So as a born and bred Malaysian local, I will be the first to admit that the following statement may be a little bit biased:
MALAYSIAN FOOD IS THE BEST IN THE WORLD.
There. I said it. I mean…ok fine we may not have been acknowledged as the world’s number 1, but we came pretty damn close with CNN rating us as having the 6th best cuisine across the globe. That’s right. Number 6. Worldwide. That’s pretty big people.
Anyways, as you’ve probably grasped by now I love my country’s food culture and I miss it every day I’m here in Scotland. To the inexperienced traveler though, I can imagine things could get pretty overwhelming. So many dishes, what to try first? Well don’t worry, I’m here to help.
The list I’m giving you here features some of my favourite Malaysian eats to get you started. So sit back, imagine the tropical sun on your face, and enjoy. Then go book a flight for spring break so you can actually eat all the things.
1. Nasi Lemak
We’re starting off with a big one here. Nasi lemak (which translates into ‘fat rice’- more on that later) is practically the country’s national dish. The basic package comes with rice cooked in coconut milk (hence the ‘fat’), a spicy anchovy sambal, deep fried anchovies and peanuts, cucumber slices and an egg (which will either be boiled or fried). We love it so much we could have it for every meal. I am not joking. I mean…in 2014 we had an actual nasi lemak convention. We ACTUALLY have no chill.
Kaya is a beautiful coconut custard that is normally eaten as a breakfast spread. Texture-wise it’s similar to lemon curd and we spread it on everything. You can learn how to make it here.
3. Teh Tarik
Teh tarik is our local version of a chai latte…just with no spices. And a lot more sweetened condensed milk. The name translates into ‘pulled tea’ and it’s called that because of the way it’s mixed, with the tea being strained between two large steel cup to give it that beautiful head of froth.
4. Apam Balik
There’re two versions of this waffle-like snack: thin and crispy; or soft and chewy. Other than that though, both versions are served the same way: cooked in lots of margarine and stuffed with crushed peanuts, sugar and creamed corn. Do yourself a favour and get it from a place that’ll sell it to you fresh out of the pan so you get that crisp caramelized crust.
5. Sago Gula Melaka
A gluten and dairy-free crowd pleaser, this dessert is an actual blessing when you need to escape from the hot Malaysian sun. The little globes come from boiling tapioca pearls with pandanus leaves (which are good for you!) and then letting them set like jello. Your serving comes to you cold, drenched in thick coconut milk and molten palm sugar. #yesplease
6. Maggi Goreng
When you go to any mamak (a type of restaurant that sells Malaysian Indian-Muslim cuisine) and ask for maggi goreng, you’ll be served with the best pimped out instant ramen of your life. No joke. They usually add some veggies and meat or tofu but remember to ask for it to be ‘tambah pedas’ (translation: extra spicy).
7. Roti Tissue
No that is not a hat. If you have a sweet tooth this massive crepe needs to be in your life, like right NOW. Another mamak staple, the ‘roti’ will arrive at your table glistening with sweetened condensed milk. In some places, they make it so tall you need up to three plates to lay it flat on the table.
8. Ayam Masak Merah
What you have here are big chucks of turmeric marinated deep fried chicken, swimming in a thick onion and tomato gravy. While it’s usually a dish served during celebrations, you’ll find it fairly easily being sold as an accompaniment to nasi lemak. When my brother and I were still living at home we used to fight for every last drop of that sweet and tangy gravy. Not gonna lie it wasn’t pretty…but my God was it worth it.
9. Sambal Belacan
Behold: Malaysia’s answer to Sriracha. In addition to about 2 billion chillies (see, I know you think I’m lying but…) this spice paste usually contains shallots, garlic, ginger and, the key ingredient, fermented shrimp paste. Don’t let that last ingredient put you off though, it makes the paste rich and complex with plenty of umami goodness. It’s a very common condiment at Malaysian eating establishments and is also used to stir fry vegetables and seafood.
10. Clay Pot Loh Shi Fun
There have been many cold winter nights where I have sat up dreaming about a hot clay pot of these noodles. Fun-fact: Loh Shi Fun means ‘rat tail noodle’, a name earned from the noodle’s unique tapered shape. Imagine thick, starchy noodles coated with this thick, savoury, meaty gravy and served with a fresh egg cracked on top. All you have to do is mix the egg in and let the hot noodles cook it, then dive in and weep for joy.
RIGHT. So you have your list. Good luck, get hungry and wear your food baby with pride!