Malaysia may be made up of many different ethnicities, but we all share a national pastime: eating. We love it so much that it’s never enough to have only three meals per day — there needs to be something to munch on in between.
That’s where these savory snacks come in. Be it in the morning, afternoon, evening, or even late past midnight, you can count on these munchies to satisfy your cravings.
Here are 10 savory snacks that you absolutely have to try when you visit Malaysia:
Satay/sate, which originated from Indonesia, is a street food made from skewered meat grilled over charcoal fire.
Almost similar to Indonesian satay, the Malaysian version is marinated with a blend of shallots, lemongrass, garlic, and ginger, but what really sets it apart is its sweet and spicy peanut dipping sauce. It is often served with a side of cucumber slices, onion, and rice cubes.
Although there are a variety of meats used to make satay, including mutton, lamb, pork, ostrich, and rabbit meat, the most commonly used ones are chicken and beef.
Satay is typically served in the evening at night markets or roadside restaurants. Not all restaurants serve this dish, but you can easily spot them by their charcoal fire pits, usually placed outside, on the sidewalk.
The most famous place for satay in Malaysia is Kajang — just a 30-minute train ride away from Kuala Lumpur. Go to Stadium Kajang station on the MRT line, and you’ll find a few satay restaurants within walking distance.
2. Keropok Lekor
A specialty of the Terengganu region in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, keropok lekor is a traditional snack made of fish. A fish sausage, if you will.
The fish is ground, combined with sago flour, and formed into long sausage-like shapes, which are then boiled for several hours, or deep-fried. It is traditionally served hot with a spicy chili dipping sauce to give it an extra kick. Another version is keropok keping, which is thinner and crispier.
You can usually find keropok lekor and keropok keping at night markets or street stalls selling other fried goodies, such as goreng pisang (banana fritters) and sweet potato fries.
For light eaters, a plate of rojak can be a meal on its own, but for most of us Malaysians, it’s merely a snack to be had between meals.
The dish is an ensemble of fruits, vegetables, potatoes, prawn fritters, bean curd, and hard-boiled eggs, topped with a sweet and spicy sauce and ground peanuts.
Rojak is normally sold at roadside stalls, often next to a cendol stall, because the two seem to complement each other.
Popiah is the Malaysian version of spring rolls — made of bean sprouts, fried shallots, tofu, egg, and finely grated jicama tossed in a sweet and spicy soy-based sauce, and wrapped in a soft crepe skin. It is an explosion of flavors and textures in one single bite.
The filling may vary from one vendor to another. Other common variations may include shredded cabbage, carrot, prawns, and chicken. You can have it either fresh or deep-fried.
This snack can be found at night markets, street stalls, or Chinese hawker centers.
5. Roti Jala
Roti jala is another traditional Malaysian snack that can be found at night markets, but it is also commonly served during festivities and celebrations, such as weddings and birthdays.
This people-pleaser is basically a savory crepe made of flour, eggs, milk, and a dash of turmeric powder to give it some color. The crepe is then shaped into small rolls and served with a generous helping of chicken and/or potato curry.
Its unique design was inspired by the fishing nets used by local fishermen, thus giving it the name roti jala, which literally means ‘net bread’.
Similar in concept to the Spanish empanada, karipap (curry puff) is a small, deep-fried pastry shell with a filling, which is usually potato curry. The curry is slow-cooked until it’s thick and dry so that it doesn’t ooze out of the pastry and make a mess.
Today, there are numerous variations to the original recipe and the fillings can be anything, from hard-boiled eggs, to sardines, or beef rendang. The secret to a good karipap lies in the preparation of the pastry — it needs to have just the right amount of flour, water, and shortening to achieve that perfect crispiness.
Karipap is popular for breakfast and afternoon snack, and can be found at many street stalls and restaurants.
Although the name literally means ‘brains’ in Malay/Indonesian language, otak-otak does not actually contain any cerebral matter. It is made of ground fish meat mixed with tapioca starch and various spices. The mixture is then wrapped in banana leaf and barbecued over charcoal fire.
The original recipe, which was first invented in Indonesia, did not incorporate as many spices, resulting in an end product that was grey in color, hence the name.
As this dish also requires a barbecue pit just like satay, it is usually sold in the evening at restaurants with outdoor dining areas, or at night markets.
8. Pulut Panggang
Pulut panggang has a similar appearance and cooking method to otak-otak (see above), but inside the banana leaf wrapping is glutinous rice that has been soaked overnight, infused with coconut milk, and steamed.
In its center is a filling of spicy sambal and grated coconut seasoned with turmeric, lemongrass, red chilies, dried shrimps.
Best eaten hot, pulut panggang is usually served at breakfast or teatime. Don’t be deceived by its small size — having one or two of this hearty snack at breakfast will keep you full till lunch. But when something tastes that good, why stop at two?
9. Cucur Badak
With a similar filling to pulut panggang, cucur badak is another flavorful Malaysian snack that you can find at roadside stalls in the morning and evening.
But instead of glutinous rice, the fillings are wrapped with a dough made of sweet potatoes. And instead of grilling them over charcoal fire, these savory balls are deep fried to a golden brown hue.
10. Pie Tee
Also known as ‘top hat’, pie tee consists of a thin cup-shaped pastry filled with thinly julienned vegetables, such as bamboo shoots, jicama, and carrots.
A special mold is first dipped in batter and then into a wok of sizzling oil, to produce aesthetically pleasing and crispy shells. A topping of coriander leaves, fried shallots, omelet strips, and shrimps completes the dish.
Pie tee is often served as an appetizer with the accompaniment of a spicy sauce to be drizzled on top.
Hungry yet? Check out the other articles in this series.
- 10 Types of Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) that You Must Try in Malaysia
- 10 Types of Rice Dishes that You Must Try in Malaysia
- 10 Types of Noodle Dishes that You Must Try in Malaysia
- 10 Must-Try Malaysian Drinks
- 10 Must-Try Malaysian Desserts
- 10 Uniquely-Malaysian Cocktails and Where to Find Them