Popular Malaysian delicacies explained
WE HAVE GROWN UP and grown (pun intended) in Malaysia with lots of yummy food exclusive to our homeland. When I was younger, it was just normal everyday food. Today, I see Malaysian delicacies as something to be proud of.
When foreigners come to Kuching, locals will definitely mention laksa and kolo mee as something they should have on their to-eat list. Having heard the food names so many times and apparently never questioned it further, sometimes I find myself stuck when asked what they are – heck, I didn’t even know what laksa soup was made of!
Sarawak laksa differs from other varieties of laksa such as the Penang laksa, assam laksa or curry laksa, to name a few. The thin noodle for this dish is rice vermicelli, and the soup is mainly made of shrimp paste and chilli (sambal belacan), sour tamarind (assam), garlic, galangal (lengkuas), lemongrass (serai) and coconut milk (santan).
The best part of this dish is when it is topped off with fresh, big juicy prawns, chicken strips, omelette strips, some fragrant coriander (which some people dislike and remove), and fresh crunchy beansprouts. Usually lime and more belacan is given as an option to further customise the intensity of your laksa.
Kuching Kolo Mee
A lot of Kuching-ites (as they call us, Kuching citizens) who have left Kuching eventually start longing or craving for kolo mee. Some have infamously requested those traveling from Kuching to bring packs of kolo mee back to ensure they have at least a week’s worth of kolo mee.
This popular dish is basically egg noodles and pork lard. It is obviously not a halal dish because of its pork contents, but recently, this dish has been adapted by the Malay community (Muslims by religion) and the pork has been replaced with vegetarian oil and chicken. Originally, this dish would be garnished with fried garlic and onions and fresh chopped-up shallots – and more importantly, more pork; minced pork and char siew (red barbecued pork).
Frequently, this dish comes in a variation of noodles such as mee pok (flat egg noodles); kueh tiaw (flat rice noodles) and bee hoon (thin rice noodles) being the common ones.
Ayam pansuh (bamboo chicken) is a dish that originates from the Dayak tribes in Sarawak and is now something that all races know and enjoy. It is prepared by cooking chicken seasoned with salt, herbs and lemongrass in a bamboo shaft filled with water over an open fire.
The bamboo shaft will be stoppered with tapioca leaves so that its contents can boil and stew in its own juices. This dish is tasty and everything can be eaten, from the sumptuous chicken to the tapioca leaves.
The uniqueness of the dish is that it is cooked in the bamboo which gives the food a special aroma.
The infamous Malaysian fruit, the durian is well-known for its out-of-this-world smell and taste. While durian is something you either hate or love, tempoyak will be something of the latter. It is fermented durian flesh, and sometimes it is fried with anchovies (ikan bilis) or meat dishes, and even sometimes made into soup.
Tempoyak is awesome for when it is the durian fruit season – there is an over-production of the fruit and leftovers can be made into tempoyak and kept refrigerated for months.
Midin is a crispy jungle fern that is also exclusively found in Sarawak. The Dayak tribes have been picking and consuming this plant as an everyday dish. It is a nutritious wild vegetable that is easy to collect from the jungle (and many times you can also spot this creeper plant growing by roadsides). It is usually simply stir-fried with garlic and belacan (spicy shrimp paste). The Chinese community has modified this recipe to add in white wine, giving it an extra tang.
The reason why it can’t be found even in other parts of Malaysia is because this plant is very perishable – they are usually picked in the early morning and consumed the same day.
Nasi lemak is considered the national dish of Malaysia, and is typically consumed for breakfast. Its roots are in the Malay cuisine and its name literally mean ‘fatty rice’ – acknowledging the richness and creaminess of the rice. The rice is fragrant – cooked with coconut milk and pandan (screwpine) leaves, and is typically served with condiments like sambal (chilli paste), peanuts, anchovies, eggs or chicken and some cucumbers. The mark of good nasi lemak is in its rice and sambal. Its price range in Malaysia can start from really cheap (plain but still delicious roadside stalls) to expensive (with added seafood and meat)!
This is Malaysian’s fruit salad, only covered in black sauce made from sweet soy sauce, prawn paste, belacan (more shrimp paste!), sugar, lime and chilies. This paste is then mixed with some fruit (usually pineapples, but most crunchy fruits would do), vegetables (cucumbers and ‘mengkuang’ – a crunchy vegetable) and some fried tofu. At the end of the mixing, it is topped off with more chilli (if you wish) and crushed peanuts.
The fruit rojak is usually taken as a light snack or at tea time, and is a delightful burst of flavour!