Culture & Religion

English to Bahasa Malaysia phrasebook – Part 4: food and restaurants

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Hi again, and welcome to the English to Bahasa Malaysia phrasebook series. This time around, we’re tackling the all-important subject of food! What better way immerse yourself in the local food scene than to speak the lingo as well.

lok lok malaysia
Street food in Malaysia

We have a list of words and phrases that you should know, divided into three categories: drinks, food, and general words. Once you understand the meaning of the words and the basic mechanics of how to use them, you’ll be able to order food at a hawker stall or mamak like a pro.

Mamaks are an Indian-Muslim restaurants that are abundant in Malaysia. These restaurants usually serve a variety of Indian flat breads, fried noodles and rice, as well as a selection of Indian-styled meat and vegetable dishes. Mamaks are popular late-night hang-out spots for many people, especially during the football season, as many of these restaurants stay open 24 hours.

Other great foodie things to try are Chinese coffee shops, roadside stalls and food courts – you’ll find some of the best food the country has to offer in these unassuming places.

Let’s start with some general terms

In Malaysia, it’s a sign of respect to refer to someone older than you as ‘Aunty’ or ‘Uncle’. We’re all family here. So when you’re at a mamak, Chinese coffee shop, or stall, remember to say either Aunty or Uncle.

Uncle selling noodles at a hawker stall
Uncle selling noodles at a hawker stall

This can get confusing sometimes because if you’re speaking to someone who is older than you but not by much, you can call them Bang (for men) or Kak (for women). These are abbreviations come from the Malay words for older brother (abang) and older sister (kakak).

If this is too much to start with, you can always just fall back on ‘boss’, which is nonspecific enough to be used for almost anyone, even your taxi driver.

English Bahasa Malaysia
very much younger than you Adik or Dik
around your age Boss
older than you Aunty or Uncle
older than you but not elderly Bang for men; Kak for women
Eat Makan
Drink Minum
Food Makanan
Beverage Minuman
Have you eaten? Sudah makan?
Yes, already Sudah
Not yet Belum lagi
What are you eating? Makan apa?
I would like… Saya nak…
Add Tambah
Less Kurang

Ordering food

Here, we have the basic food words that you should now. A note on banjir: This word usually comes into play when ordering rotis. Roti banjir gets you roti canai (a type of paratha) torn into pieces with dhal or a curry of your choice poured all over it – a flood.

English Bahasa Malaysia
Fish Ikan
Chicken Ayam
Beef Daging
Lamb Kambing
Egg Telur
Soup Sup
Rice Nasi
Noodles Mee
Fried Goreng
Curry Kari
Flatbread Roti
Flood (for more sauce) Banjir
Spicy Pedas

Here’s an example: if you want to order fried rice that’s less spicy, your order would be nasi goreng kurang pedas. Notice the words nasi comes before goreng. That’s just the structure of Malay words in general. In this case, goreng (fried) explains how you want your nasi (rice). The same goes for fried noodles, fried eggs, or chicken soup.

Ordering drinks

Some basic drinks you’ll find at any coffee shop are coffee, tea, and milo. All the other words will help when specifying the temperature, sweetness, and whether you want milk.

white coffee 02
Kopi, a.k.a coffee

Drinks here are usually very sweet, so if you’re diabetic or if you want to reduce your sugar intake, always follow up an order with kurang manis for less sugar, or kosong, for without sugar. And if you’re lactose intolerant, use O’. For example, tea without milk is Teh O’ while tea without milk or sugar is Teh O’ kosong.

English Bahasa Malaysia
Water Air (pronounced 'ayer')
Coffee Kopi
Tea Teh
Iced Ais
Warm Suam
Hot Panas
Sugar Gula
Sweet Manis
Milk Susu
Lime Limau
When ordering drinks without milk O'
When ordering drinks without sugar Kosong

Let’s take another example. If you want iced tea without milk and with lime and less sugar (a popular drink here), you’d say teh O’ limau ais, kurang manis. Teh O’ limau is the drink, ais is the temperature, and kurang manis is the sweetness level.

If you need any clarification, leave a comment down below and we’ll try out best to help you unravel the mysteries of BM. Check out the entire series of English to BM Phrasebooks here. 

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