Malaysia is a diverse and multi-racial country rich in culture and heritage. As a result of all the cultures thrown into her proverbial pot, Malaysia is home to a myriad of hard-to-resist food selections. The culinary landscape in the country changes dramatically from one region to the next, making it difficult to pinpoint a specific location for each culinary delight. Without a doubt, Malaysians love their food and are proud to admit that they will go the distance for them.
A staple breakfast for Malaysians is the roti canai. It is an unleavened flatbread that is similar to pita bread. Indian-influenced, the bread dough is coated in ghee (clarified butter made from buffalo or cow milk) and rolled thinly before being sprinkled with more ghee. Next, it is flattened and then cooked on an oiled griddle till it is crispy. The result is the flavourful roti canai that is flaky on the outside and chewy on the inside. Traditionally it is served with dhal (lentil curry) or meat curry, but its versatility means it can also be eaten with sweet fillings like condensed milk; or savory stuffing like sardines or eggs. Roti canai is likely available at any time of the day at any mamak (Malaysians of Tamil Muslim origin) stall, hence it is the go-to food of most Malaysians.
Another Malaysian specialty is the nasi lemak. It is a Malay fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf. It is normally served with ikan bilis (fried anchovies), roasted nuts, cucumber and sometimes fried chicken, meat or fish. The most important condiment for nasi lemak is the sambal – a hot paste made from chilies, spices, herbs and lime juice. These ingredients make the perfect blend to the savoury coconut milk-infused rice of the nasi lemak. It is a common sight to find roadside stalls selling nasi lemak in the morning with Malaysians flocking these stalls to buy packets of nasi lemak on their way to work. It is considered the national food of Malaysia, and every Malaysian craves for a piping hot plate of nasi lemak whilst abroad.
Char kuey teow is another national favourite in Malaysia. It is a popular noodle dish made from rice strip noodles and essentially stir-fried with eggs, soy sauce, belacan (a Malay variety of shrimp paste), prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and chopped Chinese chives. The soft and smooth texture of the rice noodles complements the savoury ingredients of the dish, making it a popular meal amongst Malaysians. The secret to a perfect plate of char kuey teow is the big flames that it is fried gloriously in, consequently exuding a heady aroma that is hard for anyone to resist.
The asam laksa is also a Malaysian favourite. It is a flavourful and spicy Malaysian dish made of tangy noodles served in delicious fish and tamarind-based broth. The most important element of the asam laksa is the broth, normally cooked with shredded fish. Served with rice noodles, you can find sliced vegetables in the dish as well – from cucumbers, onions, red chillies, lettuce and mint. Occasionally chunks of pineapples are included in the asam laksa, further garnished with hae ko (thick sweet shrimp paste). The distinctive flavour of the asam laksa is what makes it the 7th of the World’s 50 Best Foods by CNN in 2017.
To take in the full scope of Malaysian flavours, it is essential to explore different cities for the best eats. You can never go hungry in Malaysia, thanks to the 24-hour food culture in the country where there is always a place for you to eat at any time of the day. You may take a Malaysian out of the country, but you will never take the Malaysian out of him or her – this specifically applies to the love Malaysians have for their food!