With its multi-ethnic population, it is little wonder that Malaysian food has such strong Indian, Chinese and Thai Portuguese influences, in addition to the traditional Malay flavours.
Malaysia has a style of dish to suit everybody: the coconut milk found in masak lemak dishes will appeal to the milder palette, while any dish cooked in spicy sambal will satisfy the most adventurous foodie. For those in between, the laksa lemak- noodles cooked in a coconut-curry sauce- offers an intoxicating tropical and fiery blend.
Just when you think you know Malaysian cuisine, think again. While delving into the more well-known dishes such as ‘Nasi Goreng’ and ‘Mee Goreng’, chicken cooked in bamboo may prove to be an unexpected treat. The historic city of Penang has a distinctive Chinese flavour, and is well known as a ‘hawker’s paradise’, as well as kopitams (Chinese coffee shops). In contrast, Malacca has had more Portuguese influences.
Though Kuala Lumpur may seem increasingly Westernised with shopping malls popping up all around the city, a distinct Malay atmosphere can still be found in the night markets. Affectionately called Chee Cheong Kai (Starch Factory Street) because it housed a tapioca mill a long, long time ago, Petaling Street is not only one of Malaysia’s best night markets, but now a national institution. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a durian cream puff, or be brave and try the delicious ‘duck feet parcel’ at the Sze Ngan Chye stall.
Malaysia treats eating as an art, rather than a necessity- an opportunity for discovery and evolution, rather than stubbornly retaining old ideas. Embrace the country’s optimism with both arms, and you will find your palate richly rewarded.