Common Malay Ingredient List

Here’s a list of ingredients I commonly use in Malay or Singaporean cooking.


1. Daun kari : Curry leaves. I’ve a big beautiful one in a pot outside my flat along the corridor. I love how it has towered over my window so whenever I need some, I just reach out and snip some stalks off. ☺️

2. Daun pudina : Mint leaves. Even though I grow a pot outside my flat, the leaves are very small and so I have to keep buying them. My daughter loves mint leaves eaten fresh with her rice. It’s also often scattered on pseudo Arab dishes the Malays have created here, like Nasi Minyak and Nasi Tomato.

3. Daun kesum : Persicaria odorata or laksa leaves/ Vietnamese leaves. These are of course needed to make laksa dishes but the Malays use it a lot in making asam pedas – a spicy and sour fish dish.

4. Daun pandan : pandanus leaves. We use this a lot in desserts, but also in making Nasi lemak. I often wonder how I’d survive elsewhere in the world if I can’t find pandan leaves readily. 😅

5. Daun salam : Bay leaves. These aren’t normal western sweet Bay. The leaves here are broader and used a lot in Indonesian type of dishes. They add a subtle fragrance to coconut gravy dishes like lemak lodeh.

6. Daun kunyit: turmeric leaves. Now, these are absolutely necessary (in my opinion) to make beef rendang, or any type of rendang. Turmeric leaves add a lot of fragrance to the rich rendang dish. It’s actually quite hard to get here too because they don’t keep long and well.

7. Daun limau: kaffir lime leaves. This is my absolute favourite (unless I’m pregnant). I love how the citrusy fragrance of this will lift sambal dishes, and I always store packets of these leaves in my freezer.

8. Daun selasih : Basil leaves. This is not the sweet basil Italian kind though they can be used as a substitute. This is the SEA variety, or what some call Thai basil.

Roots/ shoots

1. Serai : Lemongrass. I think this is ubiquitous in southeast Asian cooking. I’m trying to grow my own lemongrass. Hope it works!

2. Bunga kantan: ginger torch flower. I love how this is such a pretty flower but adds fragrance to dishes too!

3. Kunyit : turmeric. Fresh is best. But of course if unavailable, then the powdered form will have to do. But when I make lemak (coconut) dishes, I will have to use fresh ones because the fragrance from fresh turmeric cannot be replicated in its powdered form.

4. Lengkuas: galangal. This is like the hardier cousin of ginger. I hardly use this and can be omitted but most Malays will insist having this in the rempah recipe. It does add some depth and fragrance to a dish.

5. Halia : ginger. Again, in making rempah, the base of almost all Malay dishes, fresh is best. There are two forms of ginger – old and young.

6. Bawang putih : garlic.

7. Bawang kecil : shallots.

8. Bawang besar : onions. Not the yellow or huge kinds. Over here, Bombay onions or onions grown in India is the preferred choice.

9. Cekur : sand ginger. That’s what it’s apparently called! Now, I super love this because this is the ingredient that is so distinctive when eating peanuty gravies. I can tell if my mom doesn’t put cekur in her peanut sambal for making jengganan or gado-gado. I’ll do posts on this soon.


1. Pelaga: cardamom seeds

2. Cengkih: cloves

3. Jintan putih : fennel

4. Jintan hitam : cumin

5. Halba : fenugreek

6. Kayu manis : cinnamon/ cassia

7. Biji lada putih / lada hitam : white pepper seeds / black pepper seed

8. Bunya lawang : star anise

9. Chilli kering : dried red chillies. There’s only one kind of dried chillies that we like to use here. It’s Long and slightly curly. The broader straighter type can also be used and I used this type when I was in the States for a month. The Mexicans call it Chile de Arbol and when I saw these in Wholefoods, I thought they were the closest type of dried chillies we use here.

10. Chilli merah/chilli hijau : fresh red and green chillies. The closest counterpart to the versions we commonly have here is Serrano chillies if you’re outside SEA.

11. Chilli padi/chilli api : bird’s eye chillies. Thai versions are slightly longer but I love the short fat Kampong versions. Quite hard to find here also but if I were to go to certain wet markets, or to Little Myanmar (which is actually inside a shopping center in town!), I can find these beautiful baby gems.

Took this from a neighbour’s garden. He lives on the ground floor and has been using the small patch of space to grow lots of edible plants!