Malaysians go through a huge number of nasi lemak bungkus, roti canai, kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs every morning. Here are a few other awesome breakfasts from each state in Malaysia. Let us know in the comments below about the local favourites in your part of the country. Have a great Malaysia Day!
Laksa Perlis, which the locals call ‘laksa kola’ after the port town of Kuala Perlis.
PERLIS: Laksa Perlis
At first glance, the dish looks just like the Malay laksa you find in the other northern states of Kedah and Penang. But if you’re looking for traditional Perlis laksa, head to the port town of Kuala Perlis. At Laksa Kak Su Kuala Perlis on Jalan Siakap 1, fresh house-made thick rice noodles are served in a fishy gravy along with “ulam” such as julienned cucumber, onion, chillies and daun selom. Although it’s a personal preference, a true “laksa kola”, as it’s known locally, is often eaten together with a pulut udang or kuih spera (like a curry puff but with a savoury grated coconut filling) that’s split and steeped in the gravy. It makes the kuah thicker and more delicious.
Mee rebus rocks!
KEDAH: Mee Rebus
Most Kedah denizens swear by the quality and flavour of the mee rebus in their home state, and it is so popular that is often eaten anytime of the day, including breakfast. Even Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is said to be a fan of northern-style mee rebus. The dish typically uses yellow noodles that are coated in a thick, and often spicy gravy made from beef, shrimp and sweet potatoes. Other toppings can include tofu, fish cakes, bean sprouts, hard-boiled eggs, fritters and sometimes fresh prawns too. A good toss of all the ingredients will yield satisfyingly robust flavours and multi-dimensional textures. One of the most popular mee rebus eateries in Alor Setar is Restoran Mee Abu.
Tubes of plump and tender rice noodles in a scrumptious sauce.
PENANG: Chee Cheong Fun
While its name (literally “pig intestine noodle” in Cantonese) may put some people off, these steamed flat rice noodle rolls are a favourite in Penang. The island state has its own version of chee cheong fun, unlike any other elsewhere in Malaysia. The rolls are cut into short cylinders and served with condiments such as thnee cheo (a sweet dark-red sauce), hae ko (black, prawn paste sauce), huan cheo chiau (chilli sauce) and oil, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. People in Penang all have their favourite but you can’t go wrong with the stall outside Seow Fong Lye Cafe on Macalister Lane. Be prepared to wait for your order.
When in Ipoh, you must have the kueh teow soup named after the town.
PERAK: Ipoh Kueh Teow
It’s been said that the best hor fun are from Ipoh – thanks to the fresh spring water from the mountains that is used to make the flat rice noodles. Hawkers here have concocted their own special stock – made with pork and sweetened with prawns – to complement the smoothness of their hor fun. The noodles are garnished simply with lightly-poached shredded chicken and blanched prawns, with chives to liven up the dish. For a fix, your best bet is Ipoh institution Thean Chun Coffee Shop (aka the Hall of Mirrors), which also does excellent pork satay and caramel custard. For halal breakfast favourites, head to Restoran New Hollywood in Canning Garden, Ipoh. And don’t forget to wash it all down with a cup of Ipoh white coffee.
Fried yong tau fu is stuffed with deliciousness.
SELANGOR: Yong Tau Fu
This Hakka dish is a mix of fish, meat, vegetables and tofu. Traditionally, only tofu cubes were stuffed with a paste of fish and pork, and then deep fried or braised. Vendors later got creative and started stuffing vegetables like bittergourd, ladies’ fingers, chillies and brinjals. Along with the stuffed ingredients are fish and meat balls, and also fried tofu skin. The dry version of the dish is enjoyed with chilli and sweet sauces, but the ingredients are also served in a clear soup. Side dishes such as chee cheong fun and rice are optional.
Don’t forget the crisp beef lung when you get lontong Jawa.
KUALA LUMPUR: Javanese Lontong
Get to Alfiyah Lontong Jawa Asli in Kampung Baru early because there’s often a queue even at 7.30am. The nasi impit (pressed rice cubes) lontong is drenched with a coconut milk and turmeric-based gravy cooked with a variety of vegetables, like cabbage and turnip along with condiments such as fried tempeh, fried tofu and boiled eggs. For those who like a little heat, there’s also a sambal to add to the mix. An addition that’s highly recommended is the fried beef lung. It’s sliced thinly and fried until very crisp so that even in the broth, the pieces remain crunchy.
