Malaysian cuisine, ranging from plainly grilled dishes to elaborately cooked meals, is as diverse as its culture. Malaysians have a knack for creating delicious food from the simplest of ingredients.
Having been greatly influenced by Chinese and Indian cooking, Malay dishes are cooked and prepared in a variety of ways. Coconut milk is usually added, so as herbs and spices. While religious beliefs have banned pork from most of their menu, Malaysians eat a lot of other meat such as beef and chicken. The Cantonese way of cooking – stir-frying – is also often adapted.
It is important to note that Malaysians, like most Asians, are rice eaters. Their food is usually eaten with rice to balance the rich flavor of the dish.
Malay cuisine is perhaps one of the most flavorful culinary creations in the world. So if you come to visit Malaysia, make sure to try the following:
Nasi lemak is made of rice steamed with coconut milk and served with chicken curry or beef, fried anchovies, and sambal (spicy prawn paste). Sometimes slices of eggs and peanuts are added to enhance its flavor.
This dish is readily available almost anywhere in Malaysia. Some restaurants may add a thing or two, but real nasi lemak must be tasty even with just the basic ingredients.
Satay is simply stripped boneless chicken or beef skewered onto barbecue sticks and grilled over charcoals. The secret to having tender and juicy satay, they say, lies on its spicy-sweet marinade. The meat must absorb the flavored liquid and stay succulent even when cooked.
Usually served with satay gravy (sweet and spicy sauce), the dish is also coupled with fresh cucumber and onion salad. Ketupat, a Malay rice cake, is likewise served as a side dish.
Roti canai is a kind of flatbread widely consumed by Malaysians. It is commonly round and is eaten with curry and spices. While the curry dip is usually made of beans, they can also be substituted with chicken, beef, fish, mutton, etc.
Other varieties of roti canai include additional stuffing such as sliced bananas (roti pisang), egg (roti telur), and sardine (roti sardin). You can also ask for Malaysian jam for spread and chocolate powder for sprinkles.
Char kway teow
Char kway teow means “stir fried rice cake strips.” Flattened rice noodles are fried and are mixed with chili, eggs, prawns, cockles, and other vegetables. Pork lard is sometimes added. This dish varies across regions, so different tastes and flavors should be expected.
Teh tarik is the national drink of Malaysia. It is tea sweetened with either condensed or evaporated milk and can be served hot or cold. Simple a drink it may seem, but its preparation is an art that needs a lot of practicing to perfect. Steaming hot milk tea is poured from one mug to another, several times to create a frothy drink. The frothier it is, the more delicious teh tarik will be.
While you might be overwhelmed by the countless dishes you can try, it is important to remember that you are in a foreign country, and some practices at home may not be exercised in Malaysia and vice versa.
Tipping, for example, is neither common nor expected. You could just use your spare change to buy a bottle of distilled water, as drinking tap water must be avoided.
There are also numerous vegetarian restaurants scattered across the country, but be advised that some still use a kind of shrimp paste called belacan to add flavor to some dishes.
For more details on food and restaurants, you may want to ask around and seek advice from a trusted local.