Think Malaysia and think the heady eternal green of the jungle, the fragrance of wild flowers, the steamy warmth of the tropics punctuated by refreshing downpours of monsoon rain, the languid, meandering rivers teeming with fish, the leafy, tropical trees hanging heavy with exotic fruits ... a meeting of cultures, a mingling of races... And a wealth of culinary delights.
And so began the merging of lifestyles and culinary methods. The original settlers, the easy-going Malays with their staple diet of and fish, the ubiquitous Chinese and their imaginative blend of cuisine, the conservative Indians and their piquant traditional fare, the Peranakans and their exquisite
Nyonya specialties, the exotic Portuguese
Eurasians and their delightful melange of east-west cooking methods - all this individual culinary expertise has now been brought together in one volume, Traditional Malaysian Cuisine, the very best of authentic Malaysia recipes. A visit to Malaysia is incomplete without trying out some of these popular Malaysia dishes.
The township of Kajang on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur is "famous" for its beef and
Kajang chicken satay - barbecued meat served on a bamboo skewer and accompanied by peanut sauce, rice, onion and cucumber. What makes the satay "famous" is supposedly the sauce. Don't be surprised if your Malaysian hosts suggest a special journey to either Ampang or Kajang to partake of these "famous" dishes.
If Malaysia had a national dish,
nasi lemak would be it. While Malay in origin, it is a dish enjoyed
by all Malaysians, at any time of the day (breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner
and supper) and is served in both fancy restaurants as well as at
roadside stalls. Deriving its name (which means 'creamy rice') from the
rice which is cooked in coconut milk, it is usually accompanied by fried
peanuts, anchovies, hard-boiled or fried egg, cucumber and sambal, and
can also be eaten with beef rendang, sambal sotong (squid) or any
other curry that suits your fancy. You could almost say that nasi lemak
is a lot like Malaysia itself - delicious, varied and potentially very
The teh tarik (pulled tea) is
something of a national obsession. For the uninitiated, a quick
definition: tea is repeatedly poured from a container held high to a
container below in order to create a thick froth, and is served in
stalls and shops all across Malaysia. Not only are millions of cups
drunk each day, Malaysians also have numerous competitions to see who
can 'pull' the 'highest' tea; foreigners are often given lessons on how
to teh tarik.
Malaysians like their
food to be enriched with coconut milk and generously spiced with chili
peppers. Scorchingly hot
sambals are served with meals for dunking finger foods. Seafood,
chicken, and meats are prepared in countless ways, but a method
universally esteemed, either for a meal of for a quick snack, is
barbecued satay. In every town and village, food vendors,
carrying a small charcoal brazier slung from a bamboo pole, will set
down their grill on demand, and barbecue a skewer loaded with morsels of
chicken, shrimp, pork, or goat meat.
Satay ayam (chicken) is
usually accompanied by a sweet dipping sauce made with fish sauce,
spices, and crushed peanuts; satay udang (shrimp) has a tart,
spicy lime or tamarind sauce. Steamed rice cakes, traditionally wrapped
in palm leaves, are served with this succulent barbecue. Curries,
immensely popular, are all based on a finely ground spice paste called
rempah. Rempah is gently cooked in hot oil to release its
fragrance, before adding the meat, fish or vegetables.
Malaysia is a melting pot, an dits eclectic cuisine reflects this broad
racial mix. Malaysian cooking has undergone several transformations,
assimilating the foods and cooking techniques of its many foreign
settlers. The Arabs were among the first to come, bringing onions,
almonds, pistachios, raisins and kebabs - the original satays.
Next came Indians adding to Malaysian cuisine their great breads, rice
pilaus, curry spices, and unique vegetarian dishes. Indonesians brought
fierce chilies, and the Chinese soy sauce, noodles, bean sprouts and the
wok. Regional differences in Malaysia's cuisine are also apparent.
Northern Malaysians prefer the sour flavors of citrus and tamarind pulp
to the sweeter, coconut-loaded cooking of the south. Eating places are
equally diverse: Chinese noodle shops, Indian bread shops, Malay and
Thai restaurants, American fast-food kiosks, markets selling farm-fresh,
prepared foods, and hundred of street vendors and foodstalls.
Food vendors spring into action on the streets of every town and village
after dark. Some of them specialize in only one dish. The quality of the
food produced with such speed by the street vendors is extremely high,
and for those who want authentic Malaysian dishes, the foodstalls are
the palce to find them.
Laksa Lemak, a spicy noodle soup with seafood,
Soto Ayam, spicy chicken soup;
gado gado, a vegetable salad with spicy peanut sauce eaten
throughout Southeast Asia;
Tahu goreng, fried bean curd with a vegetable melange, flavored with
crunchy peanuts or soy sauce;
Sambal Belacan, a pungent chili dipping sauce; and
gula melaka, a sweet dessert of sago and coconut milk which takes
its name from Malaccan palm sugar, are all foodtall specialties.
Sweet tastes are as prevalent in Malaysia as spicy. In fact, Malaysians
have a passion for sweet desserts that is totally unlike other Southeast
Asian countries, where, customarily, meals end with fresh fruit.
Desserts make liberal use of sago, coconut, mung beans, palm sugar and
sticky rice, generally flavored with clove, cardamom, cinnamon or
nutmeg. Pandanus leaf is a ubiquitous in Asian desserts as vanilla is in
Western ones. Coconut milk is essential to Malaysian cooking. Chilled,
it is also a popular drink on a steamy, tropical day.
Steamed rice (nasi) is the staple food food in all three cuisines -
Malay, Chinese and Indian. Each cuisine uses the same basic ingredients.
One of the most important utensils in a Malaysian kitchen is the
kuali or wok. Made from iron, it is heavier than the one used in
Chinese cookery. The kuali is not suitable for dishes cooked with
coconut milk or cream as the iron interacts with the milk and causes
discoloring. Enamel pans are used instead. Various sizes of coconut
shell spoons and dippers are prevalent. A big frying pan, a good-sized
steamer, the all-important mortar and pestle, and a grinding stone are
standard items in a Malaysian kitchen.
Malaysian Tea Time Foods
More Malaysian Recipes
More Malaysia Melayu Recipes