Culture & Festivals of Malaysia – Movable Feasts

By: Thomas Teo

It is said that people are divided into those who eat to live, and those who live to eat. Well, Malaysians definitely fall into the latter category. The culture & festivals of Malaysia is celebrated and shared among all the races. While many culinary treats are available year-round, others make a special appearance during religious festivals. Here is some of the festive food highlights to look out for:

Open houses

A Malaysian institution, these informal feasts bring together family, friends, neighbours and workmates. They are particularly associated with Muslim festival of Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the Hindu festival of Deepavali and Chinese New Year. Overall, open houses are inclusive occasions, which welcome people from different races and religions. If you are lucky enough to get an invite, your taste-buds will be forever grateful.

Ramadan food markets

Known as pasar Ramadan or bazaar Ramadan, these markets pop up across KL during the Muslim fasting month, every day from about 1500, until early evening. Dozens of stalls serve up an amazing range of mostly Malay delicacies, although you will find plenty of other tasty treats there too. It is worth noting that eating at the market is considered impolite, as most of your fellow shoppers will be fasting.

Yee Sang

Also known as yusheng, this raw fish salad is a particular feature of celebrating Lunar New Year in Malaysia. The salad is tossed with chopsticks, by a group of family or friends, as a way of bringing about health and prosperity. The higher the “prosperity toss”, the better the next year is meant to be.


These calorie-filled cakes are offered to friends and family during celebrations of the Mid-Autumn festival. They are normally imprinted with the Chinese characters for “prosperity” or “harmony”, as well as symbols of the moon. Mooncakes in Malaysia often have a distinctive local twist, such as the use of pandan leaves of durian.

Veggie heaven

Giving up meat and fish features in large number of Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian festivals. KL has a huge number of pure vegetarian restaurants, which get especially thronged during certain times of the year. Some Buddhist temples give out free vegetarian food on full moons or during celebrations such as Wesak.


In amongst all the clothes and trinkets at Deepavali bazaars, you will come across massive stacks a savoury gram flour snack known as murukku. Although available all year round, this is when you will se the greatest amount of home-made murukku. Beware though, there’s a reason this stuff is sold in big packets – it is seriously addictive!