Amble along the food paths of Malaysia to savour traditional and fusion dishes that will have you planning your next visit before you ‘burp’ with complete gratification
Whether you picked Malaysia as your travel destination for its sights and attractions or the adventure and/or shopping that it promises, food is bound to feature in your itinerary, even if you are a classified fussy eater; the adventurous ones would, probably, be haunting the streets hemmed by food carts dishing out exotic dishes. The confluence of aromas and flavours along the streets of Malaysia will grab you by your nose and lead you to some of its popular dishes.
Of course, street food is not for everyone; certainly not for you if you have a sensitive palate, cannot take pungent food or are jetlagged. For, street food is about your readiness to try new dishes and give your palate a taste of the new destination – its culture. The ingredients used, the cooking style followed, the flavours ingrained, the special relishes/dips presented…all are extensions of the country’s history, geography and social influences. And, in Malaysia, there is the added taste factor that is liberally sprinkled on all the dishes, traditional as well as fusion cuisine.
While the incorporation of chillies in most dishes could give you the sweats, especially if you have a low threshold for spicy food, Malaysian food, per se, is not as spicy as the ones that are popular in its neighbouring countries. There is a strong influence of Chinese, Indonesian and Indian cuisine (in major cities of the country), but most dishes could easily tone down the spice factor to appease the palate of the diner. As a visitor though, you have absolutely no excuse not to tuck into some scrumptious Malay fare, like ‘Nasi Lemak’ or chicken satay, for example.
With Oman Air offering daily non-stop flights to Kuala Lumpur, visiting Malaysia to savour its authentic dishes ought to become a priority rather than an option for every die-hard foodie in Oman. And while here, don’t leave the country without having your fill of these popular dishes…
Nasi, meaning rice, is a staple item of food in Malaysia, which explains the variety of nasi dishes that are available for different meals of the day. ‘Nasi Lemak’, in fact, is labelled as the national all-day breakfast, inferring to its popularity in the traditional dishes of the nation. While the dish has found different variations, its fragrant coconut milk variety is what has given it the ‘most popular’ tag. Rice is cooked in coconut milk with anchovies’ sambal (hot sauce/paste), fried anchovies and peanuts, eggs and cucumber. The varieties could range from a simple dish of nasi with rice and sambal along with a boiled egg presented in banana leaf, to a more intricate one with fried chicken, squid or beef.
This dish may have originated in Indonesia, but its popularity is definitely not contained by it. Prepared traditionally during festive occasions, it is a spicy meat dish that is eaten with steamed or glutinous rice. The dish has a rich array of spices and is slow-cooked to infuse the dish with all the right flavours. Although beef rendang is more in demand, varieties of the chicken and mutton rendang are also sought after.
Roti, or the bread, is another popular item that reeks of Indian influence. It is a flatbread that is made from dough, which is stretched and folded to give it a flaky texture. It is fluffy and soft, and has crisp edges; it is usually had as a breakfast item along with a curry.
Soft and tender chunks of chicken (or beef and even mutton) are marinated in a blend of spices, pieced on to a barbecue stick and grilled before serving with onions and cucumber, along with a thick peanut sauce or the quintessential sambal.
Taking the Nasi fondness to another notch is the ‘Nasi Kandar’, which has traces of Indian culinary influence. It is a basic rice dish with curry, meat/seafood and vegetables, along with a side of papads. What makes this dish interesting, in addition to its name ‘Kandar’ which means a stick/pole used as a support to carry things, is the presentation. It features a mixture of curries that is poured on top of the rice, covering it all in a liberal layer of curry.
Laksa, a fusion of Chinese and Malay elements, is a spicy noodle soup, which comes in two varieties: Curry Laksa and Asam Laksa. The Curry Laksa is a coconut curry soup and the Asam Laksa is a sour fish soup; they are served with thick rice noodles or Laksa noodles. The Curry variety is usually served with Sambal chilli paste and topped with Laksa leaf or the Vietnamese coriander. Tamarind (asam in Malay), features prominently in Asam Laksa, along with dried slices of sour mangos for added sourness.
Rojak is a popular street food or Jalan (street in Malay) food. It is a simple plate of cut fruits and assortments that could range from fried pieces of dough to even squid; it is topped with a sweet sauce that is said to have shrimp paste added to it.
As the name suggests, Ikan (fish) bakar (grilled) is grilled fish that is well marinated to infuse it with flavours. What makes it interesting is the way it is grilled – over charcoal on top of a banana leaf! It is eaten with steamed rice and sides of vegetables and curries.
Now, did that work up your appetite?
Come along and get your fill of Malay…
Oman Air flies daily to Kuala Lumpur; for more information visit www.omanair.com.