The best Malay dishes in Langkawi benefit from the island’s abundance of fresh seafood and vegetables as well as unique herbs and spices, resulting in combinations you might not find anywhere else the world. While Langkawi boasts a diverse dining scene, sampling authentic Malay cuisine is a must for any first-time visitor to the island. Best of all, these delicacies are available everywhere and at any budget level, from roadside stalls to luxurious resorts.
There are plenty of family-owned restaurants, particularly in Pantai Cenang, offering extensive buffet-style lunches from 11:00 onwards. After grabbing your plate of steamed rice, you can choose from 20 to 50 types of fish, vegetables, and chicken dishes. A full plate typically costs about RM10, though prices vary according to the number of dishes you’ve added. From the quintessential nasi lemak to sour-spicy assam pedas, read on for our list of Langkawi’s most popular Malay cuisine.
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Nasi tomato, or tomato rice, is made using a combination of tomato paste, coconut milk, various spices, together with sautéed garlic, onion, and sugar. Available in most Malay restaurants in Langkawi, this sweet-sour rice dish can be paired with a wide range of toppings such as fried chicken or fish and raw vegetables but we highly recommend beef rendang (a dry coconut milk-based curry), chickpea curry, and acar nenas (pineapple and peanut salad).
Ikan bakar is sold everywhere in Malaysia, but Langkawi offers arguably the best ones due to its abundant supply of fresh seafood. Its literal translation is ‘grilled fish’, you can find plenty of roadside stalls, night markets, and local restaurants selling these delicacies at affordable prices. The fish is marinated in a blend of sambal, turmeric, chilli, belacan, and galangal before it’s wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled over a charcoal stove. Due to its spicy flavour, a plate of steamed rice goes perfectly well with ikan bakar.
Pajeri nenas is ideal for vegetarian diners looking to sample traditional Malay-style curry. Also known as pineapple curry, this sweet-sour dish is typically served during lunch at local Malay restaurants in Langkawi. Consisting chunks of sweet pineapple in a coconut-based curry, this dish is best paired with a plate of white rice, okra, cucumber, and eggplants.
Nasi lemak, one of Malaysia’s signature Malay dishes, can be enjoyed at any time of the day. It’s a hearty dish of coconut-flavoured rice, served with hard-boiled egg, fried peanuts, anchovies, and a spicy shrimp-based sauce. Readily available everywhere in Langkawi, a plate of nasi lemak can fetch a hefty price tag at five-star resorts while night markets and roadside stalls sell it prewrapped in banana leaf for as low as RM1.50. You can even have your nasi lemak topped with curried meat or fried chicken at additional prices.
Beef rendang is traditionally served together with ketupat (rice dumpling wrapped in coconut leaf) and nasi minyak (ghee rice) during weddings or annual festivities. Today, it’s a popular accompaniment to any sort of rice dish. Beef rendang comprises beef cubes in a slow-cooked curry that’s heavily spiced with ginger, turmeric, kaffir lime, chilies, toasted coconut, and asam keping, which comes from a rainforest tree that’s native to Peninsular Malaysia. Aside from beef or buffalo meat, you can also find chicken, vegetarian, and seafood rending at most Malay restaurants in Langkawi.
Gulai ikan talang masin is a must-try if you’re a seafood lover, comprising salted queen fish, pineapple, and vegetables in coconut and lemongrass curry. Originally an Indian-Muslim delicacy, it’s now a popular dish in almost every Malay household and eatery. Despite its name, it’s not overpoweringly salty thanks to its abundance of turnip, brinjal, tomato, and beans. As with most Malay stews and curries, gulai ikan talang masin is usually paired with white rice or tomato rice, for added flavour.
Ayam masak merah is named after its bright red ensemble of fried chicken braised in tomato sauce. Several local restaurants also add corn kernels, peas, and diced carrot into the mix before garnishing it with coriander and kaffir lime leaves. Unlike most Malay dishes, ayam masak merah has more of a sweet and sour taste, making it a good option for those who can’t handle spicy food. Priced between RM4 and RM6, this dish can be paired with plain rice or nasi tomato.
Assam pedas is a prominent traditional dish in Malaysia and Indonesia, simmering fish and vegetables in a sour-spicy stew that’s made with spices such as belacan, tamarind, and chilli. The type of fish used to prepare this dish varies depending on region, though many Langkawi restaurants typically opt for Spanish mackerel, red snapper, or tuna. Assam pedas also contains lots of vegetables such as okra, tomatoes, shredded torch ginger buds, and Vietnamese coriander.
Nasi goreng kampung is a hearty dish of fragrant fried rice with eggs, water spinach, diced long beans, and onions. Widely known as a Malaysian-style comfort food, this recipe stands out from most variations of fried rice due to its inclusion of crispy anchovies, chunks of chicken, fried shallots, and bird’s eye chilli. Priced at RM3.50 onwards, nasi goreng kampung can be quite spicy so if you’re not a fan, you can request the cook to skip the chilli when you make your order.
Satay is a popular Malaysian snack that’s basically pieces of skewered meat marinated overnight before barbecued over a charcoal fire. You can find these at Langkawi night markets and local restaurants for about RM1 per stick, though five-star resorts also serve them for a steeper price. The marinade is made with lemongrass, turmeric, coriander, shallots, garlic chilli, and honey, resulting in a slightly sweet yet savoury flavour. Available in chicken, beef, or lamb, satay is served with peanut-based sauce, raw cucumber slices, and rice cubes.