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Malaysian Street Food – So, so good

Foreign Man walking along the road - crowded Malaysian street food

Quite simply, good food is one of the best things in life, wherever you find it. And Malaysian street food ranks among the best of the best.

Malaysian Street Food

Georgetown sits on Malaysia’s west coast, a city so rich in food and cultural experiences it could cover its chopsticks with gold and still have some left over for high days and holidays. Redang lies to the east, where it lazes around among white sand and clear waters as any self-respecting paradise island would.

In between, the road swirls and lurches, staggers and stretches from one great coastline to the next. The clouds test our headlights, the skies give the windscreen wipers a run for their money and the road signs that threaten various unidentified animals keep our eyes on constant alert.

Yet vigilance isn’t the only name of the game. In between the towns and villages, under makeshift rooftops and stocked by the contents of the backseats of cars, impromptu food stalls line the roads.

It’s Ramadan, and not yet dusk, so food is traded if not eaten on site. Most meals come served in clear plastic bags, swinging from hands like goldfish at candy-pink fun fairs of the past.

People laugh as we walk past, at the awkward foreigners who clearly don’t belong. But it’s shy and friendly, welcoming and with peace. They’re happy for us to take photos, happy for us to blunder along as we shop and even happier when we come back for more.

Leaning against the car at the side of the road, songs of coconut and rice, smoky charcoal and malt syrup flow through my mind. The wet earth clings to my feet and I think about what it means to taste good food. This year I’ve been lucky. I’ve eaten at arguably the best restaurant in the world and now I’ve eaten here.

Both,  my tastebuds are sure of it, serve up some of the best food in the world.

Malaysia woman serving banana wraps

Banana leaf wraps

Banana leaf unwrapped

Malaysian street food in progress

Malaysian Street Food in Action

Malaysian Street food in stages

Malaysia street food - roti

Malaysian Street Food Quiz

Can you identify the food in these photos? Answers on a postcard…or better yet in the comments below…

50 Responses to Malaysian Street Food – So, so good

  1. Ciki September 20, 2011 at 1:13 am #

    that’s awesome Abi! you really nailed the shots.. and Ramadan in the East Coast is so much fun..

    Oh.. i know.. i know!! What do i get if i guess correct? haha :P

    • Abi September 24, 2011 at 9:25 pm #

      Ooh…I don’t know…A trip to Scotland?! You may have to fill us in soon if no-one else does…

  2. Kirsten September 20, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    Holy yumgasm, now I am HUNGRY!! Also “good food is one of the best things in life” <— wholehearted agreement.

    • Abi September 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

      I know…if only Ryanair felt the same way….;)

  3. Shirlene from Idelish September 20, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    Amazing shots of the food! Absolutely love them!
    I know what all the food captured here is – but I’d be cheating if I named them coz I grew up in Malaysia :)

    • Abi September 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

      Shirlene – Now may be your moment! No-one else has claimed them yet…

  4. Sophie September 20, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    Great photos, esp. like the busy hands! Suppose ‘pancakes’ is too easy a guess, eh?

    • Abi September 24, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

      Nice try ;)

  5. Stephanie - The Travel Chica September 20, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    I am not familiar with this food at all, but it looks delicious!

    • Abi September 24, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

      The banana leaf rolls were quite mild and sweet, whereas the “pancakes” (cheers Sophie) had a savoury taste and a chunkier texture. You’re right, though. Delicious…

  6. Erica September 20, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    *tummy grumble*

    There is no good food in Central America. I’m dying. Save me.

    • Abi September 24, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

      Sorry. More beans and rice for you…

  7. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler September 20, 2011 at 8:35 pm #

    I really love your close-up shots of them preparing the food. Definitely one of the first things I plan to do in Malaysia is try all the street food! I just read your bio… you used to be a doctor?! Awesome.

    • Abi September 24, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

      The variety of Malaysian street food is a treat…Georgetown (post on its way) has whole blocks of stalls under bare lightbulbs, hissing, steaming and fizzing away…I want to go back! (Oh – yes, the doctor thing? Still fully licensed, just in case ;) )

  8. ayngelina September 21, 2011 at 2:44 am #

    I don’t know what it is but I want to eat it :)

    • Abi September 24, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

      That’s what I think when I read your site!

  9. Federico September 21, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    There’s great food in Malaysia indeed. Do you happen to know the name of the burger they prepare on the streets which has fried eggs and a sweet sauce?

    • Abi September 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

      Hmmm…No. But I can suggest heading over to http://cumidanciki.com/ – a great blog on Malaysian food.

    • Nate @ House of Annie September 26, 2011 at 10:38 am #

      I think it’s called a “Roti John”.

      • Abi September 30, 2011 at 12:48 am #


  10. dtravelsround September 22, 2011 at 4:07 am #

    Oh, YUM!! I just got back from Thailand, and there was some great street food there as well. I love it!

    • Abi September 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

      I think my happiest ever food memories come from Thailand…Sigh…Dream…Smile…

  11. sheah September 25, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    this is terrible ;( you are making me seriously homesick now!

