nasi lemak, a traditional malay curry paste rice dish served on a banana leaf

Malaysian cuisine enjoys a breakthrough moment with British palates 

Jom makan” – meaning “let’s eat” is quite literally what British shoppers are saying as a growing number of UK households discover a taste for Malaysian food. The South East Asian country is having a breakthrough moment according to a recent survey by Malaysian importer, Makan Bites; with Brits naming Malaysian cuisine as their preferred South East Asian food, ahead of Chinese and Japanese and Thai+

The growing interest in Malaysian culture and its cuisine is evidenced by approximately 135,000 UK tourists visiting Malaysia in 2022* and it is estimated that there are around 35,000 Malaysian nationals residing in the UK**. Furthermore, Makan Bites recently hosted its largest ever trade mission of 17 artisan Malaysian food and drink producers in London, to meet British retailers and wholesalers, receiving extremely positive interest. Moreover, when surveyed 87% of British respondents said they have tried Malaysian food before, and the same number would like to be able shop for Malaysian foods such as ready prepared sauces and pastes, known as sambals. In fact, the top search term on YouTube related to Malaysia is its cuisine.  Some of the most popular products attracting retail attention are sambal sauces for cooking curries, coconut sugar, which is used in Malaysian baking, Kee Hiong Bakuteh – a herbal broth for soups and stews, and ketupat rice cakes which are often served alongside a main dish.

Dato’ Zakri Jaafar, High Commissioner of Malaysia to the UK  (and a key participant in hosting the recent trade mission) comments:  “Given Malaysia’s rich biodiversity and array of flavours in its cooking, which are influenced by Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous culinary traditions, it’s understandable that Brits are discovering our delicacies.”  Jaafar continues: “Whilst post-pandemic travel definitely plays a large part in the growing interest in Malaysian cuisine, there are also a number of outstanding Malaysian restaurants in London, Manchester, Leeds and Leicester, headed-up by chefs such as Mandy Yin, Ping Coombes and Norman Musa, who have made several television appearances. It stands to reasons that having sampled our most popular dishes such as Nasi Lemak, Satay, Roti Canai, and Laksa, Brits are also wishing to expand their repertoire in the kitchen.”

Cheryl Ellron, CEO of Makan Bites comments: “British retailers clearly understand that there is an unmet demand for Malaysian produce from British shoppers who have either had their first taste of the country’s unique flavours; perhaps in the street food markets of Kuala Lumpur or on the beaches of Langkawi and are now clamouring to enjoy Malaysian food at home. This is coupled with demand for Malaysian branded foods which are household names to many Malaysian’s living in the UK and missing a taste of home. These include nasi lemak which is the equivalent of fish and chips to British families.”

Eleen Chan Peik Foong, owner of sambal Brand, “Man Fook” adds:It’s incredibly exciting that our range of Nyonya sambal and sauces are being discovered in the UK. For many Malaysians, Nyonya sambal is taste of childhood, but Brits are also finding that my sauces can be used for dipping, cooking, grilling and marinating or simply to eat with rice or noodles. With Makan Bites’s support and that of the Malaysian government’s KUSKOP entrepreneurship ministry, and SME Bank Malaysia’s initiatives to support manufacturers, it’s an exciting time to connect with the UK market.


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