This month, it’s all about FOOD! And do you know what Malaysia is known for? FOOD! Actually, I’m pretty certain that every country is known for their food to a certain extent. But anyway, FOOD! Malaysia is an Asian food haven. Here, we have Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines with everything in between. I’ve thought long and hard about how to structure this post, and I’ve decided to go with dividing them up by meals. So without further ado, let’s begin!
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and along with it comes Malaysia’s national food – Nasi Lemak! Traditionally, the Nasi Lemak (literally Fat Rice) is eaten for breakfast, though nowadays, we eat it throughout the day. It is basically rice cooked with coconut milk, with servings of boiled egg, sambal belacan (shrimp paste), anchovies, cucumbers and peanuts.
Another popular breakfast item is the Roti Kahwin (literally marriage bread). At first glance, it looks like a normal toasted sandwich, but the secret ingredient here is kaya or coconut and egg jam. It is spread on the bread together with butter and their taste complement each other so much that it’s as if they’re a match made in heaven. Hence, marriage bread.
Roti Canai is also typical eaten for breakfast. It is a type of Indian flatbread, served with dhal or curry. There are many variations to it, such as with fillings like onion, egg and onion, or with butter. There’s also the Murtabak, which is filled with meat, typically corned beef or sardine, alongside onion and egg. The Roti Tisu (pictured above) is also an interesting variant, being a tall, thin version and is sometimes drenched with sweet condiments like condensed milk or served with ice cream on the side.
The Sarawak Laksa is also mainly consumed for breakfast. It is vermicelli cooked with shrimp based soup and often served with bean sprouts and thin slices of chicken and egg along with belacan (shrimp paste) and lime on the side.
For most schools and training courses, there is time set aside for a short break, usually half an hour long. It started just as a time to relax and unwind, but being Malaysians, food was brought into the equation. (Totally made this one up.) And most of the time, we eat kuih. There’s really no word in English to describe kuih. It’s a type of food, perhaps equivalent to pastries, but it’s not quite pastries. They can be steam or fried or baked and come in all shapes and sizes. It’s basically bite size snacks, easy to consume without silverware.
One of the most popular kuih, is the Ang Koo Kueh (Red Tortoise kuih). The skin is made of glutinous rice flour and is sticky, while the fillings are usually red or green mung bean paste. And they are shaped like a tortoise’s shell. They traditionally come in red color and eaten during festive occasions as a symbol of prosperity, though nowadays, they come in all sorts of colors.
Another tasty kuih is the Apam Balik. No idea what this translates into. Roughly Reversed Pancake? There are two types of Apam Balik. And the difference is only in the skin. It’s either a thin, crispy layer or a thick, spongy one. Both uses the same ingredient, which is batter that is similar to pancake. While the skin is cooking, sugar and peanut granules are sprinkled all over it, and when it’s done, the skin is folded over to cover the fillings.
The Rojak is another food that is mostly eaten during tea breaks or as a side dish. There are a few kinds of Rojak and all of them are mixtures of some sort. Rojak here is a colloquial term for mixing. For example Rojak language, involves someone mixing several languages in a single sentences. Anyway, the Rojak I’m talking about is the Fruit Rojak. It typically contains pineapple, cucumber, fried puffy tofus and jicama. It is mixed with a thick and sweet (sometimes spicy) sauce made of oyster sauce, tamarind and sugar. And lastly, it is often sprinkled with peanut granules.
Lunch (single serving dishes)
Lunch and dinner food here are often interchangeable, so I decided to make lunch food as single serving dishes while dinner will be reserved for food often cooked to serve more than one person.
The Hainanese Chicken Rice, is a staple dish here in Malaysia and one of the national dishes of neighboring Singapore. The chicken is first steam, and the resulting stock, along with some oil, ginger and garlic are used to cook the rice. Various states of Malaysia have added different touches to how it is served. For example, in the state of Malacca, the rice is made into rice balls. All of them typically serve it with a bowl of soup, soy sauce and chilli-garlic sauce
The Char Kuey Tiaw (Stir fried ricecake strips) is also another popular dish and it comes in several variants. My personal favorite is the Penang style. It is fried with onion, garlic, soy sauce, beansprout, egg, prawn, cockles and Chinese sausage. Its smell is so fragrant that it’s usually the first thing you smell when you enter a kopitiam or a hawker area. And the stalls are usually placed at the back of the shop.