Curry rice is a taste of home. Photo: The Star/Gordon Kho
MELAKA: Curry Rice
A favourite breakfast among locals is curry rice. It’s a simple dish but people who love it say it reminds them of home. The light chicken curry is served on white rice with braised soy sauce pork. Putting both curry and stew together is a winning combination. The best place for it is Malim Jaya Curry House, which serves nothing else but curry rice and side dishes like egg in soy sauce and stir-fried cabbage. They’re generous with the gravies and will flood your plate – it looks a little sloppy, but diners don’t mind! No wonder this establishment has been around for more than 50 years.
Apam Johol is fluffy and fragrant. Photo: The Star/Abirami Durai
NEGRI SEMBILAN: Apam Johol
Originally named apam daun rambai because it is wrapped in the fragrant leaves of the rambai tree, this traditional steamed sweet kuih is now generally known as apam Johol for the place in the Kuala Pilah district where you are most likely to find it as a breakfast or teatime dish. The apam ingredients are simply wheat flour, yeast, water and palm sugar, formed into a dough and steamed. When cooked, the top of the light brown apam splits. Apam Johol is commonly eaten with savoury pairings like sambal tumis ikan bilis or rendang. For a sample of this kuih, head to Apam Johol Station in Kuala Pilah.
Folk in Muar love satay for breakfast.
JOHOR: Satay Pagi Muar
In the royal town of Muar, satay is a breakfast tradition that defies all known culinary practices elsewhere in Malaysia. Here, locals often head to breakfast haunts like Restoran Haba or ZZ Satay Warisan to get their fill of chicken or beef satay. Sometimes satay made out of tripe (the lining of a cow’s stomach) is also available. Have it with sides like soto (a meat and vegetable broth) or lontong and nasi impit. Although the smell of smoke will no doubt linger in your hair and clothes long after you leave, this is certainly a delicious way to start the day!
Pastries for the durian lover.
PAHANG: Durian pastries
Pahang is Malaysia’s durian country, so it’s only natural that the king of fruit would be the inspiration for many favourite foods in the state. At Yik Kee Restaurant in Bentong (which is where most of the durian comes from), you’ll find durian bomb, tart and cake. Have them on their own or as part of the shop’s dim sum spread. The eatery has also come up with new offerings such as durian soft serve ice cream and pancakes to appeal to the younger crowd.
Nasi dagang with kari ikan tongkol.
TERENGGANU: Nasi Dagang
Nasi dagang is to Terengganu what nasi lemak is to the peninsular west coast states. This coconut milk-rich rice dish is one of the most popular breakfast dishes in the state. Here, nasi dagang is a combination of white fragrant rice and white glutinous rice. Eat it with a curry made with ikan tongkol, a tuna species fished off the coast, and simple side dishes of acar timun and a hard-boiled egg. Well-known nasi dagang seller Mak Ngah, a stall in Kampung Bukit, Kuala Terengganu, has been around for over 60 years. Highly recommended is also Kak Pah’s stall at the Batu Buruk food court.
In Kelantan, nasi kerabu is a common breakfast dish.
KELANTAN: Nasi Kerabu
For the Kelantanese, breakfast simply isn’t complete without rice, which explains the popularity of the iconic nasi kerabu. The rice salad may come with serunding ikan (fish floss), a variety of herbs (an absolute must is daun kesom) and finely sliced vegetables, as well as kuah sambal tumis. Side dishes include keropok, salted egg, budu, solok lada (stuffed green chilli) and fried fish or chicken. Other variations are nasi kerabu hijau (made using different herbs), nasi kerabu kuning (dyed yellow with turmeric) and nasi kerabu hitam (with daun mengkudu for flavour and colour). One of the most popular places to get your fix is Kota Baru favourite Kak Ma Nasi Kerabu.
