When being asked for recommendations of food to try when one goes to Malaysia, it is always hard for us, Malaysians, to answer it properly. In other words, we need time to think and come up with the dishes that everyone have to try when they are visiting. Hence, most of us never stray from mentioning the mainstream ones such as Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai, Satay, Tarik and Mee Goreng. Having the status as the mainstream Malaysian food, they can also be easily found in any Malaysian restaurants worldwide. A good representation of Malaysia, I guess?
However some travellers such as myself, always seek for extra thrills and opportunity to try EVERY FOOD that are not mainstream when being in a foreign country. We travellers should always grab the opportunity to try new, good food for full experience while visiting a country. Hence, through this article I will introduce 5 of the best non-mainstream food that one can find in Malaysia!
Laksa is one of the best food that everyone should try! Laksa is a dish quite similar to noodle soup, but in Malaysia people often use rice vermicelli instead of the normal egg noodles, topped up with some vegetables and drenched with curry-texture soup! But wait, which laksa? In Malaysia, almost every state has their own version of laksa soup. In the Peninsular Malaysia, basically most of states make their laksas using fish as base. Here, I am introducing the one and only laksa that is distinctive from the one in Peninsular Malaysia; the Laksa Sarawak. Laksa Sarawak is the symbolic dish of one of the states in Borneo (East Malaysia) called Sarawak. Should you visit Malaysia, Sarawak is one of the place that you should never miss. Don’t worry, it’ll definitely worth the extra plane ticket because of the food! What makes Laksa Sarawak so different and more scrumptious than other laksa is its soup which is made using prawn as base. Added up with some prawn paste, spices, cilantro and coconut milk, one can definitely smell the goodness from afar. Topped up with boiled prawns, strips of eggs, bean sprouts, strips of chicken and MORE PRAWN PASTE, one sip of the soup can take anyone to another dimension. Not an exaggeration since one of the world’s acclaimed celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain named laksa Sarawak as one of the best food he’s ever had. Moreover, he added it in the menu for his restaurant!
Moving on to the next one, which is also one of the symbolic authentic dish of Sarawak, Mee Kolo. Mee Kolo is one of the local’s favourite especially because it can be eaten anytime whether for breakfast, dinner, lunch or supper, perhaps, as snacks too? Some does it, though. Mee Kolo is a handmade noodle made solely using flour, eggs, water and definitely good noodle making skills. Mee Kolo has two variations due to our Malay and Chinese background. The Malay version of Mee Kolo is often made using beef broth to soak the noodles for extra taste, with soy sauce, onion oil and sometimes served with chillies and strips of chicken or slices of beef on top. As for the Chinese version, they use pork soup to soak the noodles, add up with some pork lard, some fish sauce, salted soy sauce, onion oil and topped up with slices of Char Siew Pork and sometimes fried minced pork on top. Now for the question that will definitely be in your mind, WHICH one is BETTER? What more I say, you will have to try it yourself! What I can guarantee is that both will be one of the best food you’ll ever had.
Now let’s move on to one of the certified food paradise in Malaysia, Penang. Penang is most famous for its street food which are really scrumptious and cheap! Out of all of Penang’s countless street food dishes, few require more skill and technique than a plate of Char Kuey Teow. I love the stories and idiosyncracies behind each plate of this iconic, wok-fried noodle dish. Tune into local Penangite hawker gossip and you are bound to hear rumours and whisperings with an uncanny level of detail: which old uncle or aunty is retiring soon, what their secret ingredients are, whether the new son-in-law is a worthy successor or not. A good recipe alone is not enough. It’s all about the art of imparting ‘wok hei‘ – that beautiful smoky, caramelised ‘wok’s breath’ flavour – into the dish. The best ones tend to be those which are cooked individually to order, preferably over hot coals to achieve maximum wok hei. Flavour-wise, there should be a good balance between savoury, sweet and spicy – the stir-fried sauce base a mixture of freshly ground chilli paste and soya sauce laced with sugar. Apart from silky smooth Kuey Teow (flat rice noodles), the perfect plate of Char Kuey Teow also requires the right supporting cast: succulent prawns, plump, juicy beansprouts, fresh cockles, slices of lap cheong (chinese sausage), fried egg, a sprinkling of chives. And of course, plenty and PLENTY of deep-fried, crispy pork lard. The halal version will use chicken instead of pork. But the taste remains heavenly. p/s: It is also one of my personal favourite food.
Sarawak is known for its Kolo and Laksa while Penang is known for its Char Kuey Teow. When it comes to Sabah, Tuaran Mee is the “must eat” noodle which truly represent Sabah. Similar to Char Kuey Teow, Tuaran Mee also emphasizes on the art of “wok hei”. Tuaran Mee is a Nanyang-Chinese fried egg noodle hawker dish from Tuaran in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. It most commonly refers to the fried version, but it is also used to identify egg noodles that are made in Tuaran. A typical plate consumed pretty much any time of the day consists of fresh egg noodles fried in the wok for the extra “wok flavour” added with sauces such as oyster sauce, an egg which balances the whole flavour, char siu pork, pork egg roll, and whole lot of vegetable strips. A visit to Sabah without trying Tuaran Mee can be considered as an unfortunate waste of chance. So, make sure to include Sabah in your list of places to go in Malaysia AND make sure to try Tuaran Mee!
Now let’s move back to the Peninsular states of Kelantan and Terengganu. These two states are well known for their distinctive music and culture. However, they are also famous for their delicacy; Nasi Dagang. Nasi Dagang is a local favourite for breakfast. The direct translation to English would mean “Trade Rice” which surprisingly sounds relevant enough as it is a mixture of the southern part of Thailand and also Malaysia. What makes it so diverse? The rice is cooked along with coconut milk (which is also a norm in Thailand) to get the scrumptious mouth-watering coconut aroma. Served along with different types of curries which you can choose yourself and preserved assorted vegetables (also known as acar). However, most locals prefer it to be served with fish curry.
Malaysia is not called as “food paradise” for no reason. Of course good, scrumptious, mouth-watering, delicious, delectable, and appetizing food are at a hand’s reach in Malaysia but these 5 hidden delicacies definitely add up more sprinkles to the all the goodness. So by any chance that you are visiting Malaysia and wanted to go food hunting, don’t hesitate to explore the other states for each state has their own distinctive food. Upon finishing reading this article, I hope that you are hungry and ready to book a flight ticket to Malaysia!
By John Anak Ramsay, ASEAN Correspondent from Malaysia