How South Indian Immigrants Shaped Malaysian Cuisine

Tamil, Malayali, and Kannadiga migrants are behind some of the archipelago’s biggest culinary hits, from roti canai to teh tarik.

GettyImages-866274736 roti canai malaysian food indian history
A man making roti cenai on a street corner in George Town, Penang, Malaysia on March 19, 2017 (Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Mehr Singh


October 18, 2023


8 min

If you visit the thousands of Mamak centers in Malaysia, which sling Tamil Muslim food, you will likely be delightfully bombarded with dozens of varieties of wafer-thin, flaky rotis. Think roti canai (rumored to be named after Chennai, and very similar to parotta), roti telur (an omelet flatbread), roti jala (a mesh-like bread, Hindi for net), roti john (an eggy baguette), and even roti durian (roti stuffed with the polarizing fruit that some places have banned). 

The young country’s diverse cuisine reflects the immigrants who make it: world-famous Thai tom yum and satay, Indonesian rendang, and, of course, the bounty of dishes from the Indian subcontinent, be it samosa-esque curry puffs or nasi biryani. Chefs and restaurateurs agree that the tiny nation’s cooking believes in more is more and that there is something for everyone. So it’s not that surprising that South Asians have long been fans of Malaysian food — in fact, South Indian immigrants have been a crucial part of forming its cuisine.

Join today to read the full story.


Already a subscriber? Log in