In Malay cuisine, rice is a main staple that is typically accompanied by an array of side dishes that can be loosely categorised as masak cili/lada (chilli-based), masak lemak (coconut-based), masak asam (tamarind-based), masak merah (tomato-based), masak hitam (dark soy-sauce) and masak kunyit (turmeric-based). They are often spicy and primarily halal as the majority of Malays are Muslims. Traditional Malay food often involve the cooking of ingredients over low heat for a long time as this was the preferred mode of cooking back in the kampong days.
A key ingredient in Malay cuisine is rempah (a spice paste), which is made by pounding together several ingredients such as shallots, chillies, ginger and/or garlic and then sautéing the paste in oil. Other common ingredients include belacan (shrimp paste), santan (coconut milk), and asam jawa (tamarind).
Some examples of popular Malay dishes that many Singaporeans can identify with include the satay (skewered and grilled meat), which had its roots from the Javanese community who settled in Singapore in the early 19th century. Many hawker sellers used to sell this dish along the streets and are now commonly sold and consumed in hawker centres. Nasi lemak, which traditionally encompasses steamed white rice in coconut milk accompanied by cucumber slices, fried anchovies and nuts and spicy semi-sweet chilli is another well-loved Malay dish.
The recipes of Malay cuisine are usually passed down from generation to generation, and it is common for modifications to be made to the recipes to suit individual taste. On top of this, Malay cuisine in Singapore has also evolved to include elements of the various ethnic communities. Dishes such as mee rebus (egg noodles in thick gravy) and mee soto (egg noodle in chicken broth) include Hokkien egg noodles used by the Chinese, while ghee (clarified butter), a traditional Indian ingredient, is also used in some Malay pastries and cookies.
As part of traditional customs, Malays would usually consume their food without cutlery, and they would scoop the food using only the fingers of their clean right hand while keeping their palm clean.