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15 Kelantanese Food You Must Try on Your Visit to Malaysia's East Coast

Situated in the northeast of the Malaysian Peninsula, Kelantan is a state renowned for its rich cultural heritage and distinctly unique culinary traditions. Unlike the cuisine found in other parts of Malaysia, Kelantanese food stands out for its bold and robust flavors, influenced by a blend of Malay, Thai, and a little of Chinese culinary influences.

Having spent at least ten years of my life there, I would love to introduce you to 15 of the must-try gastronomic treasures of Kelantan, some of which were my childhood favorites.

Also read: Kota Bharu Travel Guide: Unveiling Malaysia’s Cultural Capital on the East Coast

1. Nasi Kerabu

Nasi kerabu. Credit: Misaochan2 / Wikimedia Commons

Possibly the most famous Kelantanese dish, nasi kerabu is known for its distinctive blue-hued rice, which is achieved by using butterfly pea flowers during the cooking process. The rice is complemented with ‘kerabu’, a raw salad of fresh herbs and vegetables, such as finely shredded lemongrass, torch ginger flowers, bean sprouts, long beans, cucumber, and coconut.

It is typically served with a variety of side dishes, including salted egg, solok lada (stuffed green chili pepper), sambal (spicy chili paste), budu (fermented fish sauce), fish crackers, and your choice of protein. Nasi kerabu is not only appreciated for its visually striking appearance but also for its complex blend of tastes and textures.


  • Liniey Nasi Kerabu Tumis (Jalan Abdul Kadir Adabi). Opening hours: 6:30 am – 2:00 pm.
  • Nasi Kerabu Panji (Jalan Hospital, Kampung Belukar). Opening hours: 6:00 am – 1:30 pm.

2. Nasi Dagang

Nasi dagang. Credit: Amirudin Mohd Zani / Wikimedia Commons

A popular breakfast choice in the northeastern states of Malaysia, nasi dagang consists of a special wild rice that is light purplish brown in color and slightly glutinous. It is cooked in coconut milk and infused with aromatic spices such as ginger and shallots, lending it a fragrant and savory taste.

Nasi dagang is typically served with a side of gulai ikan tongkol, a spicy and tangy fish curry made from tuna or mackerel, as well as hard-boiled eggs, and pickled vegetables.


  • Kak La Nasi Dagang (Jalan Pantai Cahaya Bulan). Opening hours: 7:00 am – 3:00 pm, closed on Tuesdays.
  • Rohani Restoran (Jalan Long Yunus). Opening hours: 3:00 am – 2:00 pm.

3. Ayam Percik

Ayam percik. Credit: Dr. Francostein1975 / Wikimedia Commons

Often paired with nasi kerabu, ayam percik features succulent grilled or roasted chicken generously coated in a thick, aromatic sauce.

This sauce is a delightful blend of coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, turmeric, shallots, garlic, and tamarind juice, all of which contribute to its rich and complex flavor profile. The chicken is marinated in this sauce before being grilled or roasted to perfection, resulting in tender meat with a caramelized exterior.


  • Yati Ayam Percik (Jalan Long Yunus). Opening hours: 12:30 pm – 5:40 pm (Mon – Thu), 2:30 pm – 5:40 pm (Fri), 11:30 am – 5:40 pm (Sat & Sun) 
  • Kak Jah Ayam Percik Bulatan Lemal (Pasir Mas). Opening hours: 8:00 am – 3:00 pm, closed on Fridays & Saturdays.

4. Gulai Kawah

Gulai. Credit: S Kartika / Wikimedia Commons

Gulai kawah is a curry cooked in a large, shallow brass or copper pot known as a “kawah,” which gives the dish its name.

The curry base is typically made with a blend of coconut milk, spices, and herbs such as lemongrass, turmeric, ginger, and chili peppers, and the common ingredients used include meat such as beef or goat, as well as vegetables like potatoes.

The dish is slow-cooked to allow the flavors to meld together, resulting in tender meat and a thick, hearty curry. Gulai kawah is often served with steamed rice or traditional Malay breads such as roti canai or roti jala.


  • Zie Gulai Kawah Mumbang Nyor (Jalan Bachok). Opening hours: 7:00 am – 4:00 pm.
  • Che Su Gulai Kawah (3426-A, D111, Bandar Kota Bharu). Opening hours: 6:00 am – 3:00 pm, closed on Fridays.

5. Nasi Tumpang

Nasi tumpang. Credit: Maslight / Wikimedia Commons

Nasi tumpang is a unique and visually appealing dish consisting of layers of rice, meat, and condiments, and wrapped in banana leaves. The name “tumpang” refers to the act of stacking or layering in constructing the dish.