Meaty chunks of fish in these noodles. Photo: The Star/Melody L. Goh
SABAH: Fish Noodles
Sabah has all sorts of noodle dishes that are unique to the state so it is common for Sabahans to eat it for breakfast. One of these is fish noodles. At Jong Fa Pai in Kota Kinabalu, the noodles come with meaty chunks of fish in a fish-based broth (clear or with milk) along with tofu, preserved vegetables and tomatoes. Wan Wan outlets serve a halal version. Another favourite breakfast noodle dish among Sabahans is ngiu chap, which is Hakka for “mixed cow”. Expect practically every single part of the cow in this dish. Beef balls, tripe, tongue and tendons are must-haves in ngiu chap and some people add liver and other innards.
Is Sarawak laksa the ‘breakfast of gods’?
SARAWAK: Sarawak Laksa
In Kuching, Choon Hui Cafe was a favourite of the late Anthony Bourdain who featured Sarawak laksa in his television shows No Reservations in 2005 and Parts Unknown in 2015. The travel documentarian and TV personality called the dish the “breakfast of gods”. It consists of rice vermicelli, shredded omelette, cooked prawns and strips of chicken in an aromatic broth, with sambal and lime served on the side. The star component is the laksa paste, a blend of up to 20 ingredients like shallots, galangal, dried chillies, and ground spices like coriander seeds, star anise and nutmeg. Other recommended Kuching restaurants that serve Sarawak laksa are Mom’s Laksa @ Gita (halal) and Golden Arch Cafe.
Some decades ago, the term “exotic” was used by many Americans as a euphemism to refer to most Asian food products which had then a narrow circle of die-hard fans of Asian cuisine and the more adventurous food experimenters.
America’s taste for the exotic has, meanwhile, undergone a volte-face, as it were, with many, particularly the adventurous millennials, willing to try out “exotic” foods. Malaysia’s cuisine is, meanwhile, attracting its own fan following among America gourmets and consumers alike. The metamorphosis has come about slowly, aided and abetted by a number of factors, including increased travel and trade, intra-cultural exposure, globalisation and what have you.
Laksa has a ring of popularity among those already familiar with Malaysia and its cuisine, but it is also becoming, albeit slowly, known to others whose familiarity with Asian cuisines was restricted, mainly, to Indian, Chinese or Thai food.
“After being introduced to asam laksa in Penang by a friend during a visit to that state, I’ve since realised that there is something inherently appealing about it … it’s a great dish often involving a spicy broth, rice noodles, lemongrass, and some fish. I love eating it whenever I have an opportunity,” says Richard Kayser, a New York-based businessman who imports electronic products from Asia, including Malaysia.
A hawker on Penang’s Gurney Drive preparing a bowl of asam laksa. Photo: The Star
“Laksa is a fascinating yet standard Malaysian dish, combining indigenous Malay – Chinese and Indian elements,” he explains, pointing out that standard ingredients include chillies, galangal and laksa leaves.
However, many Malaysian restaurants in New York offer a slightly modified version of the laksa to suit American palates.
Insisting on remaining anonymous, a Malaysian eatery owner in New York says: “I take inspiration from everything I ate in my childhood. Then I mix it up, and produce a new variant of the laksa dish which appears as a hybrid between the curry and asam laksa.”
What appeals to many American consumers is the fusion character of Malaysian food, which blends Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine. Malaysian food products, like their Indonesian, Singaporean, Thai and Vietnamese counterparts, are also showcased at US trade shows such as the recent New York Fancy Food Show (NYFFS). The US is the world’s biggest specialty food market in value terms.
Phil Kafarakis says that South-East Asian specialty foods has found a lucrative market in the US.
Indeed, Phil Kafarakis, the president of the US Specialty Food Association (SFA), which organises the NYFFS, spoke in an interview of the “special connection” which South-East Asia, including Malaysia, enjoyed with the west and east coast markets of the US, aided by the proliferation of South-East Asian restaurants and eateries catering to locals.
“Malaysian and other South-East Asian food suppliers, thanks to the popularity of their culinary products, find the US a very lucrative market which generated some US$140.3bil (RM575.8bil) in sales in 2017 for specialty foods whose growth outplaces by far the overall food industry,” Kafarakis maintained. Kafarakis observed that Asian foods, including Malaysian varieties, were becoming popular among American consumers, and this trend could help Malaysia assert its culinary culture in the US market.
