Food & Drink

A Quick Introduction to Malaysian Cuisine

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First-time travellers to Malaysia often quickly discover why this country is also famous for its food. This country offers a great gastronomical experience. Excellent restaurants and food vendors can be found almost everywhere in the country. By nature, Malaysian food is very diversified and greatly influenced by the Chinese, Indian, as well as the native Malay styles of cooking. These influences extend from the use of the wok as the main cooking pan, to a combination of a number of spices in many of the dishes. Malaysian food uses an amazing blend of flavours through the combination of textures, tastes and colour with an infusion of variety of ingredients.

As Malaysia is a melting pot of many different ethnic groups, cuisine available in this country has its own unique variety. Authentic Malay restaurants can easily be found side by side with an array of Chinese and Indian dining outlets.

The traditional Malay cooking style has been influenced by traders from nearby countries in the past. Malay food is commonly described as very spicy and with a number of spices and herbs. Seasoning is very important as it is added to enhance the taste and flavor. Some fresh spices such as chili paste, onions, turmeric, and garlic are widely used. Rice is the main dish in a Malay meal. Most rice meals are eaten by simply using fingers, with eating utensils usually being used to spoon out the side dishes. Fish and other seafood are similarly important in Malay cooking. Beef is also popular as well but it is important to note that since the majority of Malays are Muslims, the issue of halal certification is very important in Malay cooking.

Indian food was brought to this country by Indian traders and migrants have played an important role in Malaysian cuisine since the 19th century. Indian food in Malaysia is divided into two categories, namely the Southern and the Northern cuisine. Northern Indian cuisine is mostly rich in meat and heavier flavours. Some dishes can be made using other ingredients such as yogurt and ghee. Southern Indian cuisine uses coconut milk, mustard and chili. Spices are the core of Indian cooking with some commonly used spices being cumin, chili, fennel, fenugreek, turmeric, clove and cinnamon. An abundance of Indian restaurants and stalls are located around the country. One famous Indian dish widely available in street stalls is fried noodles that are a combination of Chinese yellow noodles with tofu, bean sprouts, and shrimp. To add to the uniqueness of the cuisine here, some Indian food is served on a banana leaf. With a banana leaf meal, white rice is served on a banana leaf with an assortment of vegetables, curried  meat or fish, pickles, and tasty papadom crisps. There is a huge variety of Indian dishes that will surely satisfy your appetite, so don’t miss out on any of them.

Chinese food is usually stir-fried with a little bit of oil to ensure a crisp and fresh meal. One famous Cantonese specialty is Dim Sum, which is a small basket of little snacks that is usually had for lunch or for a weekend brunch. Dim Sum and Cantonese restaurants are very popular in Malaysia. Another famous Chinese cuisine is Szechuan food, Shanghai food as well as Peking cuisine. Szechuan cuisine is known for its high levels of spice, with a lot of garlic and chili. Beijing cuisine, famous for the Peking duck, is a bit less intrusive than Szechuan food. It is mostly eaten with a hot steamed bun, noodles or rice. Shanghai cuisine is not widespread throughout Malaysia. Hakka and Hainan cuisine are a lot more easily found in food centres around major cities. Popular dishes include the Yong Tau Foo (stuffed seafood), Popiah (traditional spring rolls) and Char Kuey Teow (fried noodles with shrimp, eggs, and bean sprouts).

Local fruits and vegetables are also widely used in Malaysian cuisine. Not only is fruit an essential part of a healthy diet, it’s also a great way to add natural sweetness to any meal. Fruits such mango, durian, pineapple as well as vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes are widely used in cooking which add flavour and more variety to local cuisine.

Traveling in general is made up of three main areas for discovery: the people, the sights, and the food. For travellers to this country, we welcome you to Malaysia and hope that you will find time to taste and enjoy assortments of our food and, in turn, bring all the happy and delicious memories back to your respective homes.


Article courtesy of FAMA (Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority)



Source: The Expat August 2013

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