Malaysia: The Best of Food “Fusion”

It is a fact that Asia is known for its food: spicy, sweet, noodles, rice – Asia has it all (well, it doesn’t have diary, so slight minus points there). 

What we generally think of as “Asian” comes from a strip mall restaurant called “Asian Fusion” and contains all manners of what could be considered gastronomic horrors (although, here, sweet and sour chicken is, I’m assured, “real”). 

I have always loved Malaysian food, but really, I knew nothing about it except for going to a restaurant a couple of times and coveting a steaming bowl of laska. Did I even know that there were other types of Laksa? No. 

And so, here is a post on some of what I learned about Malaysian food – the ultimate fusion of Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisine.

Words to know:

  • Nasi: rice
  • Lemak: fat (usually used when the dish calls for coconut milk)
  • Mee: noodles, usually the wheat/spaghetti looking kind
  • Goreng: fried, so fried rice is Nasi Goreng and friend noodles are Mee Goreng
  • Nyonya: fusion cuisine created when the Chinese immigrated to Malaysia centuries ago.
  • Mamak: Indian flavouring (basically adding a yellow curry packet into something)
  • Asam: sour, usually made with tamarind and vinegar
  • Pedas: spicy 
  • Sambal: a spicy-sweet paste made from chilies and dried anchoives or dried shrimp – everyone should eat this on everything. 
  • Banana Leaf: the reason a lot of rice dishes get served on banana leaves? Apparently hot rice releases the oils in the leaf, making everything tastier – and I always thought it was just a disposable plate.
  • Pandan: Pandan leaves are used for a lot of flavouring, usually paired with coconut
  • Kaya: a jam made of coconut, pandan and eggs

Breakfast

The start of the day is usually celebrated with rice. 

  • Nasi Lemak: a mound of rice surrounded by roasted peanuts, dried anchoives, sambal and a hard boiled egg. Sometimes served with a curry. 
  • Roti Canai (pronounced “Chanai”): what Americans would order as an appetizer for dinner is here only served for breakfast – a roti with a mild curry. 
    Roti Canai
  • Kaya Toast: the “sweet” option, toast or steamed bread with a slab of butter and kaya jam – the saltiness of the butter cuts the jam perfectly, with a cup of tea this can be heaven.

Lunch and Dinner

Sandwiches are for people who don’t have time to eat.

  • Char Kway Teow: rice noodles stir fried with dark soy sauce, little bit of chili, prawns, bean sprouts etc. Need lunch in a pinch? There is always a hawker stalls selling this, at all times.
    Char Kway Teow
  • Nasi Kandar: rice with a bunch of curries
    Nasi Kandar
  • Rendang Curry: a meat and coconut based “dry” curry, that apparently if cooked correctly can last for a month. The paste is made from ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, etc – it does not look appetizing, but if available, I choose it everytime (the inside is where it all counts)
  • Asam Pedas: literally “sour spicey”, this is sort of a seafood/ broth dish. The tamarind and the lemongrass make a refreshingly tart and fulfilling soup. 
    Asam Pedas
  • Asam Laksa: tamarind broth with rice noodles, lettuce, mint leaves and onions, and fish. On a hot day it replenishes both your liquids (that you sweat out an at Olympian rate) and your salts.
    Asam Laksa
  • Nyonya Laksa: also called “curry laksa”, a spicy coconut broth filled with noodles, seafood or meat, fried tofu, fish balls – a whole bunch of stuff and topped with sambal. This is the kind that is ubiquitous – what Ramen is to Japan, Nyonya Laksa is to Malaysia. This is food that makes you want to wear a bib all day, just in case you happen upon the delicious slurpfest.
    Nyonya Laska

Dessert

Here is what you learn in Asia: everything can be turned into something sweet, and when in doubt, add some condensed milk. 

I haven’t sampled nearly enough desserts, mainly cause after bowls or laksa or mounds of curry, I’m too full….

  • Red Bean Sweet Rice and Black Bean Sweet Rice: these are my favourite cause they are like rice pudding but with crack added 
    Black Bean Rice Pudding
  • Iced Kacang: shaved ice topped with beans, corn, grass jelly, liquid flavouring and then topped with condensed milk. 
  • Iced Kacang

Hopefully this helpful! Just whatever you do, if you are on this side of the Prime Meridian, don’t go to a restaurant called “Western Restaurant”, unless you want to pretend to be Gordon Ramsay and be horrified at the way a burger is cooked – if you feel like Western food, just get some chicken tandoori – it’s basically barbecue. 

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