The bottom layer usually consists of rice cooked with coconut milk, giving it a creamy texture and just a hint of sweetness. On top of the rice are layers of various fillings, such as shredded chicken, beef floss, fried fish, or spicy shrimp paste, each adding its own distinct flavor and texture.

This portable meal was traditionally enjoyed by farmers and travelers as a convenient and nourishing option for long journeys. Today, it remains a beloved dish in Kelantanese cuisine, cherished for its delicious taste and cultural significance.


  • Ayang Cafe (Jalan Masjid Langgar, Kampung Langgar). Opening hours: 6:30 am – 1:00 pm.
  • Nasi Tumpang Pasir Hor (behind Sekolah Kebangsaan Pasir Hor, Kampung Pasir Hor). Opening hours: 8:30 am – 12:00 pm, closed on Fridays & Saturdays.

6. Nasi Air

While it’s often referred to as rice porridge in many places, nasi air is the Kelantanese rendition that stands out as a unique culinary gem.

Instead of the conventional thick, mushy consistency typically associated with rice porridge, nasi air is a bed of fluffy white rice topped with a luscious broth of tender beef or chicken, crispy anchovies, a drizzle of pepper water for a bit of heat, and a swirl of garlic-infused oil to add a depth of flavor.


  • D’Nyior Cino Nasi Air Lagenda (Jalan Abdul Kadir Adabi, Taman Kenangan). Opening hours: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.
  • Nasi Air Che Su (Pasir Puteh). Opening hours: 12:00 pm – 7:30 pm, closed on Fridays & Saturdays.

7. Roti Titab

Roti titab at Kopitiam Kita.

Roti titab is a delectable creation where a slice of bread is generously spread with butter and toasted to golden perfection, then topped with a jiggly poached egg in the center and a dollop of sweet, creamy kaya (coconut jam) in each corner.

The result is a harmonious blend of crispy edges, silky egg yolk, and the sumptuous essence of butter and kaya, creating an indulgent breakfast or snack that is a feast for the taste buds.


  • Kopitiam Kita (Jalan Sri Cemerlang). Opening hours: 6:30 am – 2:30 pm.
  • Pok Loh Milo Tunggeng (Jalan Kampung Dusun, Kampung Bahagia). Opening hours: 6:30 am – 4:00 pm, closed on Fridays.

8. Laksam

Laksam. Credit: Yosri / Wikimedia Commons

Laksam, while not as well-known as the Penang laksa, holds its own esteemed place as one of Malaysia’s must-try noodle dishes.

Unlike the tangy and spicy Penang laksa, laksam offers a different flavor experience with its creamy coconut milk-based gravy infused with a medley of aromatic spices, such as lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, and dried shrimp.

Laksam is traditionally served with a variety of accompaniments, including finely shredded vegetables like cucumber, bean sprouts, and long beans, as well as hard-boiled eggs and fragrant herbs like Vietnamese coriander.


  • Ayang Cafe (Jalan Masjid Langgar, Kampung Langgar). Opening hours: 6:30 am – 1:00 pm.
  • Kedai Laksam Telur Puyuh Best Kelar (Jalan Pasir Mas – Tanah Merah, Kampung Pengkalan Rambutan). Opening hours: 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, closed on Fridays.

9. Ketupat Sotong

Ketupat sotong. Credit: Hazrezal / Wikimedia Commons

Ketupat sotong is a creation that marries the flavors and textures of two beloved foods: ketupat (rice cake) and sotong (squid). It involves stuffing whole squids with a mixture of glutinous rice, aromatic herbs, spices, and often minced seafood or chicken. The stuffed squid is then gently simmered in a flavorful coconut milk-based sauce until tender and infused with the rich flavors of the broth.

Ketupat sotong is often served as a celebratory dish during festive occasions such as Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, weddings, and family gatherings, so it may not always be available in restaurants and food stalls. Try bazaars and night markets, but don’t keep your hopes up!


  • Pasar Siti Khadijah (Jalan Buluh Kubu). Opening hours: 7:30 am – 5:30 pm

10. Budu

Budu with tempoyak. Credit: Mdsheth1986 / Wikimedia Commons

One cannot call himself a true Kelantanese until he has developed an affinity for budu — a traditional condiment made from fermented anchovies or small fish that are salted and left to undergo a natural fermentation process for several months.

The result is a pungent and savory liquid with a distinctive umami flavor, often compared to fish sauce in other Asian cuisines. Budu is typically enjoyed as a dipping sauce, either on its own or mixed with chopped chili peppers, shallots, lime juice, and tempoyak (fermented durian paste) to enhance its taste.

