Food, Glorious Malaysian Food
It is no stranger that Malaysia is one of multi-cultures and therefore means myriads of food of all kinds. For me, being born and bred for as much as 17 years up north in a little town call Taiping, I have been exposed to many a good food since young. Taiping, being such as it is, small and unpretentious, food business here is of no joke, and word of mouth can make or break it in matter of days. Therefore, we can all be sure of the quality of each food served here, especially those that lasted from generations to generations. So therefore since young, I have been quite trained to pick out good or bad tastes, but of course just confined to mainly north dishes.
Photo by kwaifung
So then, once I moved down south to Klang Valley, I have been amazed by its variety of food coming from not just North, but also East and South. Such a food haven I might say, but beware, not all are made equal, so my Taiping-refined tongue said. There were also food unknown to me when I first came down, but had soon became my favourite while others that are so familiar to me but yet somehow not the same due to its variation which some had me refusing to acknowledge to some where I had gracefully embrace it. This is how I then came to savour what Malaysia has to offer, starting from north to centre and then various places if time permits me to travel.
Photo by James Mellor
So what is Malaysian food then? Many might ask, but I can assure you there are no straight answers. Made up of many cultures, and then further divided by locations, the food varies from one to another, some by just a little, while others are uniquely only found in certain place, and there are also some that can be found just about anywhere yet still able to remain practically the same! Wouldn’t such wonders make you want to explore Malaysian food even more? Generally though, we may roughly categorize our Malaysian food to few major groups – Malay, Chinese, Indian and Nyonya.
Being the largest group in Malaysia, Malay food is ubiquitous here and in general is rich with aromatic rempah-ratus (herbs and spices), such as lemongrass, wild ginger, pandan leaves and fresh chilies. Chilies are usually featured in forms of sambal and chili paste that is so well loved by many in Malaysia. Many of their dishes also features santan (coconut milk) prominently, one such is its most famous dish, sometimes touted as the Malaysian national dish is the Nasi Lemak (rice cooked in santan, usually served with sambal mixed with ikan bilis (anchovies)). If one is to ask me what Malay food they must try while in Malaysia, it is of course the famous Nasi Lemak as mentioned earlier, satay (juicy skewered meats barbecued on charcoals) dip in peanut gravy and if you have time, the Nasi Padang. Nasi Padang is a meal itself where rice is usually served with various types of meat, fish, poultry and vegetable dishes. From here one can sample a bit of every flavor that Malay cuisines have to offer. Ketupat image by Tuis.
Arrived and settled down since few generations ago, Malaysian Chinese food had been tweaked from its ancestors but still very much complicated by its various types of clan that has their own unique dishes or interpretation of it mainly featuring rice or noodles as staples. To be able to taste various Chinese dishes in one go, one can try out the tai chow (literary big fried), a meal where everybody sits together, with sumptuous spread of various dishes made-to-order which would then be eaten with rice. As for the noodles, you can definitely find a number of ways done to number of types of noodles here, from wheat base to rice based noodles, from soupy to dry ones of lightly mix with sauces, to fried versions. If I have to recommend just one noodle, then it shall be the famous, also sometimes argued as the Malaysian dish – the char kuey teow, basically fried flat rice noodles with shrimps, cockles, bean sprouts, eggs and chives. Not to be missed is also the dim sum, dainty light dishes ranging from savoury to sweet, try it out yourself and be amazed by the menu or if there is none, just point and choose from the tray! Before you leave, also try out the Chicken Rice, steamed/roasted chicken with yau fan (oily rice) and extra order of char siew (honey bbq pork) and siew yok (roasted pork), to go with it.
For the Indians that migrated to Malaysia in the 19th century, the food is from both Northern and Southern India, also adapted to what it is now today. Also rich in rempah-ratus, most dishes are made up in mixture of coriander, turmeric, cumin and curry leaves. Yoghurt, ghee and chili are also the few key ingredients in the Malaysian Indian cuisine. Not to be missed are the Banana Leaf Rice where rice is served on banana leaf accompanied by numerous dishes of meats to vegetables and legumes, which one can choose from. Roti (bread) are also the main staple here, like Naan and Chapati, while the really popular and indigenous to Malaysia is the Roti Canai (a flatbread usually served with dhal and curries) which can be found at Mamak (Indian Muslim) stalls. Before leaving, do try some of their curries of all kinds of meats – mutton, chicken, fish and beef, some of coconut based and some not.
After all the above and I have yet to even graze on what Malaysian food has to offer! I have just mainly spoke of the major groups of Malaysia, and have yet to even talk about Nyonya (the Peranakans), a race truly unique to Malaysia which of course means cuisines that is created here itself and thus best eaten here. This deserves an article all by itself, to fully describe and appreciate what it is all about. So stay tuned, while I bring you along as I eat my way through Malaysia.
Rokh is a food columnist on Malaysia Travel Guide, she’s an epicurean and a cook who loves to eat, also writes in her own Malaysia Food Guide – Thamjiak.com . In this column, she will bring you along while she explore various Malaysia foods, like what is good, what makes them so special and how or where to best well enjoy them. More [+]