Pigging Out at the Malaysian Night Market

·Managing Editor

You’ll want to get to the Langkawi night market early — and be hungry. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

You can smell the night market before you see it.

It is around 5 p.m. on a Friday on Langkawi, a small Malaysian island in the Andaman Sea, and the air is thick with the smell of grilled meat. 

I have never met a food market I don’t love. Most Saturdays I’m knee-deep in fried pork belly and Indian tacos at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg in Brooklyn. When I learned that the Malaysian version of Smorg would be happening on Langkawi during my whirlwind visit, I had to go there.

There’s only standing room by 5 p.m. Women in colorful headscarves clutch their children’s hands as they jostle for snacks straight off the grill or out of the fryer. 

I watched one harried mother pass a fish kebab to her 3-year-old son. He petulantly shook his head. She sighed and bought another fish kebab, this one in the shape of an Angry Bird. There is truly something for everyone at the night market.


A fish kebab for every palate. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

I brought about $20 (64 Malaysian ringgit) to the market and walked away with a full belly and $5 to spare, a marked difference from the Brooklyn version, where you can easily spend $100 on a couple of lobster rolls and a beer.

My guide for the evening is Indran Santhirasekaran, the activities manager at the Four Seasons Langkawi. He was more than happy to join me on my belly-expanding journey. 

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It was late in the day but still 90 degrees out. Because I was about to put a lot of spicy food into my mouth we started with an iced beverage. Large plastic vats heaped high with ice held sugar cane juice, coconut juice, honey dew, and asam, a tart and sour drink. 


Deliciously cold and sugary drinks in all colors of the rainbow. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

Our next stop was a grill filled with chicken and beef satay with peanut sauce. The intense flavor came from basting the meat with oil and honey before grilling.

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Satay skewers make an excellent start to the evening. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

Next, I grabbed a scoop of kacang kuda pedas, or spicy chickpeas, which were fried in peanut oil until they were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.


Snack on chickpeas as you go. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

Durian, the smelly fruit so offensive to the nose that it is banned in most Malaysian hotels, was in abundance at the market. I plugged my nose as I dropped a small slice into my mouth. It was stinky but delicious. Durian should be banned from hotels — but not from your mouth.


Be careful where you crack open a durian. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

Next up was rojak, which means “an awesome mixture,” Indran told me. It includes egg, meat, a little bit of pastry, and peanut sauce, all bundled up in a plastic bag. (Peanut sauce is the ketchup of the Malaysian night market.) I just shook the bag and stuck a fork in it.


A bag filled with awesomeness. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

Next up was an entire stand devoted to every kind of sausage — beef, chicken, shrimp — except pork, since we are in a Muslim country. 

I grabbed some ketumpat, a sweet and sticky rice steamed with sesame oil and then wrapped in a palm leaf and steamed again.


Everything tastes better wrapped in a palm leaf. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

The cucur udang, prawn pastries made with yellow flour, anchovies, and chili paste, popped and sizzled in the fryer before the cook plopped them down on my plate.


The cucur udang were still cooking as they landed on my plate. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

I was curious about the murtabak, a Malaysian pancake filled with curried meat, typically beef or chicken, and a sprinkling of spices that the cook wouldn’t reveal. It was light and airy like a popover. 


These murtabak were made with care — and a secret spice. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

I had to unbutton my jeans after taking in plentiful helpings of mee goreng (fried noodles) and nasi goreng (fried rice). 


Fried noodles and fried rice might have been the tipping point. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

Now I needed something sweet before calling it a night. I grabbed some lopes, a sticky green rice stuffed with brown sugar and covered in shredded coconut.


The color of the sticky rice comes from food coloring. (Photo: Jo Piazza)

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