Article by Syafiq Khalid (Malaysia)
Blog Correspondent of ASEAN-Korea Centre
The diverse and multicultural society in Malaysia (as mentioned in my previous article) has given birth to a wide variety of food in the country. To create a more balanced approach, I will discuss Malaysia’s cuisine by dividing it into five major categories; Malay, Indian, Chinese, and National Icons (food which is familiar and eaten by all Malaysians). In each of the subheadings I will describe the general characteristics of the dishes done by each of the cultures, and try to elaborate on the ingredients used, and identify on flagship cuisines of each of the cultures.
Malay Malaysian Cuisines
Malay food in Malaysia can be summarized as spicy and favorable as it utilizes spices and herbs which is found in abundance locally. The use of Daun Pandan, Kunyit (Turmeric), and Coriander is very common among other spices such as Pepper. Most of the Malay dishes involve rice; from breakfast, lunch, dinner and even supper, and are mostly eaten using bare hands and fingers. In terms of type of meat used, seafood is prevalent, with chicken, beef and mutton dishes available as well. Most Malays do not eat pork as most of them practice Islam.
Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) is a very popular Malay Cuisine. Essentially, it is rice, fried with a multitude of ingredients, including eggs, vegetables, and chunks of chicken or beef. The most popular type of Nasi Goreng would be Nice Goreng Kampung (Fried Village Rice) which incorporates pounded fried fish, eggs, and ikan bilis. Other popular cuisines include Keropok Lekor (from Terengganu – made from batter and shredded fish), Apam Balik (equivalent to a Crepe, with coarse nuts, sugar and corn in the middle) and Tempoyak (durian extract which is preserved, eaten with chili and rice).
Chinese Malaysian Dishes
In Malaysia, there are a wide varity of Chinese Food although most of them contain elements of Cantonese (since most of the Chinese immigrants in Malaysia come from the Southern Part of China). Although the majority is eaten with rice, there are also dishes involving noodles. The cooking normally involves a small amount of oil, creating a crisp and fresh dish. Although a number of Chinese dishes include pork, variations of it may include Chicken or Beef as the majority of Malays in Malaysia don’t eat Pork. The dishes are still distinctively Chinese despite being influenced by local ingredients.
The more popular Chinese Malaysian dishes include Bak Kut Teh (Pork Ribs Soup – most famous in the City of Klang), Char Kuay Teow (Fried rice / flat noodles, including ingredients such as Eggs, Chicken, and Cockles), Hainanese Chicken Rice (Steamed Chicken Rice served with Chicken Steamed in the style of Hainan) and Popiah (Spring Roll which is stuffed with vegetables, tofu, carrots and may include eggs). In general most of the Chinese dishes in Malaysia involves stir-frying, and contains eggs. Chinese-style dishes are a major influence in the State of Sarawak and parts of Kuala Lumpur.
Indian Malaysian Food
As Indian food in Malaysia is heavily influenced from the Northern Part of India, much of the ingredients used contain bread, served in a metal tray. Despite being the third largest group in Malaysia, there is an abundance of Indian restaurants and food stalls in cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang, where Malaysians go to primarily during breakfast time. Among the spices which is commonly used in Indian Meals in Malaysia includes coriander, turmeric, chillies, clova and cinnamon. Where South Indian dishes are served, instead of using a metal plate, the restaurants would normally use a Banana Leaf as a form of plates, with rice served in the center.
The more popular dishes includes Nann, Chapatti and Tosai (a form of lightly baked / fried bread – served with curry), Chicken Tandoori (Chicken or Chicken Quarters which as roasted for several hour and barbequed), Murtabak (Bread including minced mutton, garlic, onion, folded in an omelette), Briyani Rice (Rice made from a mixture of spices, coming in a variation of color), and other Mamak Dishes (the term “Mamak” refers to Indian Muslims – most of their dishes are catered to and for muslims, including Nasi Kandar and Nasi Padang).
Despite the variety of dishes available to feast on, I believe there are several dishes which can be deemed as “National Icons” to reflect the level of popularity and frequency of consumption by the average Malaysians. Although there are a quite a number of them to choose from, I will narrow it down to the Top 3, based on rate of consumption from all Malaysians. The top three would be Nasi Lemak (Coconut rice served with chilli, with Chicken, Eggs, Cucumber as options), Teh Tarik (literally means pulled tea, tea which is served with condensed milk ) and Rojak (fruit salad with prawn paste).
As one would be able to see, there is a vast selection of food to choose from in Malaysia, ranging from a wide variety of cultures. Food is actually one of the reasons why most Malaysians living abroad would come back for, as they miss the unique dishes which are difficult to find elsewhere; as well as the level of authenticity. This is a result from the diverse culture which can be seen in Malaysia; where cultures move they will bring with them their food traditions, and this case is evident in Malaysia. This makes the country totally unique, and also results in food lovers around the world who travel to Malaysia remember their experiences while navigating around the country.