klyeoh is right, Malaysia is a federation of sometimes disparate states and therange of cuisines you find there can sometimes overwhelm you, so you just need to specify which states or cities you are visiting to get recoomendations from us.
Malacca is where I was born and although I'm now Singaporean, Ido still go back there for its food besides visiting old relatives and friends. Here are some of the highly recommended food places in Malacca if you ever visit it. Bear in mind that Malacca is one of Malaysia's smallest states, so the towns are pretty close together and can be covered within a few hours' drive.
1. Malacca Chicken Rice, which is a favourite for visitors and tourists to Malacca, especially Singaporeans :-
(a) Hoe Kee chicken rice, Jonkers Street
(b) Chung Wah chicken rice, Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock
2. Capitol Satay Celup, Lorong Bukit Cina
3. Hainanese pork satay in Taman Kota Laksamana
4. Fried oyster omelete in Jalan Bunga Raya
5. Chinese chendol dessert at 1 Jalan Hang Jebat
6. Nyonya food from Nyonya Makko restaurant, Taman Melaka Raya. Don't miss their cendol dessert. They serve very good ayam buah keluak, ayam pongteh, Nyonya chap chai,bawan kepiting and otak-otak.
7. Nyonya food from Ole Sayang,, also Taman Melaka Raya. Famous for their fish assam pedas.
8. Malacca laksa and popiah from Donald & Lily, Heeren Street (Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock)
9. Restoran Vazhai Elai for Indian food at Jalan Mushi Abdullah
10. San Pedro in Portuguese Square (Portuguese Settlement) serves spiced fish barbecued on banana leaves, super-hot Curry Debal and other Malacca/Portuguese favourite dishes.
11. The Portuguese Restaurant in Taman Melaka Raya for more Eurasian food.
Actually, my recommendations can fill a food guide, lol!
You'll need to be more specific on your destination stops, as each of Malaysia's 13 states outside Kuala Lumpur (which is a federal territory like Washington DC) have extensive and quite different regional cuisines and specialties.
Some of the larger states like Perak, Johore or Pahang have disparately-located towns which have well-known restaurants famous for specific dishes. As such, any "general list" we give you may end up being too big & unwieldy.
BTW, besides Kuala Lumpur and Penang, which are Malaysia's two richest dining destinations, Ipoh (the state capital of Perak) is another city with rich pickings for good food. Some previous threads on Ipoh:
Perak itself is a rather rich state culinary-wise, and you can also find dining gems in each of its towns like Bidor, Taiping, Alor Gajah, Kampar, etc., many with restaurants or traditional Chinese eateries/coffeeshops which have been there for decades.
Malacca (south of KL) is another rich foodie state to explore.
One of my favorite states to visit for food is Kelantan (1.5 hours' flight north of KL) - do let me know if you're heading that way and I can recommend some dining places there - its state capital Kota Bharu has quite a few must-visit places, besides its other towns like Tumpat, Bachok, Pasir Mas, Kuala Krai, etc.
Selamat/hello from Canada,
You are correst, and i should have been clearer. We have been to Malaysia 40 years ago, as part of a youth exchange, and again in 1988.
We like the Ipoh suggestion, and as we will have some unallocated time, we would like to go back to Kota Bahru, Kuantan, and go to new places on both the mainland, as well as Kalimantan.
Looking forward to your suggestions.
It's certainly a long journey from where you're coming from, so make sure you've got your itinerary down pat ;-) Malaysia's changed quite a bit from 40 years ago, so be prepared for longer distances of travel as city parameters have expanded. But inter-town travel is faster due to the new highways. Variety of food has grown exponentially, and quality has improved quite a bit.
Re: Kota Bharu - for a start, don't miss these places, which had been around since you were last there in the 1970s:
- Yati Ayam Percik at 847, Jalan Long Yunus (Jalan Pekeliling), Kota Bharu. Tel: 09-747 9867. This legendary ayam percik place used to be located at Pasar Pusat Buluh Kubu (now renamed Pasar Pusat Siti Khadhijah by the Parti Islam state government) - they relocated to this larger premises a few years back. Still serves the best, most aromatic skewers of barbecued chicken in the world! :-D
- Nasi Sumatera from Hover Restaurant, 1963-A, Jalan Dato Pati, Kota Bharu. Tel: 09-748 1439. The aromatic curries blended with hot, freshly-steamed white rice- intoxicating.
- Restoran BY-T for their laksam - thick, fat rolls of steamed rice noodles, covered by a deliciously rich coconut creme-fish-galangal-tamarind-flavored gravy, and garnished with shredded cucumber, mint, pineapple, torch ginger and raw onions. Literally to-die for!
- Nasi dagang from Kwang Ling, 3282 Jalan Post Office (near Padang Merdeka), Kota Bharu. THE Kelantan breakfast dish of red-hued unpolished semi-glutinous rice steamed with ginger, fenugreek seeds and onions, served with tuna curry ("gulai ikan tongkol") or chicken curry.
Walk through the central market - Pasar Pusat Siti Khadijah, in the mornings, and sample the Malay kueh-kueh (sweet desserts) there, many are quite similar to their Thai counterparts.
Quick question: we're organizing a group tour to Kota Bharu this weekend to visit the Thai temples in Kelantan. Besides traditional Malay food, can we find good Chinese food in Kelantan? My wife for one also needs her morning coffee, and also something less sweet & spicy like what Kelantan Malay food seemed to be like.
Gong Xi Fa Cai or, as you all say in Penang: "Keong Hee Huat Chye", penang_rojak.
I'm afraid I'm not too familiar with the Chinese dining scene in Kota Bharu, Kelantan - during my previous visits a while ago, it's always nasi dagang and ayam percik - what the Kelantanese-Malays did best. However, I do know that *every* single coffeeshop in Kota Bharu are Chinese, inadvertently Hainanese-owned (e.g. Kwang Ling by the Foo family for generations). So, your wife would definitely be able to get her coffee fix (plus kaya toasts, soft-boiled eggs) each morning. The Chinese in Kelantan speak Hokkien with a unique lilt, but the amazing thing is that their spoken Kelantanese-Malay is indistinguishable from ethnic Kelantan-Malays'.
Besides the Hokkiens, the Hakka and Hainanese make up the general Chinese populace - they are only 3% of the state's population, but dominate all the retail trade, goldsmith shops, banking, etc. - a bit like the Chinese in Indonesia.
Hmm, interesting. One of my enduring memories of Hainanese chicken rice was actually one I had in Kota Bharu but it was eons ago and I can't even recall where it was served. I just remembered the hauntingly delicious scent of the rice.
But, IMO, Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore beats any version in Malaysia hands-down ;-)