Kafarakis also pointed out that although US consumers were becoming increasingly health conscious, they would continue to be most open to foreign food products, including Malaysian cuisine.
Muhd Shahrulmiza Zakaria, until recently the New York-based Malaysian Trade Commissioner attached to Malaysian External Trade Corporation (Matrade), had observed in an interview that Malaysian cuisine was getting increasingly popular.
“Curry laksa, or Malaysian noodles, as locals call it, is very popular. As Asian fare, it is served mainly in Asian/Malaysian restaurants which are patronised by Americans,” Shahrulmiza said.
Malaysian food “will continue to make greater inroads into the American market. This encouraging trend is gauged from the responses received from buyers and consumers to our food-promotion campaigns conducted under the Malaysia Kitchen USA programme”, Shahrulmiza explained.
Malaysian Trade Commissioner in New York, Muhd Shahrulmiza Zakaria (far right) with guests at the Malaysia Kitchen Programme in New York.
He said that Malaysian cuisine has been listed amongst the top five trending favourites in the US for two years in a row (2014 and 2015), based on the survey by the National Restaurant Association, the largest US restaurant and food service trade association. Indeed, Lonely Planet’s just-released top 20 food experiences lists curry laksa in Kuala Lumpur as the world’s second-most exciting food experience.
Shahrulmiza claimed that the Malaysia Kitchen USA programme, aimed at promoting Malaysia’s food exports, had created a “new wave of exciting range of food and beverages in the American market”. The first part of the two-phased programme was aimed at “creating a buzz” about Malaysian cuisine, capitalising on the proliferating number of Malaysian restaurants – over 80 – in the US; the second phase with the theme “Bringing Malaysian Food to Every American Homes” was aimed at promoting more Malaysia-made food products and beverages in the American market.
Malaysian food brands such as Julie’s, Lingham’s, Mamee, IEFI, S&P, Hernan and Delicoco, are visible on the shelves of Asian supermarkets in the US.
But Malaysian products also face fierce competition from Indonesian and Thai food products, spices, sauces and ingredients, including the organic varieties, which are visible in local ethnic stores.
Reza Pahlavi Chairul, Indonesia’s trade attache in Washington, describes the outlook for natural, organic, and non-GMO food varieties as “promising”.
Auria Abraham’s food products are sold at mainstream and specialty shops in the US.
But Malaysian individuals have, meanwhile, succeeded in penetrating the US mainstream market, as illustrated by the example of an enterprising young Malaysian female chef, Auria Abraham, who markets her products under her company’s brand name, Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen, based in Brooklyn, New York.
“Americans, who are open to foreign cuisines, are also intrigued by the colourful packaging of Malaysian food products and names of dishes, and want to know more about them,” she said in an interview.
The US mainstream Foodtown supermarket franchise recently launched Abraham’s products in its outlets in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania for the first time. Other mainstream specialty stores such as Dean & Deluca, Greene Grape and Kalustyan will also sell her products. This is a rare breakthrough for Malaysian products and also for Malaysian cuisine in the US.
Abraham, who was born in Seremban and arrived in the US in the early 1990s, nostalgically remembered how she grew up in the midst of flavours and foods of her hometown, inspired by Malaysia’s diverse culinary and multi-ethnic makeup.
At the recent NYFFS 2018, two of her products won the prestigious “sofi” (specialty outstanding food innovation) bronze and silver awards. Her lime leaf sambal won the bronze prize in the cooking sauce (marinade) category, while the pandan kaya (coconut jam) garnered the silver prize in the jam preserves category. Her entries were judged by experts for flavour, appearance, texture and aroma, ingredient quality and innovation.
- Auria Abraham’s award-winning pandan kaya.
- One of the sambals under the Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen brand.
“Our lime leaf sambal is a green chilli paste flavoured with makrut (kaffir) lime leaves that can be used as a cooking sauce, marinade or straight out of the jar as a condiment. Our pandan kaya is a popular Malaysian breakfast spread that can be used on toast, pancakes, waffles, etc,” Abraham said, adding that US consumers who have tasted green curry, for example, in Thai restaurants, may find her green sambal similar in taste.