    • Abi September 30, 2011 at 12:49 am #

      Ah, I’m sorry. Luckily the food from my homeland doesn’t cause that effect too often ;)

  12. Lioness September 26, 2011 at 1:11 am #

    I am in fact trying to get the name of the food pictured in the last 3 shots. I just had some in Toronto and love it but it is available only once a year at a street fair, and I don’t know the name of it so can’t look elsewhere for it.

  13. ciki September 28, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    why, it’s the roti canai of course! LOL

    • Nate @ House of Annie September 28, 2011 at 11:08 am #

      It’s roti canai if there’s no filling like the 3rd from bottom pic; the last two pics look more like “murtabak” where the flatbread is filled with minced beef or chicken plus egg.

      • Abi September 30, 2011 at 12:50 am #

        These ones definitely had a filling (although I’m not entirely sure what it was…) Meat based, quite savoury and I didn’t detect any egg…

        • Kara November 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

          Definitely murtabak (or martabak)

  14. Henry Williams September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    those are some good items for being street food

  15. Henry Williams October 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    what are those pancake looking things

    • Abi October 4, 2011 at 2:19 pm #


  16. Becky October 4, 2011 at 11:09 am #

    Lived in Malaysia for a few years when I was younger – I swear the indigenous Malay people are some of the most friendly, accommodating people you could ever come across.

    • Abi October 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

      I had a great time – but I need to go back!

  17. Cal October 4, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    I love Malaysia! I still ramble on and on about the Fried Kang Kong I had in Penang awhile back.

    It was so good.

    I can do without the Durian though!

    • Abi October 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

      Ugh, yes, I’d forgotten about the stinky durian. Hideous, hideous fruit!

  18. Nancy October 4, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    Oh, yum! Maybe you can tell me what I ordered in a Malaysian restaurant off of Cuba Street in Wellington, NZ. It was delicious, but I have no idea what it was! I posted a photo at http://www.50plusandontherun.com/2011/08/sometimes-you-just-have-to-go-for-it.html#more.

    If you know, I’d love to find out…Thanks, Nancy

    • Abi March 18, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

      Looks like I dropped the ball here but there’s a brilliant response further down…

  19. Gerard ~ GQ trippin November 15, 2011 at 4:53 am #

    Roti bacon? :)

    • Abi March 18, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

      I guess I can only refer you to the brilliant comment below…

  20. Sheila-Yusof-Johnson January 19, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    The beautifully banana-leaves-wrapped items are “Pulut Panggang”. Each states has its own versions. In Melayu language, “Pulut” means of ‘glutinous-rice” (that is not the same as the sticky rice used for sushi). “Panggang” simply means grill, grilling or grilled.

    The sweetness of the pulut came from the sugar used while cooking it.., I do wonder if you remember tasting any filling inside it? Normally there is shredded coconut filling, or some sort of fish meat fillings, if not meat fillings – all of which have been cooked in spices…

    The subsequent pictures are without a doubt is a “Murtabak”. Essentially made of the same ‘dough’ that made a “Roti canai’, it is just that the meat fillings are more in volume therefore the ‘roti’ tends to be thicker as opposed to a filled version of Roti Canai. Roti canai could have fillings too like the egg mixture with onions or sometimes the flavorful-cooked-sardines, but they only add a small quantity, therefore it never reaches the Murtabak’s height in thickness.

    Roti simply means bread in Melayu – certain words are then added to the word roti to differentiate the variety of breads out there. This is an Indian dish. May have been Malaysia-lized a bit from the dish it originated from. Mostly, Indians are the ones who make and sell them. This is without a doubt my hubby’s fav dish when he was in Malaysia. When I first cook him curry, he was so blown away, he did not know to say!

    Yes, I am a Melayu, a 3rd Chinese, residing somewhere in USA… and very, very homesick…

    @Nancy, That was “Mee Rojak”. Mee basically means noodles (normally the yellow color egg noodle) and Rojak well, lets just say it is an indication of Salad alikeness. The secret is in the sauce – The peanut sauce – as everything else is fresh and normally blanched a bit. So glad you liked it.

    • Abi February 2, 2012 at 8:49 am #

      Ah…thank you, thank you, thank you for the information. Although now I am very hungry and longing to get my hands on some murtabak again…As for the Pulut Panggang, yes I remember both coconut and some rust-red finely chopped spicy filling that was probably meat (although I couldn’t be 100% sure…) Happy days…

  21. Natalie @ GoForFun.com.au February 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    That’s awesome! We tried that food and enjoyed it much!
    Thanks for telling us how it’s called. I was a bit shy to ask that there :))

    • Abi March 23, 2012 at 10:33 am #

      I’m afraid I couldn’t manage the language at this particular roadside stop…I’m glad we both now know!

  22. Michel August 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    I adore eating on the streets; especially when you see it being cooked before your very eyes.

    • Abi January 14, 2013 at 4:02 am #

      Me too. Love it. Such a great way to explore a place.

  23. safarah January 5, 2013 at 6:01 am #


    Nice pictures, loves pulut panggang.. Murtabak emmmm….

    • Abi January 14, 2013 at 4:02 am #

      Thank you. Mmmmmm….

  24. Wends of Journeys and Travels January 31, 2013 at 6:23 am #

    I wanna try this while in Kuala Lumpur soon. I had been there in 2008 but have not tasted street foods :( but am sure to get one next time.

    • Abi May 29, 2013 at 7:49 pm #


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