A common meal to have for breakfast, roti canai is a flatbread that is first twirled and then grilled, and is usually served with curry and dhal for dipping. Because of its popularity, roti canai has a lot of varieties, and depending on which mamak stall you go to, you can order roti telur (roti canai with an egg inside it) or have it with bananas, aka roti pisang. The possibilities are endless, which makes it a timeless favourite.
Nasi lemak basically translates to ‘fatty rice’ and it lives up to its name: rice cooked with coconut milk, and later served with fried anchovies, sambal (spicy sauce), slices of cucumber, boiled egg and fried ground nuts. It is then either wrapped using a banana leaf into a pyramid-like shape, making it an easy snack to tote around, or in a plate like a usual rice dish. A plate of this rather sinful dish usually costs less than RM5, but with add-ons like sambal sotong (spicy squid with gravy) and chicken rendang, it can go up to RM15.
Satay is simple – chunks of meat (chicken, beef or lamb) marinated with a blend of local spices, skewered and lightly grilled to perfection. You can eat it alone, or dip it into either the spicy nut sauce or sambal (or even both) for an extra kick, but however way you choose to enjoy it the juiciness of the meat will have you clamouring for more.
Bak Kut Teh translates roughly to ‘meat bone tea’, but there isn’t any tea in the ingredients of this highly popular soup dish! Instead, pork ribs together with mushrooms, garlic, tofu and herbs are simmered for a couple of hours, and then eaten with either rice or noodles. This aromatic soup is very filling and is usually had during late nights or rainy days, as some of the herbs blended have warming-up properties.
Another great rice dish, nasi kandar is steamed rice with several Malay-Indian dishes. The specialty of this dish lies right at the end of the preparation of it, where a mixture of curries is poured right on top of the rice, making it ‘banjir’ (roughly translated as flooding the rice). Nasi kandar purists will tell you to get your fix where the dish originated, in Penang, but if you can’t afford to spare some time to go to the northern state, head to one of the many mamak stalls around KL, and be amazed with myriad of dishes you can choose to have your rice with!
Under the hot sweltering sun of Kuala Lumpur, the traditional dessert cendol looks tempting. Cendol is the green worm-like jelly made of rice flour, and combined with shaved ice, palm sugar and red beans, and is usually sold along the streets of Kuala Lumpur (although it is not unusual to find in Malaysian restaurants either), so hunt for a stall when you’re walking about in the city, and opt for this amazingly simple cure for the heat.
Asam pedas is a fish dish that is, like a lot of dishes in Malaysia, usually enjoyed with a plate of rice. Asam pedas means ‘sour spicy’, and it stays true to its name; the main ingredients are dried chillies, tamarind, belacan and shallots, and when combined with the fish (usually stingray or Spanish mackerel), it is a tantalizing combination with just the right amount of both flavours, making it one of the most loved Malaysian dishes of all time.
If you don’t mind eating with your hands, and having them smell strongly of curry afterwards, then banana leaf is something that you need to roll your sleeves up for. Rice is served on a banana leaf as opposed to the usual plates together with servings of curries, vegetables, pickles and papadom, and if you want to show your appreciation towards the finger-licking food, you may fold the banana leaf inwards after you have finished it, and if you’re feeling quite the opposite, outwards!
Now, who doesn’t love rendang? Recently voted by readers of CNN International as the number one dish in World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods, many recognize rendang as their favourite and it isn’t hard to see why. Rich in spices and slowly cooked to perfection, rendang is a spicy fare and can usually be seen during religious festivals such as Eid. There are many variants to rendang, and one can opt to cook rendang with other main ingredients such as chicken or mutton, but beef remains as the more popular version of this dish, and can be found in Malay restaurants all around KL.