Ask the closest person to you right now where they think Malaysia is located or what they know about it. Go ahead, just do it.
If the answers you got went as far as the Petronas Twin Towers and flight MH 370, don’t worry one bit cause we’ve got you!
The answer? We’ll make it simple for you: it’s that little mass of multicultural land that occupies the geographical space between Thailand and Singapore, Thailand being up north and Singapore being south to it.
There’s a pretty big chance that they don’t know the answer to it (and maybe you don’t either). And that’s not your fault, though; the Malaysian population in Canada isn’t exactly a huge distinction- which is exactly why us 4 international students almost fell off of our seats when we heard about Chahaya Malaysia, a Malaysian/Indonesian restaurant right here in Ottawa.
Now that we’re up to speed, let’s talk Malaysian cuisine.
Home to a colourful array of multicultural citizens, Malaysia sits in the tropics of Southeast Asia and its distinct cuisine has been influenced by its mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures.
It was our first time eating Malaysian food in 6 months and we had been planning this food adventure since sometime in December when we first heard about the restaurant that would take us on a little trip back home.
Can we just say that we were super stoked?? Upon entering the restaurant, we were greeted by the owner, and were escorted to our seats.
One of the first things that caught our eyes was the batik material that is used as tablecloths. Batik is a traditional Indonesian pattern of Javanese origin that is the product of a ‘resist’ process to make designs on fabric using hot wax and dye.
Walking in, we took note that Chahaya Malaysia isn’t one of your typical tourist destination, instead it is designed for those who are familiar with it to come home to. Its ambience reminded us of a simple home kitchen, and its Malaysian trinkets hung along the walls serve as a reminder of home to us Malaysians.
Besides, what else could we ask for from the closest thing we’ve found from home all the way out here in the West?
Let’s Get to Eating
It took us the longest time to order our dishes since our deprived Southeast Asian taste buds were sending us signals to taste everything. Talk about missing home.
As a starter, we were given keropok (deep fried crackers). It was hard to resist eating it immediately, but we had to take photos for you, our readers, before wiping the bread baskets clean.
Asam Laksa Penang
If you know anything about Malaysian foodies, the state of Penang is one of their go-to social hubs. It’s home to an incredible variety of Chinese and Malay cuisine and asam laksa is just one of the many. Served as a piping hot sour fish soup noodle, this dish isn’t as strong scented as you might imagine – we promise. It had great texture with the balance of the mackerel, the tangy scent of lemongrass, and the secret to its flavour: tamarind.
Similar to a starter, rojak is a salad of sorts: a vegetable and fruit salad. It is definitely a common Malaysian dish to look out for if you’re game for trying it out! Chahaya Malaysia served theirs with cucumbers, bean sprouts, tofu and pineapples with the mandatory sweet, spicy chili peanut sauce.
FUN FACT: The word rojak brings meaning to ‘mixture’ in Malay language, the same way the dish is an interesting mixture of different fruits and vegetables. The dish was our little reminder of the mixtures of cultures, languages and cuisines we belong to back home.
Rendang is one of the most popular Malay dishes that is often served during the Muslim religious celebration of Eid al-Fitr in Malaysia. Originated from the Indonesian ethnic group of Minangkabau, we borrowed this dish from our southern neighbors. Similar to a caramelised beef curry, the meat was a great reminder of home and its spices, and went really well with the white rice that we ordered.
Rice is one of the staple foods in Malaysia, and is almost unheard of as a ‘side dish’, but rather the main dish to which meat and vegetable dishes are added to.
This specialty chicken was the only dish on the menu you wouldn’t be able to find on a trip to Malaysia itself. It was specifically crafted by the chef himself, who is an Indonesian migrant who moved to Malaysia. The combination of these influences in his kitchen produced a dish with smooth, sweet, and spicy chicken covered in mixed vegetables.
Literally meaning ‘fried bananas/plantain’, the tropical fruit is typically covered in a delicious batter that forms a crispy golden crust on the outside on the banana.
But what makes this dish unique is the homemade pandan oil used to prepare it.
It is served with the option of vanilla ice cream on the side to balance the heat and savoury flavour of the banana fritters.
How does the combination of red beans, nuts and shaved ice glazed over with sweetened milk and syrup sound to you? Yay or nay?
Regardless, this dish is definitely a yay for Malaysians. One of the best ways to cool off after a hearty and spice-filled Malaysian meal is with a bowl of ice kacang. If this reminds you of something, it must be the Korean equivalent, bingsu!
The serving size was bigger than we expected, but we were well informed beforehand, so as to consider it before we made our final order of the evening.
What makes Chahaya Malaysia stand out as Ottawa’s only Malaysian restaurant? We’d have to say it’s ability to capture the essence of Malaysian culture and atmosphere of home to Malaysians themselves.
Chahaya Malaysia was definitely a yay for us. It encapsulated the flavours of Malaysia and satisfied our cravings of being away from home. We’ll definitely be coming back for more.