A Blog about Food
I have done no research to substantiate this, but I am certain that Malaysia translates to “The country with incredibly diverse, incredibly good food”. I don’t see how it could mean anything else. In the week or so we’ve been here, we’ve tried many different dishes that belong to Malay, Chinese, Arabic, Indian, British, Portuguese, Dutch, and more types of cuisine – and of course fusions of all of the above. With these different people groups living in such harmony here, it’s no wonder that pieces of each of their distinct types of cuisine have creeped into others. When we arrive in a new city, we are always given a food map – a list of local delicacies and where to find them. George Town alone had over 20 dishes listed. We had our work – and our appetites – cut out for us. In this part of southeast Asia, almost all of what we’ve been eating is known as hawker food. A hawker back in the day was someone who would walk down the street, yelling out what food product they were selling in hopes of drawing people in. Today it has evolved slightly to refer to the food sold from various sections of the city where vendors in carts sell their food exclusively on the streets. These spots are always designated (they can’t be just anywhere) and these hawkers set up and tear down their stalls every day. Each of these hawkers specialize in one dish, and it is a guarantee that this is where you will find the best food in the city.
Hawker stalls lining the street
I don’t want to take away from the architecture here, or the history, or the people themselves, but the culture really leaks out through the food. Like I said earlier, the way the different types of food fuse so harmoniously is a testimony to how these cultures interact and thrive off each other. Although there’s no app for smelling the food I am writing about (someone help me develop that!), and the pictures may not make your mouth water, I want to take you through a bit of our cultural cuisine encounter so far. Unfortunately, I somehow ate most of the food before getting a photo of it, but I hope you enjoy what I have.
These dishes still stem from an Asian base, and pretty much all come with rice, or more commonly, noodles. For starters, Laksa is a noodle based soup garnished with chilies, lettuce, pineapple, mint, ginger, tamarind, onion, and is added to thick vermicelli noodles, seafood meat, and egg. I’d say it is the most popular dish here and has been my favorite. Another type of popular noodle dish is Mee, which simply means rice noodle. It is prepared many different ways, with some of the most popular being Goreng Mee, which translates to fried noodles, and can be served with different sauces and meats. You’ll also see Hokkien Mee, a soup with a seafood based broth cooked for several hours so all that delicious flavor is absorbed. It’s added to two different types of noodles and topped with vegetables, seafood, and chilies. There’s also Curry Mee, which as the name implies has a curry base and Won Ton Mee, a soup or dry dish served with vegetables, pork, soy sauce, and of course won tons, to name a few. See how cultures are colliding here?
Won Ton Mee
Continuing on, there’s Char Koay Teow, which is a stir fried flat rice noodle with veggies, your choice of meat, egg, and soy. Chee Cheong Fun is a long, inch thick steamed noodle sometimes found with shrimp inside. It’s covered with a unique shrimp sauce and sesame seeds. This dish I didn’t care for, I just couldn’t get past the wiggly texture. Everyone else liked it though. Popiah is a rather unique dish, as it is a crepe or pancake made from wheat flour. Inside is a mixture of bean paste, hoisin sauce, shrimp paste, turnips, beans, carrots, tofu, and more. Very healthy and delicious!
Lest we forget about rice dishes, these dishes are always mixes of choice meats, vegetables, and sauces, not too dissimilar from what we’re used to. It’s possible to find sweet and sour sauces, curries, or just plain rice with cooked meat. Satay is the term for skewered, cooked meats that compliment rice so well. Just about all Malaysian Indian dishes use rice as a base, pairing nicely with their sauces, spices, and of course, their breads.
Roti is the word for bread in Malaysia, and what a spectrum of roti there is. Roti Telur, or Malaysian French toast, are thick pieces of bread with butter and a soft boiled egg sitting on top. Roti exists in other forms, served with sauces for dipping or covered in meats or even served with sweet toppings. You’ll also find large pieces of Naan, or Indian flat bread cooked in a tandoor, served with different spices. Chapati is your typical indian flat bread. Thosai is a pancake or crêpe filled with the same assortments of things you’ll see stacked on a thick piece of roti. Getting into the dessert realm, breads can also be filled with sweet beans, coconut, taro root, chocolate, and so, so much more.
Yes, we can’t forget desserts. My personal favorite is Ais Kacang, because it is so fun to say but also because it is a gigantic dish. The base shaved ice, is loaded with corn, sweet beans, grass jelly, palm seed, coconut milk, rose syrup, and that mountain is topped with ice cream. Yes, you must have the ice cream. Next up is Cendol, which is a bowl of jelly noodles made from rice flour and green food coloring. Add kidney beans, some shaved ice, and doused in coconut milk and you’ve got a delicious, cooling snack in the middle of a hot day. It’s also not hard to find home made ice creams or popsicles, in case the other dishes are just too filling after a day of eating!
Trying out Cendol
To quench your thirst after eating so much, very fresh fruit juices are made right in front of you on almost every street corner. For the number of unique, amazing dishes, we’ve yet to discover any really unique drinks except for white coffee, which here refers to coffee beans roasted slowly over charcoals. There is also a really good lemon honey drink, but it is similar to lemonade with honey added to it. Not to say the drinks aren’t amazing!
So, are you hungry yet? It’s a few hours before dinner as a write this but I’ve already worked up quite the appetite just writing this. We’re currently in the Cameron Highlands, an area located some 6000 feet above sea level and known for it’s tea and year round strawberry crop. Being so high above sea level, we’re enjoying cooler temperatures, hovering around 75 degrees each day. Even though it’s still so warm, we all wore coats today! I’m not sure I can assimilate back into snowy weather. Anyway, we’ll check out the tea and strawberry plantations and fill you in on the details! Stay tuned! So, are you hungry yet? It’s a few hours before dinner as a write this but I’ve already worked up quite the appetite just writing this. We’re currently in the Cameron Highlands, an area located some 6000 feet above sea level and known for it’s tea and year round strawberry crop. Being so high above sea level, we’re enjoying cooler temperatures, hovering around 75 degrees each day. Even though it’s still so warm, we all wore coats today! I’m not sure I can assimilate back into snowy weather. Anyway, we’ll check out the tea and strawberry plantations and fill you in on the details! Stay tuned!