Malaysian Cooking - An Oriental World Of Culinary Delights

by Habeeb Salloum, Oct 24, 2002 | Destinations: Malaysia / Kuala Lumpur

The first impression a visitor gets of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital, is its aura of multi-racial exotic cultures and architectural splendour. The city is saturated with Moorish arches and exquisite minarets, seemingly out of the Arabian Nights. Amid this oriental atmosphere, the friendly and hospitable Malaysian Muslims, Chinese Buddhists, Indian Hindus and tribal peoples from Sarawak and Sabah - Malaysia's eastern provinces - work, play and dine together. In the country's cultural melting pot, each of these ethnic groups have left their way of life and culinary traditions.

From time immemorial Malaysia, a tropical lush-green land, has been a trading centre where the peoples of southeast Asia, the Indian sub-continent, the Arab world and, later, those from Europe settled or met to trade. All who came left traces of their foods. Borrowing and adapting from each other's cooking techniques and ingredients, they developed a rich and spicy Malaysian kitchen.

A twin of the Indonesian, which has a similar history, Malaysian cuisine consists of many exotic and tasty dishes - a tribute to the conglomeration of people who developed a colourful, healthy and satisfying cuisine. Today, a culinary journey through that East Asian land is a delight to the senses - an experience rarely matched in the world of dining.

Being a Muslim country, pork, except in the Chinese community, is not found on the menu. Chicken, fish and, to a lesser extent, beef and lamb are cooked with rice and vegetables in innumerable ways. Basil, cardamom, chilli peppers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander (both seeds and leaves), coconuts, cumin, ginger, lemon grass, lemon and lime juice, mint, nutmeg, pepper, tamarind and turmeric are the major condiments employed to make these dishes moderately spicy and rich in flavors.

As in almost all of Asia, rice (nasi), followed by noodles (mee) are the country's staples. Often cooked with coconut milk, white steamed rice is found with every meal. It is so significant to the Malaysian diet that it is almost synonymous with food.

Fish is also very important in the Malaysian kitchen. Broiled, fried, roasted or employed as an ingredient in soups and stews, dining on the country's fruit of the sea is an unforgettable culinary experience.

Satay, a dish common in both Malaysia and Indonesia, is considered to be the king of the country's food. Introduced by Muslim merchants, it is an adaptation of Indian kebabs - themselves of Arab origin.

The aroma of slivers of meat, roasting over a charcoal fire, is a symbol of Malaysia. Served both at roadside stands and in luxurious hotels, these marinated cubes of chicken or beef, grilled on skewers, are eaten as appetizers, snacks or as a main course with a peanut sauce, sliced onion and cucumber, and rice cakes.

A Malaysian meal, besides the usual rice and condiments, consists of 4 to 5 main dishes, served in large central bowls or platters. Each person is given his/her own plate, soup bowl, fork and spoon - the fork used for pushing food onto the spoon. Soup and main course are eaten together and no drinks are served with the meals - the soup acting as a beverage.

After the main course, fruits usually follow - and there is a great variety. In addition to the well-known fruits like bananas, mangos, oranges and papayas, there are the exotic ones like durian, mangosteen, rambutan and starfruit. The delectable Malaysian desserts, delicate in texture, smooth and rich in taste are, in the main, served as snacks.

Should travellers be lucky enough to dine for a few weeks on Malaysian foods, they will rarely forget this gastronomic experience. First being tantalized by aromas coming from stalls dotting the towns and cities, then feasting on dishes overflowing with flavours, is a dining adventure always remembered.

However, armchair travellers also can get into the act. They can try these few simple recipes and as the Malaysians say, `Selamat Mekan'! (`Bon Appétit'!)

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Steamed Rice- Nasi Kunyit
Peanut Sauce - Kuak Kacang
Malaysian Stir-Fried Cabbage
Fish Soup - Laksa Penang
Stir-Fried Vegetables - Sayur Goreng
Malaysian Chicken Fried Rice - Nasi Goreng
Chicken Satay
Fish Casserole - Otak-Otak
Chicken Rendang
Banana Delight
Malaysian Tea

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