Celebrate Merdeka Day With Must-Try Malaysian Food

Rich flavours to spoil your palate

Must-try Malaysian food is definitely at the heart of Merdeka Day. Curious to see which dishes have the locals’ seal of approval? We asked three Malaysian ladies — Wafa (15, student), Aisha (34, business consultant), and Jaya (29, teacher) — to pitch in their favourites.

Nasi Lemak

Dubbed the national dish of Malaysia, Nasi Lemak (meaning ‘rich rice’) topped Wafa, Aisha, and Jaya’s lists. The dish’s star is fragrant rice cooked in coconut cream instead of water. It is often served with chicken and a variety of sides (anchovies, eggs, peanuts, etc.), along with a range of savory sauces called sambal. Wafa said it’s a dish that’s “beloved by all local Malaysians” and is something “you definitely must eat when you’re in Malaysia.”

Nasi Kandar

Another Malaysian must-try rice dish is Nasi Kandar. Like many Malaysian dishes that has roots from Indian cuisine, Nasi Kandar combines fluffy rice with curry (be meat, seafood or vegetables), and a selection of sides and condiments similar to Nasi Lemak. Kandar, which means a stick or a pole used to carry things, refers to the method mobile vendors used to sell this dish in Malaysian villages. Now, it’s sold almost everywhere in Malaysia, be it hawker centers or restaurants.

“If you love rich flavours, you’ll never go wrong with Nasi Kandar,” said Jaya. “I often recommend it to foreign friends who used to visit before the pandemic when they want something else instead of Nasi Lemak. They end up loving it.”

Mee Goreng Mamak

Looking for a different kind of carb? Mee Goreng Mamak is the one to try. This must-try stir-fried noodle dish is usually made with fresh egg noodles, eggs, boiled potatoes, and many other ingredients tossed in a rich salty-sweet sauce. The term ‘mamak’ comes from Mamak stalls or open area food courts where you can watch your food prepared right in front of you.

“I used to hang out around Mamak stalls with my friends or with my family and this dish is definitely one of our favourites,” said Aisha. “It’s filling since it’s a full meal but you can also just have it as a nice snack if you share it with others.”


Rendang is a meat dish that often uses beef, chicken or lamb and is slow-cooked in coconut milk and a variety of spices that gives the dish its colour. Each spoonful bursts with flavour, with the tenderness of the meat complementing the rich, creamy, and spicy taste of the sauce. It’s often served on special occasions, making it perfect for this year’s Merdeka Day!

“It looks like your usual curry but it’s not curry,” said Jaya. “It’s hard to describe their difference, but Rendang has a deeper and richer flavour that’ll give you the distinction as soon as it hits your palate.”

Ikan Bakar

An Indonesian and Malaysian dish which means ‘roasted/grilled fish’, Ikan Bakar might sound basic at first, said Wafa, but it’s actually “an amazing marinated grilled fish” delicacy.

She elaborated: “Ikan Bakar is spiced using a rich blend of chili paste. Then the fish is grilled on top of a banana leaf over the charcoal. Once cooked, the moist fish is served with a plate of hot rice, sometimes with some side vegetable dishes and curries. It’s also dipped into kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) for extra flavour.”

We don’t know about you but our mouths definitely watered!

(Cover photo from: Takashi Miyazaki via Unsplash)

Next, find out where to get the best mooncakes in Singapore to celebrate this year’s Mid-Autumn Festival here.

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