The Fine Flavours of Malaysia
is a country that draws on influences from near and far – Chinese, Indian and even Portugal – so it’s no surprise the resulting cuisine is both delicious and diverse. Food is serious business here and small talk revolves around it rather than the weather. Don’t be surprised if you are peppered with questions like, “Have you makan today?” Makan is the Malay word for eat and it might be the most used word in the whole language. Here are some of the dishes you can’t miss, either at hawker stands or in restaurants, while you’re there.
Imagine starting your day with fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk served with peanuts, ikan bilis (small fried anchovies), cucumber slices and a spicy sambal. If you’re extra hungry, you might even add a piece of fried chicken or a boiled egg. Nasi lemak is Malaysia’s most popular breakfast dish and some would even say its national dish.
A rich and spicy soup with a coconut milk base, this is comfort food at its best and a fine example of Nyonya cooking – a unique blend of Chinese and Malay cuisine found in Malaysia and Singapore. Throw in some noodles and whatever else you’re craving – prawns, tofu, cockles, bean sprouts, boiled egg or chicken – and enjoy.
Just look for the tell-tale drift of smoke from a makeshift charcoal barbecue, a little auntie furiously fanning the flames over dozens of sticks of delicious satay, and you’ve hit the jackpot. Usually chicken or beef is cut into bite-sized pieces and strung on bamboo skewers before being lovingly barbecued to perfection to create one of Malaysia’s most popular and recognisable dishes. Don’t forget to enjoy them with heaps of spicy peanut sauce for dipping.
Char Kway Teow
It translates as ‘stir-fried rice-cake strips’ and that is pretty much all there is to this popular noodle dish. Wide, flat rice noodles are stir-fried in dark soy sauce and a touch of belachan (shrimp paste) and tossed with cockles, prawns, chives and egg. It’s not particularly good for you, but it sure is delicious.
Avoid wearing white and prepare to get messy. This is a meal you have to work for, but it sure is worth the effort. Whole crabs are stir-fried in a special chilli sauce and served family style with mounds of steamed rice to soak up the sauce and cool the burn. The table will probably look like a crime scene by time you are done, but at least you won’t have to bother with the clean-up.
Not all sausages are created equal and lor bak is a good example of that. Take minced pork, water chestnuts, five spice and a few other secret ingredients, mix them together, wrap it all up in a tofu skin and deep fry. The result is highly seasoned sausage with an irresistibly light and crispy outside. It’s best enjoyed with a chilli dipping sauce.
Inspired by the south Indian influences that have crept into Malaysian cuisine, roti canai is a popular flatbread that is oiled and cooked on a skillet. With its flaky exterior and soft interior, think of it as an excellent Asian take on a croissant.
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