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Last updated : Nov 2009
Malaysia Social Profile
Malaysia Culture and Social Profile - TravelPuppy.com

Food and Drink

All types of food from South-East Asia can be found in multiracial Malaysia. Malay food focuses on the subtleties of taste using a blend of coconut milk, spices, ginger and peanuts. Sambals made of a paste of ground chili, onion and tamarind is used as a side dish. Blachan consists of dried shrimp paste and is used in many dishes. Ikan bilis are dried anchovies and are eaten with drinks. Satay is composed of an array of meats and chicken, barbecued on small skewers with a spicy peanut dipping sauce and a salad of cucumber, onion and compressed rice cakes. The best sauces usually take several hours to prepare to reach its subtle flavours. Gula Malacca is a firm sago pudding in palm sugar sauce and is served in restaurants.

Chinese cooking which includes Cantonese, Hakka, Peking, Sichuan and Taiwanese is popular. Indian food with curries served mild to very hot is also popular. Vegetarian cuisine, Indian breads and chutneys can be also found. Indonesian fare combines dried seafood and spiced vegetables using the Japanese method of preparation with fresh ingredients cooked to keep the natural flavour. Japanese-style seafood like siakaiu beef is grilled at the table, tempura is deep-fried seafood and sashimi is raw fish with salad. Thai and Korean food can be found in many restaurants. Malaysia’s many exotic fruits include durians, starfruits, guavas, mangos, mangosteen and pomelos. Western food is served across the country and includes Italian, US, Spanish and French cuisine. Kuala Lumpur has many restaurants that rival the high standards of established Western restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore. Chopsticks are customary in Chinese restaurants while Indian and Malay food is eaten with the fingers. An excellent value for money are the set lunches that usually offer four courses.

Although Malaysians are mostly Islamic, alcohol is available. The local beers Tiger and Anchor are popular and recommended as is the famous Singapore Gin Sling. International beers are widely available.


Kuala Lumpur features a number of nightclubs and discotheques, most are attached to the big hotels. Nightclubs usually stay open until 5.00 or 6.00 am and a cover charge is customary, which includes the first drink. Many of the capital's bars have ‘Happy Hour’, with two for the price of one, between 5.00 - 8.00 or 9.00 pm. Bintang Walk is a bustling area and offers a wide range of al fresco bars and coffee shops. Penang also comes alive at night. The larger hotels have cocktail lounges, dining, dancing and cultural shows. Night markets are in most towns, including both Kuala Lumpur and Penang Chinatown. Malay and Chinese movies have English subtitles and there are also English language films. The national lottery and Malaysia’s only casino at Genting Highlands are approved by the government. Visitors should not gamble elsewhere. Chinese Tai Sai and Keno, roulette, blackjack, baccarat, and french bull is played at the casino. Dress is usually formal and clients must be over 21 years of age.


Shopping ranging from elegant department stores to street markets. Haggling is normal in the markets, unless discounted prices are shown. Suria KLCC is a shopping centre with fountains, gardens and a beautiful piazza, housing an excellent array of main couture outlets. Lot 10 and Star Hill are also famous shopping centres. The islands of Langkawi and Labuan are duty-free zones. Watches, cameras, cosmetics, perfume, pens and electronic goods are available with duty free throughout the country. Malaysian specialty goods include silverware, pewter ware, brass ware, pottery, batik, jewellery and songket. More information can be obtained from the Malaysian Royal Customs and Excise about claiming cash back on duty-free goods.

Shopping hours: Shops normally keep their own hours, within the range of 10.00 am - 10.00 pm.

Special Events

Malaysian festivals celebrating important religious events and public holidays are held throughout the year and are impressive spectacles, filled with vibrancy and colour. Each community comes with its own customs, traditions and festivals, and to name all the events would take many pages. For more details about the many other festivities can be obtained from the Tourism Malaysia (see Contact section).

The following are some highlights of the events taking place in 2005:

Jan 19 Thaipusam (Hindu day of atonement), Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Penang and Malacca.
Feb 1 Federal Territory Day, Kuala Lumpur.
Feb 6-15 Le Tour dé Langkawi (cycling race), Peninsular Malaysia.
Feb 9-11 Chinese New Year, nationwide.
Feb 20-23 Carlsberg Malaysian Open (tennis), Kuala Lumpur.
Apr 10-May 8 Malaysia Water Festival (aquatic events and festivities), Lumut, Perak.
May 18 Kaamatan (Harvest festival celebrated by the Kadazan-Dusun people), Kinabalu, Sabah.
May 22-Jun 19 Colours of Malaysia Festival, nationwide.
May 25-Jun 1 Penang International Floral Festival.
June 1 Gawai (Harvest festival celebrated by the Ibans people), Sibu, Sarawak.
June 19-20 25th Annual Penang International Dragon Boat Festival.
July 2-31 Food & Fruits Fiesta, Alor Setar, Kedah.
July 10-12 International Kite Festival, Kelantan.
Aug 17-Sep 16 Merdeka Month Celebrations (including Independence Day Parade), Kuala Lumpur and nationwide.
Sep 4-5 Sarawak Regatta, Kuching.
Oct 2-30 International Festival of the Arts Month.
Oct 11-16 Cameron Equator Race, Cameron Highlands.
Nov 12 Deepavali (Hindu ‘Festival of Lights’), nationwide.
Nov 14-16 Hari Raya Puasa (End of Ramadan), nationwide.
Social Customs and Conventions

The population is a combination of different cultures and characters. Generally the racial groups combine, but retain to their own traditions and lifestyles. Malays form more than half of the total population and are ruled by the authority of elders and a strong sense of respect and etiquette. The Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan inhabitants formerly came to Malaysia to work in the civil service, police and local government departments, including in the new rubber plantations. Many are presently among the professional classes. The Dutch, British and Portuguese influence is very conspicuous in Malaysia, even though the European inhabitants are currently small. As for greetings are concerned, the equivalent of ‘hello’ is the Muslim phrase ‘peace be with you’. Men are called 'Encik' (pronounced Enchik) with or without the name while women are addressed as 'Puan' if they are married and 'Cik' (pronounced Che) if they are single. Placing the hand to the chest is a sign of respect and a relaxed wrist and gentle touch should be used when shaking hands. Indians and Chinese normally use Western forms of address. Hospitality is casual, warm and lavish. Eating food by hand should be done with the right hand only. Tourists should respect religious beliefs and wear appropriate clothing. Shoes should be removed at the door before entering a house or temple. Dress is informal, but not too casual. In the cities smoking has become the subject of government disapproval and fines are levied in public places, such as cinemas, and libraries.


10% service charge and 5% government tax are usually included in bills. Taxi drivers do not expect tips.
Useful travel links
Happy Cow Malaysia guide to vegetarian restaurants in Malaysia
World Restaurant Guide restaurant guides in South East Asia