with each bite into its sweet crisps.
The humongous variety of kuih in Malaysia is both a blessing and a curse – it’s nearly impossible to decide which is the best!
Nyonya kuih, however, deserves an honourable mention as it is the most noticeable amongst the rest of the kuihs due to its rainbow-like colours from the many different layers.
Papadum is tasty snack which can be eaten together with nasi kandar as well as on its own. It is the Indian-equivalent of crisps. Made of the same ingredients from wadeh, papadum is cooked by dry heat to achieve a crispy and crunchy texture.
To get the full experience, break the papadum up into small pieces and mix it with some nasi kandar.
Known as the king of fruits, durian stands as the only fruit worthy of being considered a snack due to the overwhelming response it receives during this time of the year. Picture a durian as this man/woman so broken beyond repair that it created a thick layer of spikes surrounding itself, ensuring it can never be harmed again.
But once you get past that layer, there lies the beauty of it all. Its sweet, delectable, and creamy flesh will melt in your mouth the moment it touches your lips.
Experience food paradise in Malaysia
This list is by no means exhaustive but hopefully we’ve got you hungry for some local Malaysian snacks! If you feel we’ve missed out on a few of YOUR favourite snacks, feel free to add on to the list in the comment section below!