According to the annual Flavour Forecast Report for 2016 of McCormick, the US spice company which sources spices from around the world, including Malaysia, the popularity of spicy foods such as sambal, rendang, haldi (turmeric) and sriracha-flavoured dishes is likely to increase.
The red fiery sambal will likely make a mark on US food culture in the future.
McCormick believes that American consumers will become adventurous enough to try out Malaysian dishes such as rendang. Indeed, Delivery.com recorded a 70% surge in orders for the curry between 2014 and 2015 compared to the earlier corresponding period.
Sometimes you walk into a place and just feel warmth from the get-go. Skive is one of those places. The eatery is visually appealing and exudes a friendly, relaxed vibe. At various intervals, bubbly co-owner Lau Wen Huey might pop by to ask if you need anything or just to say “Hello”.
It’s the sort of place that has soul in spades, and if you’ve been to enough restaurants, you’ll realise this is a rare commodity.
The eatery is run by Lau, a former surgeon (yes, surgeon) trained in Britain and her Swiss-trained chef husband Jonathan Han-Chet Ng. Lau and Ng met when she was working as a commis chef at a French restaurant in KL, having given up her medical career to join the mad, bad world of F&B. The two eventually started their own restaurant in Puchong, and a catering gig led to corporate entity Deli Artisan Food Operators offering them the opportunity to join their group.
This led to the birth of Skive, which celebrates the range of flavours Lau and Ng are used to tasting and working with – from hometown favourites in Alor Setar (where Ng grew up) to his experiences with Mexican and German chefs as well as the pair’s travels around the world.
Lau and Ng work together as a team at Skive and each handle different aspects of the restaurant.
“If you divide our menu into two, one comes from our roots. And I think that’s important because as Malaysians we kind of gravitate to something that is familiar and comforting. And the other side of the menu is the flavours we picked up from our travels and experiences, like the bold Mexican flavours that we both now love,” says Lau.
In the restaurant, Ng is in charge of the hot kitchen, while Lau is responsible for the many freshly-made cakes, breads and ice-creams that the eatery churns out. Nearly everything at Skive is made from scratch – from the curds to the nut butters, sauces, chocolate fudge, cured salmon and bread.
“I can’t think of anything that isn’t made from scratch,” says Lau, laughing.
The big Mexican breakfast is ideal for pleasure-seekers looking for something comforting to start the day.
There is a lot to tempt and titillate the palate at Skive, but you’d do well to begin with the big Mexican breakfast (RM28).
Essentially a shakshouka, the concoction is made up of eggs in a stew of tomatoes, mushrooms and potatoes. A giant chicken chorizo sausage straddles the thick mass while a freshly-baked croissant rests languidly by the side, ready to spring into action when its services are required to mop up the stew. The stew is delicious – rich, heady and filled with the intoxicating aromas and flavours of spices like cumin, coriander and paprika. As an opening act, this breakfast makes for a great start to the day.
The jerk cured salmon are little morsels of delight that feature salmon, avocado puree, mango salsa and rye bread.
Then there is the jerk cured salmon (RM19.90), which features salmon over dark rye sourdough, avocado puree and mango salsa. The house-cured salmon is delicious – velvety soft with spicy undertones that are offset by the sweetness of the mangoes and creaminess of the avocados, with the bread adding a rustic textural quality.
If you’re after a classic pasta, try the spicy prawn aglio olio (RM27) which features all the usual suspects – pasta with garlic, olive oil and chilli flakes – tossed in with more unexpected characters – tiger prawns and crispy portobello mushrooms. This is a solid rendition of an oft-repeated dish, where the pasta is bouncy and springy to the touch and the garlic-chilli balance is just right.
The whole spring ayam berempah is packed with flavour in every mouthful and elevated by the home-made sauces served on the side.
For a sample of local flavours, have a go at the whole spring ayam berempah (RM38) which is served with pandan rice, grilled sweetcorn and house-made anchovy sambal, kicap and salted fish sauce. The chicken is marinated in an array of spices for eight hours, and boasts crackly, crispy skin, juicy meat inside and flavours that have really seeped into the marrow of the poultry. For a whole new taste-scape, dollop all three sauces on the meat and enjoy the spicy corner of heaven your palate will inhabit.
