Malaysian Cuisine: Uniting A Nation Through Food
Home to diverse ethnic communities, it is not surprising that Malaysia is often known world over as as a food haven. In fact, Malaysians are huge foodies and we definitely take pride in our local cuisine!
The Good News team is pleased to dish out some popular local cuisines that symbolise the diversity of our country.
The Great Malaysian Breakfast – Nasi Lemak
Commonly known as the national dish of Malaysia, the humble nasi lemak is a dish served with rice cooked with coconut milk and accompanied with fried anchovies, sambal (spicy sauce), boiled egg, fried groundnuts and slices of cucumber. It is usually wrapped in a banana leaf in the form of a pyramid (It’s sooo good, it can be eaten anytime of the day!).
Although its exact origins may be hard to ascertain, it is believed that the origins of nasi lemak had much to do with Malay farmers in Southeast Asia. Due to hard labour, they needed a sufficient meal in the morning, and eating nasi lemak kept them going as it covered all the food groups – carbohydrates from the rice, oils from the sambal and protein from the anchovies.
Fun fact: Nasi lemak was so famous it was mentioned even back in 1909 by British scholar on Malayan folklore, Sir Richard Olaf Winstedt
In recent times, the dish has taken a life of its own with different variations from gourmet burgers to waffles and ice cream!
It even inspired the national costume for the 2017 Miss Universe pageant (complete with banana leaf wings as captured in the image above)! Designed by Brian Khoo and worn by former Miss Universe Malaysia Samantha Katie James, the costume garnered nationwide attention with its unique embroidery and motive.
Nasi Kandar (Literal translation – Rice Carried on Poles Balanced on Shoulders)
Nasi kandar bears its origins in Penang. Back in the 19th century, the dish was actually a wholesome breakfast dish for immigrant labourers. Indian-Muslim vendors would balance a kandar pole on their shoulder with two containers of rice meals on both sides, hence the name ‘nasi kandar’. The dish consists of steamed rice and an array of curries and delicious side dishes such as fried chicken, fish, okra and many more.
The unique element of this dish is the mixture of curries poured on top of the rice. The common Malaysian term for this is banjir, meaning ‘flooding the rice’. Over the years, the nasi kandar hype has expanded beyond the northern states in Malaysia and become a crowd favourite among locals and foreign tourists.
Anthony Bourdain’s “Breakfast of the Gods”, Sarawak Laksa
In 2015, while filming for the CNN show, “Parts Unknown”, celebrity chef, the late Anthony Bourdain had the opportunity to sample Sarawak Laksa and even posted a picture of it on Instagram with the caption “breakfast of gods”. A year later, the dish made it into the Top 10 wish list of the world-renowned chef for his food market in New York.
A culinary creation believed to have emerged after World War II, there are several versions of its origins – namely the dish is made up of only six ingredients, which is how it got its name – a direct translation of the Hokkien term for six sounds like “lak” and “sa” is slang for vermicelli. Another tale of its origin relates to how the dish came about due to the influence of Chinese and Malay culture. The term laksa is believed to be derived from the word “lak” which meant “spicy” locally, and “sa”, which in colloquial Hokkien means to grab whatever is available (which often meant vermicelli as it was a kitchen staple).
The dish essentially consists rice vermicelli, shredded omelette, cooked prawns and strips of chicken in an aromatic broth, with sambal and lime served on the side. It is widely accepted among Sarawakians that the secret to a great bowl of Sarawak Laksa lies in a good laksa paste (even Malaysia Airlines has been known to serve its Business and First Class passengers Sarawak laksa made from a paste imported from Kuching!)
Stir-fried Noodle Marvel, Char Kway Teow
This scrumptious stir-fried dish is definitely a culinary staple in Malaysian cuisine. It literally means ‘stir-fried rice cake strips’ in Hokkien although it is believed to be associated with the Teochew community.
Some of the main ingredients of this dish are rice cake strips/flat rice noodles (kway teow) fried alongside eggs, bean sprouts, prawns, cockles and chives. However, the ingredients may vary according to the locality. Char kway teow in Penang is a bit more charred so that it has the fragrance of the wok.
The Magnificent, Roti Canai
Perhaps one of the most affordable meal available at any hour of the day in Malaysia, roti canai is essentially a flatbread that is twirled and then grilled. Its name is derived from the Malay word ‘canai’ which indicates the act of rolling out the dough. Although the dish has its roots in India, it has become a common staple in Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore.
In Malaysia, roti canai is a crowd favourite at mamak eateries. Typically served with dhal and other curries, the iconic dish has been given a local twist over the years with sweet and savoury variants such as roti telur (with egg), roti planta (with margarine), roti susu (with condensed milk), roti sardin, (with sardine in it), roti pisang (with bananas in it) and many more. A timeless dish, indeed!
* Featured image sourced from Female Magazine