It adds a depth of flavor to dishes such as grilled fish, rice, and vegetables, and should be available at any self-respecting Kelantanese restaurant.

11. Nasi Ulam

Nasi ulam at Restoran Nasi Ulam Cikgu.

The term ‘nasi ulam’ may refer to different foods in different parts of the country, but in Kelantan it simply means white rice served with a bottomless serving of raw herbs and fresh vegetables. You can also pair it with other side dishes of your choice like meats, soups, and curries.

To elevate the flavors further, diners like to dip the vegetables in budu and tempoyak, local sauces beloved in Kelantanese cuisine (see above).


  • Restoran Nasi Ulam Cikgu (Kampung Kraftangan, Jalan Hilir Kota). Opening hours: 10:30 am – 5:00 pm, closed on Fridays.
  • D’Umi Nasi Ulam (Jalan Pasir Mas – Tanah Merah, Pasir Mas). Opening hours: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, closed on Fridays.

12. Eel Soup

Although not exclusive to Northeastern Malaysia, eel soup or ‘sup belut’ in the local language is quite popular in Kelantan as a hearty and nutritious meal.

Infusing some Thai influence, this unique dish features eel as its main ingredient, cooked to tender perfection in a rich broth of herbs and spices, such as lemongrass, ginger, shallots, and turmeric. Additionally, vegetables like carrots, cabbage, and tomatoes are commonly added to enhance the nutritional value and texture of the dish.


  • Sup Belut Tali Air (Jalan Bayam, Kampung Bayam). Opening hours: 12:00 pm – 12:00 am.
  • Idi Sup Belut (Kampung Bharu). Opening hours: 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm, closed on Fridays & Saturdays.

13. Colek / Colek Buah

Colek buah. Credit: CherylGarnet / Wikimedia Commons

Colek is basically rojak, a Malaysian salad that combines an assortment of fresh vegetables and fritters with a generous drizzle of a sweet, tangy, and spicy sauce. The ingredients typically include cucumbers, pineapples, jicama, bean sprouts, tofu, and seafood fritters, among others. Or you can have the fruity version (colek buah) with fruits like pineapple, guava, mango, water apple, and amra.

What truly sets Kelantanese colek apart is its unique sauce, crafted from a blend of ingredients like shrimp paste, tamarind, gula nisan (palm sugar), garlic, shallots, a dash of fish sauce, and chili, garnished with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds.


  • Restoran Colek Bini 2 (Jalan Wakaf Che Yeh – Salor – Pasir Mas, Kampung Chabang 3). Opening hours: 1:00 pm – 12:00 am
  • Abe Mat Colek Perut (Pekan Pasir Mas). Opening hours: Saturday – Thursday 10:00 am – 8:00 pm, Friday 3:00 pm -7:30 pm.

14. Etok Salai

Etok salai, a popular snack in Kelantan, consists of tiny freshwater clams that are sold conveniently wrapped in paper. This makes it an ideal choice for those who want to enjoy it on the go, whether for a leisurely picnic on the beach, a casual hangout with friends at the roadside coffeeshop, or while watching TV at home — similar to grabbing a bag of peanuts or chips.

The clams are seasoned with salt and a sprinkle of spices, and slowly smoked, resulting in a smoky, savory flavor. Etok salai can typically be found in markets, hawker stalls, some seafood restaurants, and from street peddlers.

15. Kelantanese Desserts

Kuih cek mek molek. Credit: Yosri / Wikimedia Commons

Renowned for their love of all things sweet, the people of Kelantan have perfected the art of creating delectable desserts. One such treat is akok, a beloved dessert made from a mixture of eggs, coconut milk, sugar, and flour, baked to perfection in small, round molds.

Another example is puteri mandi, which translates to “bathing princess.” This delightful treat consists of glutinous rice balls infused with the fragrant aroma of pandan leaves, served in a sweet coconut milk broth. Meanwhile, jala mas, or “golden net,” is a visually stunning dessert that looks like a golden net of intricate lacy patterns, rolled up and drizzled with sweet syrup.

Kelantanese desserts can usually be found at morning / night markets, Ramadan bazaars, makeshift street stalls and some breakfast cafes.


  • Pasar Siti Khadijah (Jalan Buluh Kubu). Opening hours: 7:30 am – 5:30 pm.
  • Pasar Malam Wakaf Che Yeh (Jalan Kuala Krai, Wakaf Che Yeh). Opening hours: 6:00 pm – 1:00 am

Have you tried any of these delicacies in Kelantan? Which one is your favorite? Share your opinion in the comment section below.

Posted in Kelantan

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