The Bak Kut Teh (literally Meat Bone Tea) is a traditional Chinese soup based dish cooked with pork ribs, various innards and herbs. It typically eaten with rice and has a nice herbal smell to it. There’s a variant of it that is dry and cooked with okra, chili and soy sauce that I’m a big fan of.
Dinner (family dishes)
Ayam Masak Merah (Red Cooked Chicken) is a traditional Malay dish. The chicken is first cut and fried and then cooked with fresh chili, ginger and tomato sauce to create a sweet, sour and spicy taste. I always make sure I eat it at least once during the month of Ramadan where it’s sold in Ramadan stalls.
Kangkung Belacan (Belacan fried kangkung) is a very tasty dish. Kangkung is a type of vegetable found in South East Asia. It is fried with belacan, onion and chili for this dish. It is very aromatic and the taste is somewhere between salty and spicy. One of my favorite vegetable dishes and it’s very cheap too.
Mani Cai with Eggs is a vegetable dish cooked with mani cai and egg. The mani cai is also one of the vegetable found here. It is also super cheap. Mani cai with eggs are also typically fried with vermicelli too. Though safe to consume after cooking, the vegetable itself is actually pretty harmful in its natural state. Large consumption of the uncooked version is known to cause breathing difficulty.
Satays are basically grilled meat skewers. They often served with peanut sauce, ketupat (rice dumpling) and cucumber. In Malacca, there is the satay celup (dipped satay) style of eating, which is basically a steamboat version, where the peanut sauce is the water and you get different pre-skewered food items such as meatballs, raw meat and tofu, and then dip it in the boiling peanut sauce to cook.
Dessert and Drinks
The Ais Kacang (literally Ice Bean), is a popular dessert here in Malaysia, especially when the hot season arrives. The dessert has a base of shaved ice and then comes the various toppings and types of fillings that you would want. The typical version comes with red beans (adzuki beans), sweet corn, grass jelly and agar-agar (a type of jelly from Japan). This is topped up with evaporated milk or condensed milk to sweeten the dessert.
The Bubur Cacha (bubur means porridge in Malay, but the Chinese word for this is rub and scrub so…) is a Nyonya dessert. Nyonya are female Peranakan. The Peranakan are basically Chinese who have adopted the Malay culture way back in the 15th century. They are all around Malaysia, but are mostly found in Penang and Malacca. With that little detour to history out of the way, let’s talk about the dessert itself. It is a soupy dish with sweet potatoes and taro in coconut milk which is mixed with sago pearls to make a more viscous texture.
The Teh Tarik (Pulled tea) is a popular drink in Mamak stalls. Mamaks are Tamil Muslims who migrated here centuries ago. The Teh Tarik is made from black tea and condensed or evaporated milk. And then it is pulled – basically it is poured from container to container to create a frothy mixture at the top of the drink while cooling it down at the same time. There is an element of showmanship to it. I can’t find any info of it, but I swear I saw a Teh Tarik competition on TV when I was a kid.
Last but not least is the Teh C Peng Special. To understand the name, you’ll have to understand Malaysian lingo. Skip this paragraph if you’re not interested. Here when we order drinks from kopitiams (coffee shop, but think roofed hawker areas instead of Starbucks), mamak stalls or hawker places in general there’s a certain lingo. C means evaporated milk, named after the Carnation branded evaporated milk. O means no milk, while saying nothing means condensed milk. Peng means iced. And kosong means without sugar. So Teh C Peng, is iced tea with evaporated milk.
And now that I’m done with that totally unnecessary detour, Teh C Peng Special is a 3 layered tea. The bottom layer is palm sugar, or gula Melaka. Next comes the layer of evaporated milk, and then finally the tea itself. So you will end up with three colored layers, black, white and brown. Density of liquid and everything! Science, yay! This also means that you can sweeten the drink to your own taste by stirring the sugar layer based on how sweet you want it to be.
Phew, that is one long post. If you’ve managed to read through it, thank you! I hope you enjoyed it. There’s just so many good food in Malaysia that it’s difficult for me to narrow it down to just a few.
PS: If you’re wondering how to make them, I’ve recently discovered a YouTube cooking channel that focuses on Malaysian Food – Nyonya Cooking. She also has a Malaysia Food Tour Series.