The unique food from the East Coast state of Kelantan can really surprise with how different it is from your regular Malaysian fare.
Kelantanese cuisine is often described as a combination of rich, sweet and creamy flavours, mostly due to the coconut milk and sugar that feature very heavily in their dishes. Meanwhile, fish is used in abundance in Kelantan dishes, most probably due to the state's traditionally heavy reliance on the fishing industry. Additionally, Kelantan's historical links with Thailand - they share a border - are reflected in dishes such as somtam and tomyam. Here's the scoop on which Kelantanese dish you should look out for when in the state or at a Kelantanese restaurant. Most Popular
Nasi kerabu is essentially another variant of nasi ulam (rice served with various raw vegetables and fresh herbs mixed together), but the former is easily recognised by its blue tinge, which is derived naturally from the petals of the butterfly pea flowers, or bunga telang. What goes into the kerabu, or herb salad, usually varies from one cook to the other as traditionally, cooks would use whatever available in their garden or around their home. As such, Kelantanese chefs of Thai origin have a tendency to use more citrus-based ingredients such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil, while Malay ones gravitate towards gingery flavours by including torch ginger flower (bunga kantan), turmeric leaves and kesum leaves (a type of mint leaf). Nasi kerabu is usually served with kerisik sambal ikan (fish floss with grated coconut), budu (fermented fish sauce), boiled salted egg and fish crackers. Other accompaniments also include ayam percik (marinated, charcoal-grilled chicken), fried fish and solok lada (chillis stuffed with minced fish and kerisik).
A Malaysian East Coast breakfast staple, nasi dagang is rice steamed in coconut milk with fenugreek seeds and served with fish curry and pickled cucumber and carrots. The Terengganu variant of nasi dagang is quite simple and straightforward, made with white rice and served with gulai ikan tongkol (spicy Malay-style fish curry) but the Kelantanese version is more decadent: it uses a different variety of rice altogether that is locally known as 'beras nasi dagang! This variety of wild rice is slightly glutinous, and is light purple in colour. On top of the fish curry, the Kelantanese nasi dagang is also served with sambal kelapa (coconut sambal) and boiled eggs.
The ayam percik is a rather common sight at night markets everywhere in Malaysia, but it originally hails from Kelantan. The ayam percik is well-quartered chicken seasoned and quartered on a large stick of bamboo, and then charcoal-grilled. However, what really makes the ayam percik is its rich, coconut cream-based marinade. This marinade is flavoured with ginger, turmeric, tamarind, lemongrass, dried chilli, shallot, garlic, as well as a bit of palm sugar and salt. The end result of this is a creamy and smoky but slightly sweet chicken dish, which is often served as an accompaniment to rice dishes.
The ketupat sotong is essentially a whole squid stuffed with beras pulut (sticky rice), which is then drenched in coconut milk. It is another popular dish in the Malaysian East Coast states but the Kelantanese take on ketupat sotong is sweeter compared to the Terengganu variation. This sweetness comes from nisan ('manisan', or palm sugar as the rest of us call it), which also gives the ketupat sotong gravy its brown tinge.
Another East Coast breakfast staple, laksam is a combination of thick, flat rice noodles served with a creamy fish broth. The process of making these noodles with rice flour involves rolling, flattening then steaming them before cutting the end result into small, bite-sized pieces. The laksam gravy is made of coconut milk and mackerel fish paste, and is usually seasoned with ginger, shallots, and garlic. The dish is then garnished with cucumber strips, long beans and torch ginger, before being served with a dollop of belacan, or fermented shrimp paste.
Somtam, or Thai green papaya salad is a spicy salad made predominantly with shredded unripe papaya, soy sauce, budu (fermented anchovies sauce), chilli, ground nuts and lime. Other frequently added ingredients include dried shrimps, unripe mangoes, carrots and tomatoes These ingredients are then pounded together in a mortar for a few seconds and served raw. Due to the Thai influences of this dish, it's widely available in Kelantanese areas with a large number of ethnic Thais, such as the district of Tumpat.
Roti titab is a rather unusual combination of thick, warm toast that is served with a half-boiled egg in the middle and homemade kaya spread on four corners of the bread. It's often paired with a cup of black coffee or hot tea. Roti titab is a signature dish at Kota Bharu's Kopitiam Kita, where its owner, N.H. Wong was inspired to introduce a Malaysianised version while he was having breakfast on a trip to Guangzhou, China. You can find versions of this elsewhere, but the original in Kopitiam Kita has literally been patented via the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia in 2016.
This is just some of the unique Kelantanese food to try, but don't let the sweet, creamy richness of Kelantanese cuisine discourage you from trying if you're usually averse to these flavours. A rather efficient method of countering all the sweetness is to wash it all down afterwards with plain water, and you're good to go. Kelantanese cuisine is definitely a must-try if you want to know more about Malaysian food and the rich nuances of each region.