Local flavours are also represented at Skive, with delicately flavoured concoctions like Grandma’s Thai laksa.
For something even more wholesome and heartwarming, try Grandma’s Thai laksa (RM25) which is akin to assam laksa, except with the addition of coconut milk. The dish is creamy and delicately nuanced, with an undercurrent of fishy flavours. Thick rice noodles, mint, cucumber, shallots, bean sprouts and egg round out this offering that will certainly find fans in laksa lovers.
The vadai soda bread is a modern reworking of the classic vadai and Irish soda bread.
Although the savoury items at Skive are executed with skill, it is the pastries, cakes and ice creams that really shine here. The vadai soda bread (RM6) for example, is an allusion to Lau’s love of making Irish soda bread. In this iteration, the bread is a little like a scone, hard and crusty on the outside and soft and fluffy inside, with a smear of butter slicked through the middle. It’s like eating a whole new species of vadai – one that captures all the deliciousness of the curry-leaf studded original in a different topography.
The white chocolate lemon lava cake is a light delight that once pried apart, reveals an interior filled with a thick lemon curd.
Then there is the white chocolate lemon lava cake (RM18) which Lau came up with in a two-pronged attempt to deviate from the usual chocolate lava cake and also to showcase her homemade lemon curd.
“It was difficult because of the acidity of the lemon, which reacts with the flour and makes the cake dense. So to get the balance to make it a lemon lava was the trickiest part,” says Lau.
But she’s nailed it, because the cake is light and spongy and once speared through the middle, a thick pool of lemon curd oozes out, drenching the plate with deliciously zesty, tart flavours.
You must, must try the decadent, sensationally good desserts at Skive. Clockwise from bottom left: lemon cheesecake, dark Belgian chocolate mousse cake, whisky mud cake and raspberry red velvet.
Don’t stop now though because there’s more to come. Keep space in your belly (no matter how much it protests) for the raspberry red velvet (RM16), which is essentially red velvet interspersed with raspberry in what proves to be a light, fruity affair that settles pleasurably in the mouth and cascades down the stomach like a floating fairy.
The whisky mud cake (RM16) also lives up to its namesake, boasting both whisky and a mud-like consistency. This boozy, rich temptress is very thick though, so don’t eat it by yourself or you’ll quickly feel sick.
Next up, try the dark Belgian chocolate mousse cake (RM15) which is a sinfully good sweet treat that like the devil, will keep seducing you with its moist, chocolatey goodness.
The hugely popular D24 durian avocado ice cream is delightful.
The restaurant also offers a series of house-made ice creams, and the chart-topper here is the D24 durian avocado ice cream (RM11) which boasts the creaminess of avocado against the hedonistic lusciousness of pure durian fruit, in what proves to be a union of soulmates.
And it’s not over yet, because the perfect nightcap is just one Scotsman (RM20) away. Made with espresso powder, house-made chocolate fudge, whisky, brown sugar and whipped cream, this intoxicating (quite literally, in this case) cocktail is classy, sophisticated and completely bewitching. Rest assured, once you’re under the spell of the Scotsman, no other “man” will ever be good enough.
Be warned, because The Scotsman is a seductive little thing that will instantly enchant with its heady mixture of whisky, espresso, brown sugar, house-made fudge and whipped cream.
If you happen to see Lau and Ng together in the restaurant, you will instantly be struck by how in love they seem with each other – the smiles are aplenty and so are the inside jokes. Although they live and work together, Lau says they have made it a point to separate their personal lives from their work lives.
“We’ve been working for four or five years now and thankfully, we haven’t had any flying knives in the kitchen! And the great thing about both of us is we have trust. So we come up with the menu and recipes and it’s like ‘Right, you do your part and I do my part.’ We divide and conquer and deliver,” she says, smiling.
Ground Floor, Telawi Square
41, Jalan Telawi 3
59100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2202 0313
Open Monday to Friday: 9am to 10pm; Saturday to Sunday: 8am to 10pm