The Malays were Malaysia's original inhabitants and their distinctive cuisine is popular to this day. Characterized by heavy use of spices, most Malay dishes are curries, stews or dips of one kind or another and nasi kandar restaurants, offering a wide variety of these to ladle onto your rice, are very popular.
Nasi lemak (lit. "creamy rice") is the definitive Malay breakfast, consisting at its simplest of rice cooked in light coconut milk or coconut cream, some ikan bilis (anchovies), peanuts, a slice of cucumber and a dab of chilli on the side. A larger fried fish or chicken wing are common accompaniments. More often than not, also combined with a variety of curries and/or sambal (see below).
Rendang , occasionally dubbed "dry curry", is meat stewed for hours on end in a spicy (but rarely fiery) curry paste until almost all water is absorbed. Beef rendang is the most common, although chicken and mutton are spotted sometimes.
Sambal is the generic term for chilli sauces of many kinds. Sambal belacan is a common condiment made by mixing chilli with the shrimp paste belacan, while the popular dish sambal sotong consists of squid (sotong) cooked in red chilli sauce. Sambal ikan bilis, a common accompaniment to nasi lemak, consists of small dried fish with onions, chilli and sugar.
Satay are barbecued skewers of meat, typically chicken or beef. What separates satay from your ordinary kebab is the slightly spicy peanut-based dipping sauce.
Mee rebus is egg noodles served in some sweet chilli-based broth, usually with a slice of hard boiled egg and some lime.
Acar (achar) is thinly sliced vegetables and fruits (cucumber, carrot, pineapple) lightly pickled with vinegar, chilli and peanuts, a common side dish. Nowhere near as pungent as the Indian pickle of the same name.
Malay desserts, especially the sweet pastries and jellies (kuih or kueh) made largely from coconut and palm sugar (gula melaka, named after Melaka), bear a distinct resemblance to those of Thailand. But in the sweltering tropical heat, try one of many concoctions made with ice instead:
Bubur cha-cha consists of cubed yam, sweet potato and sago added into coconut milk soup. This can be served warm or cold.
Chendol is made with green pea noodles, kidney beans, palm sugar and coconut milk.
Durian is not exactly a dish, but a local fruit with distinctive odor you can smell a mile away and a sharp thorny husk. Both smell and taste defy description, but eating garlic ice cream next to an open sewer comes to mind. If you are game enough you should try it, but be warned beforehand — you will either love it or hate it. The rich creamy yellow flesh is often sold in street markets conveniently in pre-packaged packs, for anywhere from RM1 for a small fruit all the way up to RM50/kg depending on the season and type of durian. This 'king of fruits' is also made into ice cream, cakes, sweets and other decadent desserts. Note: You're not allowed to carry durians on public transport and they're banned from many hotels.
Ais kacang literally means "ice bean" in Malay, or in another name of ABC means Air Batu Campur, is a good clue to the two major ingredients: shaved ice and sweet red beans. However, more often than not you'll also get gula melaka (palm sugar), grass jelly, sweet corn, attap palm seeds and anything else on hand thrown in, and the whole thing is then drizzled with canned condensed milk or coconut cream and colored syrups. The end result tastes very interesting — and refreshing.
Kuih (or kueh) refer to a plethora of steamed cake-like, mostly made with coconut milk, grated coconut flesh, glutinous rice or tapioca. They are often very colorful and cut into fanciful shapes, but despite their wildly varying appearance tend to taste rather similar.