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ABOUT FOOD IN MALAYSIA
Food: When people in the West speak of Chinese food, they
probably mean Cantonese food. It's the best known and most
popular variety of Chinese food. The food are usually
stir-fried with just a touch of oil to ensure that the result is
crisp and fresh. All those best known 'western Chinese' dishes fit
into this category - sweet and sour dishes, won ton, chow mein,
Food: Indian influence in Malaysian cuisine started in the 19th
century when large arrivals of Indian migrants were brought into the
country as contract laborers to work in rubber estates and on the
railways. Some did take the opportunity to set up trade in the
textile and food industry. Indian cuisine can be divided into two
mainstreams, Northern and Southern Indian cuisine.
Many varieties of ethnic dishes make up Malaysian cuisine
When people in the west speak of Chinese food, they probably mean Cantonese food. It's the best known and most popular variety of Chinese food. Cantonese food is noted for the variety and the freshness of it's ingredients. The food are usually stir-fried with just a touch of oil to ensure that the result is crisp and fresh. All those best known 'western Chinese' dishes fit into this category - sweet and sour dishes, won ton, chow mein, spring rolls.
With Cantonese food the more people you can muster for the meal the better, because dishes are traditionally shared so everyone will manage to sample the greatest variety. A corollary of this is that Cantonese food should be balance: traditionally, all foods are said to be either Yin (cooling) - like vegetables, most fruits and clear soup; or Yang (heaty) - like starchy foods and meat. A cooling food should be balance with a heaty food and too much of one it would not be good for you.
Another Cantonese specialty is Dim Sum or 'little heart'. Dim sum is usually consumed during lunch or as a Sunday brunch. Dim sum restaurant are usually large, noisy affair and the dim sum, little snacks that come in small bowls, are whisked around the tables on individual trolleys or carts. As they come by , you simply ask for a plate of this or a bowl of that. At the end the meal you are billed is the amount of empty containers on your table.
Cantonese cuisine can also offer real extremes - shark's fin soup or bird's nest soup, expensive delicacies from one end of the scale to mee (noodles) and congee (rice porridge) on the other end.
Far less familiar than the food from Canton are the cuisines from the north and the west of China - Szechuan, Shanghai and Peking. Szechuan food is the fiery food of China, where pepper and chili really get into the act. Where as to food from Canton are delicate and understated, in Szechuan food the flavors are strong and dramatic - garlic and chilies play their part in dishes like diced chicken and hot and sour soup.
Beijing (Peking) food is, of course best known for the famous 'Peking Duck'. Beijing food are less subtle than Cantonese food. Beijing food is usually eaten with hot steamed bun or with noodles, because rice is not grown in cold region of the north. But in Malaysia, it is more likely to come with rice.
Shanghai food are not easily found in Malaysia. Since most of Malaysia's Chinese are from the south, particularly from Hainan and Hakka it is quite easy to find food from this region. Throughout Malaysia one of the most widespread economical meal is the Hainanese Chicken Rice which cost around the figure of RM3.00. The Hainanese also produced steamboat, sort of Oriental variation of the Swiss Fondue, where you have a boiling stockpot in the middle of the table into which you deep pieces of meat, seafood and vegetable.
Although Hokkien's food is rated way down the Chinese gastronomic scale, it has provided the Hokkien fried Mee (thick egg noodles cook with meat, seafood and vegetable and a rich soya sauce. Hokkien spring rolls (popiah) are also delicious.
Teochew food from the area around Swatow in China is another style noted for it's delicacy and natural favorite. Teochew food is famous for it's seafood and another economical dish - Char Kwey Teow (fried flattened noodles) with clams, beansprout and prawns.
Hakka dish is also easily found in food centers. The best know hakka dish is the Yong Tau Foo (stuffed seafood beancurd) with soup or thick dark gravy.
Indian influence in Malaysian cuisine started in the 19th century when large arrivals of Indian migrants were brought into the country as contract laborers to work in rubber estates and on the railways. Some did take the opportunity to set up trade in the textile and food industry. Indian cuisine can be divided into two mainstreams, Northern and Southern Indian cuisine.
North Indian cuisine boasts of a diet rich in meat and uses spices and ingredients such as yogurt and ghee in dishes that are elaborate without being overly spicy. Here, bread and chapati (wheat-flour pancakes) replaces rice, which is the center of most South Indian meals. Coconut milk, mustard seeds, and chilies are also widely used in the Southern province.
Spices are the heart and soul of Indian cooking. But the quantity and proportions vary with the geographical boundaries. Curry powder is almost never used. Spices are freshly grounded and added in many different combinations. Spices commonly used are coriander, turmeric, cumin, chilies, fennel, and fenugreek. Other fragrant spices added are cardamom, clove, cinnamon and star aniseed.
In Malaysia, there is an abundant of Indian restaurants and food stalls to wet your appetite. They are traditionally served on a thali, a circular metal tray on which a number of small bowls called katori, also made from metal, are placed. Eaten with fingers, rice or bread are placed directly on the thali while curries and other dishes are served in the bowls. For South Indian cuisine, banana leaves are often used as plates where rice is served in the center, followed by various curries and accompaniments around it. These include dried fish, pappadams (lentil wafers), fresh chutneys made from herbs, coconut, and acid fruits among others.
