Here’s why Malaysia is an ultimate foodie’s paradise brimming with hearty, complex, incredible flavours fused together by a deep-rooted love for multi-cultural heritage
With Hari Merdeka (Independence Day) soon approaching – August 31 – let us celebrate one of Malaysia’s greatest triumphs – our cuisine!
Here’s a look at local dishes that are close to our hearts and taste-buds.
Rich and flavourful, Nasi Lemak has deep roots and has long been seen in hawker stalls and homes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and every time in between. The rice that makes up the dish is soaked in coconut milk before being steamed and cooked with pandan (screw pine) leaves for its distinctive and familiar flavour. Normally served with slices of cucumber, fried ikan bilis (fried anchovies), roasted ground nuts and hard-boiled egg – served with spicy, flavour-packed ikan bilis sambal.
Indian Rojak (Pasembur)
Also known as Pasembur, Indian Rojak is a combination of textures and flavours as befitting the ingredients used. Made up of fried dough fritters, fried beancurd, boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish and shredded cucumbers, topped with a thick, sweet and spicy peanut gravy.
There is always something amazing about seeing food being prepared, and the spectacle of watching Roti Canai is something to be enjoyed. Popular as both breakfast and a snack, Roti Canai can be enjoyed sweet or savoury depending on one’s taste. Often seen cooked on a flat iron skillet, the dough used for Roti Canai is usually composed of ghee, flour and water, with a number of variations often making modifications to how it is prepared or if any fillings are spread into the dough. Roti Canai is commonly eaten with various forms of curry – usually dhal (lentil) or chicken; for those who prefer theirs sweet, sugar or even condensed milk!
Satisfying, with each bite laden sauce soaked noodle, Hokkien Noodles can be considered a guilty pleasure for the health conscious but thoroughly satisfying for everyone else. Also known as Hokkien Char Mee, the dish consists of thick yellow noodles that are braised in a thick dark soy sauce, with the other main ingredients consisting of pork, squid, fish cakes and cabbage, with cubes of fried pork lard adding a richness to the whole ensemble. The sight of the noodles being prepared over a charcoal fire is just as enticing as the aroma of it being prepared.
Not just a name associated to the dish itself, Rendang also refers to the method in which it is cooked. Using either chicken or beef, the meat is cooked in a mixture of coconut milk and a combination of ground spices – these being ginger, galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, chilies to name a few – along with toasted, grated toasted coconut (also known as ‘kerisik’) that helps to thicken the mixture. Cooked until the coconut milk has evaporated, the result is an exceedingly tender meat dish with a complex and unique taste.
A definite must-try, Laksa Penang is also known as asam laksa, a fish (normally a mackerel that is poached and then flaked) and tamarind-based soup served with rice noodles with a distinctive sour taste. Rounding up the flavours are lemongrass, galangal and chili. Laksa Penang is usually garnished with mint, pineapple slices, thin-sliced onion, a thick shrimp-prawn paste known as petis udang (or ‘hae ko’).
Prepared and served on skewers and traditionally using chicken or beef as the meat, the sight of Satay being prepared by hawkers over a charcoal fire, smoke and fire being fanned is a recognisable and memorable one. Eaten with a peanut gravy, Satay is often accompanied by portions of onions, cucumbers and ketupat (steamed rice cakes, compact in texture).
Similar to a crepe and just as satisfying to bite into, the Thosai (also known as ‘dosa’) is a hot dish using fermented batter made from finely ground rice and black gram. Cooked on a griddle with ghee, it can be made as thick as a pancake or thin and crispy and is normally either served rolled or folded in half. Often Thosai is served with chutney and sambar (not to be confused with sambal) – a lentil chowder.
A favourite of many, especially when the heat gets especially intense – Cendol is a bowlful of cool dessert that is as sweet as it is colourful. Cendol’s ingredients consist of shaved ice, coconut milk, gula melaka (a dark, syrupy form of palm sugar), sweetened red beans and green jelly noodles made from rice flour.
Bubur Cha Cha
Be it hot or cold, breakfast or dessert, Bubur Cha Cha is a sweet treat that can truly be savoured at any time of the day and any temperature. The dish is made by cooking pearled sago, sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, black-eyed peas, pandan leaves with coconut milk, sugar and salt added as appropriate. Occasionally grated coconut, coconut cream or some water is added to the recipe to adjust the taste as necessary.