A multicultural nation with Chinese and Indian food influences.user rating
Malaysia is a diverse, multicultural nation with three main races: Malays, Chinese and Indians. Malays, descended from Indonesians and Arabs, are the largest group but all of these cultures have had their influence on Malaysian cuisine. Rice and noodles are staple foods. Breakfast often includes Indian breads like naan, puri, roti canai, thosai and idli. Poultry such as chicken, duck and goose are important parts of the Malaysian diet. Grilled Satay chicken with peanut and coconut milk sauce is considered the national dish.
The ethnic communities in Malaysia practice different religions and eat accordingly. Islamic Malays will eat beef that is halal (permissible under Islam) but Hindus and Buddhists do not eat beef. Pork is popular among the Chinese community but Islamic Malays do not eat pork. Goat meat known as mutton is used in soups, curries and stews, which are most popular among the Indian Malaysians. Fish, shellfish and other seafood are enjoyed by all three cultures. (However, crabs are not considered halal because they can live both on the land and in the sea.) Vegetables and fruit are widely used. Some distinctive fruits include the durian, the rambutan, the mangosteen, the lychee, the mango and the longan.
Many Malay dishes use rempah, a paste made from ground herbs and spices. Ikan Bakar is grilled fish with a chile- or turmeric-based sauce. Kangkung belacan is a semi-aquatic plant stir-fried in shrimp paste and chile peppers. Other vegetables like yardlong beans and petai (a long, flat bean) are also cooked this way.
The Indian cuisine in Malaysia is similar to that of India itself. For example, banana leaf rice is white rice on a banana leaf with vegetables, curried meat or fish and papadum, a thin Indian wafer or flatbread.
There is also a community of Indian Muslims (known as Mamak) in Malaysia who bring yet another distinctive cooking style to this multicultural nation. Nasi Kandar is a popular Mamak dish of steamed rice served with a variety of curries. Mamak stalls are roadside snack bars that serve mamak food. They’ve become a popular place for young Malaysians to get together and are considered a “symbol of multiracial harmony”.
Although Malaysian Chinese food has incorporated ingredients from the local cultures (such as a milder form of Indian curry), it maintains a mainland Chinese style. Most dishes include pork as an ingredient but because Chinese food is popular among Malays, some restaurants now serve halal food with options like chicken instead of pork. Bak Chang is a traditional rice dumpling wrapped in a leaf with pork, shitake mushrooms and the yolk of a duck’s egg. Char Kway Teow is stir-fried rice noodles with prawns, eggs, pork or chicken, chives and bean sprouts. Vegetarian dishes can also be found in some restaurants.
Lastly, the Peranakan people of Malaysia (descended from the earliest Chinese settlers) created another distinct cuisine known as Nyonya food, which blends Chinese ingredients with Southeast Asian spices—a fusion of Chinese and Malay cooking. Asam Laksa is an authentic Nyonya soup of white rice noodles with fish meat, tamarind, onion, basil, pineapple and cucumber.—Jennifer Capalbo
Like many Malaysian dishes, this spicy chicken noodle soup starts with a fairly long list of ingredients, but this version is simpler and quicker to make than many. Adding sambal oelek (a chile pepper sauce) at the end allows customers with a taste for very spicy dishes to take it up to their comfort zone. Warn them, however, that it is quite hot. –Joanna Pruess
Serves: 4 (12-ounce) portions
Cooking Time: 30 minutes