Malaysia is any food-lover’s paradise. The streets bustle with carts of specialty street foods and nearly every block of a major city has a hawker’s center, which is kind of like Smorgasburg on steroids.
My parents are both from Malaysia, so I grew up eating this food at home. It’s a really interesting cuisine because you can see the mix of cultures in the food – a harmonious blend of Indian, Chinese and Southeast Asian combine to make Malay flavors that are incredibly unique.
But being a die-hard carb-enthusiast, the thing I love the most about Malaysian food is the huge variety of noodles, which the locals call “mee.” From slurpy noodle soups to spicy dry-fried noodles, Malaysians have it all — and for only a couple dollars a bowl. Here’s a list of 10 must-try noodle dishes from my last trip to Penang, Malaysia:
1. Curry Mee
This noodle soup sums up my favorite part of Malaysian cuisine — the multi-ethnic flavors. Its rich curry base is reminiscent of your typical Indian food, but the coconut milk and mint give it a Southeast Asian flair. On a hot day in Malaysia, I love a bowl of spicy curry mee because it helps me sweat out all the heat, but doesn’t leave your tongue burning because it’s creamy and citrusy at the same time.
2. Char Koay Teow
When I go back home, one of the first things I ask my mom to cook is char koay teow. To attain the crisp yet chewy texture of the flat rice noodles, it’s best to wok-fry them in small batches on an open flame — something I can’t quite pull off in a college dorm. One of the most popular dishes in Malaysia, it’s more than your average chow mein.
3. Koay Teow Th’ng with Duck
I love spicy food and usually will always pick the boldest-flavored dish on the menu, so the unassuming-looking noodle soup sounded kind of boring to me. But the beauty is in its simplicity — the richness of the duck bone broth made this dish one of the best bowls of noodles I’ve had in my life.
4. Lor Mee
This thick gravy like soup noodle is probably the richest soup I’ve had. A spiced egg-based soup, or even gravy you could say, with starchy chewy egg noodles, lor mee is a sumptuous and filling bowl of noodles.
5. Hokkien Mee
Hokkien mee is made of egg and rice noodles in a spicy meat broth. Topped with pork, shrimp, beansprouts, fried shallots and a egg, these noodles are definitely slurp-worthy. I’ve stained the majority of my white tops slurping down this deep red soup, but it’s so worth it. If you’re feeling extra carnivorous, pair it with siu yuk (crispy roasted pork belly).
6. Char Hor Fun
Growing up, this was my favorite home-cooked dish because of the simple yet rich gravy. Sheets of rice noodles are cut into squares, fried with vermicelli in dark soy sauce and topped with egg drop gravy. It’s a simple comfort food that I always crave when it’s rainy and cold out.
7. Wan Thun Mee
Every Asian country has a version of wonton noodles, but Malaysia’s is definitely my favorite. Since it has both boiled and fried wontons, it’s the best of both worlds.
8. White Curry Mee
A variation on the curry mee mentioned earlier in this article, white curry mee is a Penang specialty that a Malaysian friend introduced me to. Its milky coconut-based soup contrasts perfectly with the salty cockles, fried tofu and blood cakes for a truly unique and memorable food memory.
9. Mee Goreng
If you’re a carb-a-holic like me, you should try mee goreng. I mean, who can can say no to both potatoes and noodles? It’s also complexly flavored with garlic, ginger and chili, and balanced out with fresh-squeezed lime and lettuce so you don’t go into a food coma.
10. Bak Cho Laifen
This store specialized in rice porridge, but I had to try the laifen (a thick rice spaghetti) because I have an undying love of noodles. It was probably the best choice I made that trip.
All of these noodles and more can be found while you roam the streets of a Malaysian city. Book some tickets to Malaysia and let me know how much you’ll love “mee” when your stomach is full of noodles.
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