Try out some of these must-try dishes by the country’s top celebrity chefs for a taste of Malaysiana.
Eating is not just a routine for most Malaysians, it’s almost akin to a ritual. There’s just so much variety when it comes to Malaysian dishes, sometimes you just don’t know where to start. May we recommend these must-try signature dishes from some of the most popular chefs in Malaysia? These dishes probably represent authentic versions of each with personal tweaks from the masterful chefs, so what you get is nothing but the best and the most delicious.
Chef Ismail’s Restoran Rebung is actually co-owned with another famous Malaysian: Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, the country’s first astronaut, or Angkasawan. One of his more prominent signature dishes served at Rebung is the famous nasi ulam. Nasi Ulam is essentially rice mixed with kerisik (dry- toasted shredded coconut) and various finely sliced herbs including daun kaduk (wild betel leaf), daun kesum (Vietnamese mint leaf), daun kunyit (turmeric leaf) and bunga kantan (torch ginger flower).
Chef Anis Nabilah’s debut cooking show in 2007, ‘Icip-icip’ had the honour of being the first Malaysian food programme to be picked up by the Asian Food Channel - and she hasn’t slowed down since. One of her favourite Malaysian recipes is the ayam ros, a spicy-sweet chicken curry popularised by the famous Hameediyah restaurant in Penang — who catered her late grandparents’ wedding — served with nasi jagung,which is rice cooked with corn. Fun fact: she ate at the restaurant for three months before she managed to crack the restaurant’s ayam ros recipe for herself.
The ‘Malaysian Cooking’ cookbook author and founder of the-then monthly run Malaysian Supper Club in London (among a few achievements!) cites the quintessentially Malaysia nasi lemak as his must-try. For the still-uninitiated, nasi lemak is rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves. While nasi lemak is typically served with plain sambal, fried anchovies, peanuts and boiled egg — other popular side dishes include the chicken or beef rendang, squid and cockles variation of the sambal.
Dato’ Redzuawan Ismail, or more famously known as Chef Wan needs little introduction, even to those less acquainted with the country’s culinary scene — he was Tourism Malaysia’s culinary ambassador at one point. While he has multiple signature dishes, his prawn mee rebus is particularly special as it’s actually a recipe he inherited from his mother, Cik Ani. To make prawn mee rebus, yellow egg noodles are first cooked in a thick spicy potato and prawn-based gravy with a bit of fermented soybean paste added in. It’s then garnished with a hard-boiled egg, spring onions, bean sprouts, fried shallots, dried or fried beancurd and lime juice. Chef Wan claims his prawn mee rebus recipe is fairly doable even for most beginners, but no one will blame you for taking the easier route of ordering one from his De.Wan 1958 restaurant at The LINC Kuala Lumpur.
Kyo Pang’s New York City-based Kopitiam has come a long way since its small pop-up venue in 2015: they’ve been featured in countless international publications including Bon Appetit, Eater and Vogue. However, while patrons of Kopitiam mention other Malaysian fare like nasi lemak and roti canai as their must-haves, Kyo Pang considers pan mee as her restaurant’s flagship dish. Pan mee is hand-rolled flat- noodles made with wheat flour, eggs, water, and oil, dipped in a broth made from anchovies and mushroom stems. This broth is then topped with ground meat, wood ear mushrooms, crispy fried anchovies, and shallots. Halal variations of the dish usually feature chicken or beef.
Chef Florence Tan is best known for her expertise in authentic Baba-Nyonya cuisine: she’s hosted numerous shows and written multiple cookbooks on the topic. Thus, it’s no surprise that one of her signature dishes would be a well-loved Nyonya recipe: the pineapple prawn curry, or udang masak lemak nanas. To make pineapple prawn curry, a blend of shrimp paste, chillies, shallots, garlic, galangal, turmeric, lemongrass and candlenut is simmered into coconut milk. Fresh cubed pineapples, prawns, turmeric paste and kaffir lime leaves are then added. The scrumptious dish is best served with a side of piping hot rice.
Of course, there’s more Malaysian dishes to choose from, and from many other Malaysian chefs, too, but take your pick from any of these and you can’t go wrong!