Local Indian hawkers have created unique versions of local dishes, which are not found in India. For example, "mee goreng" is a combination of fresh Chinese yellow noodles, tofu, bean-sprouts, and dried shrimp paste. Malaysia also abounds with shops offering "Nasi Kandar", which is basically a combination of Malay and Indian cuisine - hence very Malaysian - although the taste is more robust. This concept came about when "nasi" (rice) hawkers would previously "kandar" (balance a pole on the shoulder with two huge containers on both ends) their wares.
Bread is the main item in most meals in North Indian cuisine. Therefore, a wide variety of bread is offered at these restaurants. Nann (leavened bread with poppy seeds) is a popular choice. The bread dough is rolled out and then slapped on the inside of the tandoori, near the top where it cooks very quickly in the fierce heat. It is then flavored with onion or garlic. Paratha or it's localized version of Roti Canai, meanwhile, is rich, flaky, and flavored with ghee. It can be eaten as an accompaniment or by itself, filled with potatoes and peas. Chapati is another leavened bread. It resembles flat discs and has a delightful flavor and chewy texture. Murtabak is stuffed Paratha based dough, which has a Meat, vegetables and egg in it.
Tandoori dishes are the most popular main courses in North Indian restaurants. Tandoori chicken is always a favorite, where a whole baby chicken or chicken quarters are roasted in the clay oven for several hours in advance and then finished off on the barbecue.
Malay & Nyonya Food
Variety is the spice in Malay food. The traditional culinary style has been greatly influenced by the long-ago traders from neighboring countries, such as Indonesia, India, the Middle East, and China. Malay food is often described as spicy and flavorful as it utilizes a melting pot of spices and herbs.
Malay cooking incorporates ingredients such as lemon grass, pandan (screwpine) leaves, and kaffir lime leaves. Fresh herbs, such as daun kemangi (a type of basil), daun kesum (polygonum or laksa leaf), nutmeg, kunyit (turmeric) and bunga kantan (wild ginger buds) are often used. Traditional spices such as cumin and coriander are used in conjunction with Indian and Chinese spices such as pepper, cardamom, star anise and fenugreek. Seasonings play an important role in Malay cooking as they often enhance the food taste and flavors. Many of the seasonings are not dried spices but are fresh ingredients such as fresh turmeric, galangal, fresh chili paste, onions, and garlic. A combination of fresh seasonings and dried spices are normally pounded together to make a fine paste and cooked in oil. Fresh coconut milk is often added.
Rice is the staple diet in any Malay meal. It is often served for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper too. Most meals are eaten by using your fingers, and eating utensils are kept to a minimum. All dishes are served at the same time, accompanied by a refreshing drink. Fish is popular in Malay cooking, as with other seafood such as shrimps and cuttlefish. Beef and mutton are very popular choices but never pork as it is against their religious beliefs to eat pork. The other popular white meat is chicken.
One of the most unique Malay dishes is the "roti jala" (lacy pancakes), which sometimes replaces the staple rice. Roti jala is an ideal accompaniment to any dish with lots of rich gravy and is often served during special occasions. It is made from a mixture of plain flour and eggs, with a pinch of turmeric powder and butter. Desserts are a must for any Malay meal. Easily available at most local restaurants and roadside stalls, Malay desserts are invariably very sweet and include ingredients such as coconut milk, palm sugar, and flour.
Nyonya food, also referred to as Straits Chinese food or Lauk Embok Embok, is an interesting amalgamation of Chinese and Malay dishes thought to have originated from the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) of Malaka over 400 years ago. This was the result of inter-marriages between Chinese immigrants and local Malays, which produced a unique culture. Here, the ladies are called nyonyas and the men babas.
Nyonya food is also native to Penang and Singapore. However, over the years, distinct differences have evolved in nyonya cooking found in Penang and Singapore than that in Malaka. The proximity of Malaka and Singapore to Indonesia resulted in an Indonesian influence on nyonya food. Malaka Nyonyas prepare food that is generally sweeter, richer in coconut milk, and with the addition of more Malay spices like coriander and cumin. Meanwhile, the Penang Nyonyas drew inspiration from Thai cooking styles, including a preference for sour food, hot chilies, fragrant herbs, and pungent black prawn paste (belacan).
Influences aside, nyonya recipes are complicated affairs, often requiring hours upon hours of preparation. Nyonya housewives of the past would spend the better part of their lives in the kitchen, but they were fiercely proud of their unique cuisine, preferring nyonya food to any other type of food.
It has been said that in the old days, a Nyonya lady seeking a prospective bride for her son would listen to the pounding of spices by the maiden concerned as it denoted the amount of attention she would give to her cooking!
Nyonya cooking is also about the blending of spices, employing pungent roots like galangal, turmeric and ginger; aromatic leaves like pandan leaf, fragrant lime leaf and laksa leaf, together with other ingredients like candlenuts, shallots, shrimp paste and chilies. Lemon, tamarind, belimbing (carambola) or green mangoes are used to add a tangy taste to many dishes.
For dessert, fruits are seldom served and are instead replaced by cakes. Nyonya cakes are rich and varied, made from ingredients like sweet potato, glutinous rice, palm sugar, and coconut milk.