What do we eat in Malaysia these days?


A photo of a durian “the king of fruits”! The season for them is June/July.

As a firm believer that variety is the spice of life and a result of the ‘evolution’ from growing up in Malaysia – a melting pot of different ethnic races, expatriate communities and their cuisine – I have been so spoilt for choice. Today in Malaysia, you can easily find food cultures from many places around the world. You can get Italian, French, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, American, to name a few in addition to the local variety of Indian, Chinese, Malay, Thai, etc – you can literally have one type of cuisine a day for the whole month!

We, Malaysians are very lucky we just simply have so many choices to choose from. At least – never a dull day!

First of all, I am very keen on fresh food with the freshest produce from the local markets.  Food has to be lightly cooked and not heavily doused with sauces unless they are meant to be like the ‘curry mee’ or also known as ‘curry laksa’!

My all time comfort food would have to  be Penang hawkers – no where in the world can you get the best hawkers’ food, cheap and delicious with the most authentic surroundings!  I am hopelessly bias, but that is why it is called ‘comfort food’ – food you grew up eating day in and day out, with fondness! (<- Okay maybe not after 10 plates of ‘char koay teow’!)

Pulut Inti (nyonya kuih)
Pulut Inti (nyonya kuih)

Photo courtesy of Rasa Malaysia (http://www.rasamalaysia.com/)

If anyone goes to Penang there only 2 types of food you have got to try :
1) ‘nyonya cuisine’ (straits or peranakan – which originates from the mix marriages of the local malay culture and the chinese immigrants that settled in Malaya during the 15th/16th century)

Char Koay Teow
Char Koay Teow

2) hawkers food (street food)!  Above is a typical Penang Hawker fare – Char Koay Teow! The best is in Penang, no where you can get better ones!

For an ideal Sunday brunch with the family,  dim sum is a must when I am  back in Penang! Delicious morsels of steamed shrimp and meat dumplings, buns, pastries and a good cup of chinese tea – Pu Er & chrysanthemum (or po lay) to cut through the grease and cleanse your palate!

Should I need to go vegetarian, it has to be Indian!  Nothing beats an indian vegetarian meal! The cuisine is simply a cornucupia of taste so diverse yet they unite when it hits your mouth… if you can still feel it after the chilli! Well I am trained .. 😀

Supper – equally important socially…especially at Mamak stalls. Where we hang out over a cup of teh tarik and roti canai or sometimes nasi lemak. (Both can be had for breakfast too.) We can be heard discussing politics to  football over this important meal time!

Desserts – there is a reason ( I decided ) why you have dessert last or after a full meal – it is for people like me! I would be too high on sugar if it has been the first meal!   In Malaysia, we are crazy about anything sweet . What about in Malaysia? How are our desserts like? Our local equivalent to sweets or cakes are our ‘kuih – muihs‘ . You can find an assortment of them. Ranging from banana fritters, sweet potato fritters  to steamed coconut puddings or sago & gula melaka which all are equally popular. Gula melaka is palm sugar or jaggery.

At home in Penang – “nyonya kuih” – local steamed sweet rice cakes with coconut milk are eaten for breakfast or during tea breaks. For those who may be gluten allergic, this is a nice alternative for something sweet. Can be pretty heavy though – I have to warn you. However they are not eaten as desserts. Normally we end the meal with fresh fruits in Malaysia or agar-agar (jelly), something light.

In addition, due to the heritage of the Portugese and British colony influences, you will find scones and egg tarts very much intergrated into our local bakeries. Not forgetting too the influence from China due to the large chinese immigrants and also from India whom have all settled down Malaysia for manyyears lending itself further to the local flavours!

Times have changed though, today you see more ‘westernised’ cuisine playing a larger role in our day to day than ever before. It will never surpassed the local influences, but it is making it even more varied, that is for sure!

To read more about the food heritage of Malaysia

More about:
Penang Hawkers’ Food
Nyonya Heritage and Food
The Mamak Scene

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