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The Most Popular Malaysian Chinese Dishes and Its Origins

Epicuriousity
Writer
Zurien Onn
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We share some of the most popular Malaysian Chinese dishes that you can enjoy practically anywhere in the country.

In a country like Malaysia, a melting pot of cultures has led to the introduction of various cuisines from around the world, primarily from India, China, Indonesia and, to a certain degree, England. Likewise, Malaysians also enjoy more national public holidays compared to other nations because of this diversity. Celebrating Chinese New Year this month, we celebrate just a few of the most popular Malaysian Chinese dishes that are enjoyed on a daily basis by all in the country.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

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Most sources will state that the chicken rice dish known as Hainanese Chicken Rice popular in Southeast Asia these days was created by Singaporeans, with some estimates going back to the 1920s. This is said to be the time when a certain Mr Wang Yiyuan had brought the dish from China and sold chicken rice balls from his hawker stall. Of course, many Malaysians will dispute this as the dish has become so quintessentially Malaysian that it’s difficult to imagine it coming from elsewhere. Nonetheless, as the name connotes, the dish most probably originated in the province of Hainan, where it’s called “Wenchang chicken”, as they would only use free-range poultry from the city of Wenchang to make the dish. The dish as we know it today is usually a set of rice boiled with chicken fat in chicken stock, served with poached chicken seasoned with ginger and sesame oil. Non-traditional styles include serving it with spice-fried chicken, soy chicken, honey chicken and barbecue-flavoured chicken, all of which only made the chicken rice even more popular.

Char Kuay Teow

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How popular is this Malaysian dish? Consider that in Hong Kong, it is known as “Penang Char Kway Teow," referring to the northern Malaysian island of Penang, and that should give an idea of how popular it is as a Malaysian dish. Interestingly, char kway teow is also categorised as a Malay dish in Southeast Asian restaurants in Hong Kong, perhaps to differentiate between the version that uses pork lard and the version made with normal cooking oil. The dish’s main ingredient is flat rice noodles stir fried in lard or cooking oil and garnished with prawns, cockles, fishcake, Chinese chives and bean sprouts, and alternatively, or additionally, beef or chicken strips, and fried tofu. It is flavoured with dark soy sauce, chili and a bit of belachan, a type of Malay fermented shrimp paste. Eggs may also be used, stir fried into the whole mixture, giving it a more-rounded taste, a standard practice these days although it is actually non-traditional. Said to have originated from the city of Chaozhou or Teochew in the southern China province of Guangdong, it is interesting to note that the name of the dish is in the Hokkien language. Created as a simple dish for labourers as a cheap source of energy and nutrients, in the early days it was sold by farmers, fishermen and cockle-gatherers as an additional source of income.

Dim Sum

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These bite-sized portions of dumplings and rolls with various fillings like meat, shrimp, vegetables, root plant, rice and gravy or sauces were originally created as a snack, with the earliest records of Dim Sum appearing in the Book of Tang, written during the era of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, during the years 907-979. As outlined in the book, dim sum dishes were supposed to be a filler before a proper meal, so that one will not feel too hungry. However, in Malaysia, it is pretty much enjoyed as a proper meal, especially for lunch or dinner, particularly after the introduction of halal dim sum and its commercialisation where dim sum outlets have mushroomed in shopping mall outlets and no longer confined to Chinese coffee shops and eateries. It is believed that dim sum originated in Guangzhou, and made its way along the Silk Road towards Hong Kong, via tea houses dotting the route, providing respite for weary travellers.

Yong Tau Foo

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A mixture of fish balls, crab meat sticks, fish cake, lady fingers, chee cheong fun (cut up rice sheets), wontons, stuffed chilly, stuffed eggplants, and, of course, stuffed tofu - which lends its name to this dish known as such in Malaysia, and various other types of similar fried or boiled tidbits, all goes into a bowl and are poured over with brown sauce and chili. Sometimes the eater might prefer it all in a soup, or curry gravy. Nonetheless, a bowl of yong tau foo is one of the best Malaysian cA mixture of fish balls, crab meat sticks, fish cake, lady fingers, chee cheong fun (cut up rice sheets), wontons, stuffed chilly, stuffed eggplants, and, of course, stuffed tofu - which lends its name to this dish known as such in Malaysia, and various other types of similar fried or boiled tidbits, all goes into a bowl and are poured over with brown sauce and chili. Sometimes the eater might prefer it all in a soup, or curry gravy. Nonetheless, a bowl of yong tau foo is one of the best Malaysian comfort foods out there introduced by the Chinese community to the country. Brought over by Hakka immigrants, who migrated en masse to British Malaya in the 20th century, the yong tau foo is a great way to enjoy a variety of flavours in one bowl.

Ginger Beef Kuay Teow

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While the main ingredient is the same, the ginger beef kuay teow is very different from char kuay teow in terms of taste and texture. It is not clear which region of China this dish may have come from, or if it’s a relatively-newer Malaysian creation, but the dish is undoubtedly part of Malaysian Chinese cuisine. However, since Singapore and Indonesia also have their own versions, it may not be completely Malaysia. Making it entails frying the kuay teow with soy sauce, with garlic, ginger and beef strips, and then drenching it in beef stock. Most versions have prawns and fishcake thrown in as well, so this is one very flavourful and filing dish, indeed.

Bak Kut Teh

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This pork ribs soup is probably one dish that hasn’t crossed the cultural barriers of Malaysia’s varied races, even with halal chicken soup versions available, but you’d better believe it is a super-popular food with the Chinese population in the country. It’s probably one of the healthier popular Chinese or Malaysian street food in Malaysia, with the meat cooked in a combination of herbs and spices, and is regarded as a health tonic. In the history of the country, the Bak Kut (meaning “meaty ribs”) provided energy and nourishment to the Chinese coolies who worked at the wharfs of what was then known as Port Swettenham (the current Port Klang), and to those working in estates, who downed it with strong tea (or “Teh”). And that’s how Bak Kut Teh contributed to the progress of the country.

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