When either of you have time, could you please go a little bit into the intricacies of Malaysian food? I understand, that like Filipino cuisine, Malaysian cuisine is a bit of a melting pot, with Chinese and Indian influences in addition to its own.
Oh boy, where do I begin? You're right of course, Malaysian food on a whole is a conglomeration of the three major ethnic groups of the country: Malay, Chinese, and Indian.
An important category of Malaysian food is Nyonya or Peranakan cuisine. The Peranakan culture is essentially the result of the cross-cultivation of Chinese and Malay traditions that began in the 17th century, maybe earlier by some accounts, when Chinese traders settled in Penang, Melaka and Singapore and started families by marrying the local Malays. These families retained Chinese traditions but at the same time adopted an extensive set of local customs and practices.
The use of both Chinese and Malay ingredients in combination typifies Nyonya cuisine. For example, Chinese rice noodles are cooked in spicy fish or shrimp paste soups to make Laksa
. The recipe for Babi Chin
calls for pork -- the default Chinese meat, but forbidden (non-halal) to Muslims -- to be cooked with coriander, a spice that's foreign to Chinese cuisine but a key ingredient in Malay kari
The peranakan are unique examples of a cultural commingling that is rarer among the recent immigrants of the 19th and 20th century.
Even though the second and third generation Chinese and Indians hold more closely to their traditions, their diets have been very much open to local influences. The current generation of Chinese Malaysians are as comfortable eating kangkong belachan
(ong choy/water convulvus stir-fried with shrimp paste) as they are eating Chinese roast pork. Roti canai
, a light fluffy tossed and toasted bread served with curry, and Nasi Lemak
, a dish of rice cooked in coconut milk with sambal belachan
(spicy sauce made from chilli and shrimp paste, again) are just two examples of distinctive ethnic dishes -- Indian and Malay, respectively -- that have universal appeal among all of Malaysia's ethnic groups.
Classic Malay cookery drew its early influences, in the 15th century or thereabouts, from traders from India, China and the Middle East. It makes use use of spices like tumeric, chillies, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and lemon grass, in addition to the old stalwarts of cumin and coriander. The spice list is by no means comprehensive, but it is representative.
Coconut milk also makes a frequent appearance in recipes, used in place of water sometimes, as in nasi lemak
, or in stews much like one might use cream in Western cuisine to add richness and to "lengthen" the flavor.
Rice is the usual staple, and chicken, beef and fish are popular sources of protein.
While it might be tempting to generalize about Malaysian food, not all of it is fusion cuisine. The recent immigrants continue to prepare dishes that remain ethnically distinct. Should you venture into a kitchen in a Chinese home in Malaysia, don't be surprised to find food that one might see in Guangzhou or Fujian.
We're planning to have dinner at a Malaysian restaurant in NYC tonight and hope to show examples of some typical Malaysian dishes, as well as "hawker" food that is ubiquitous in many parts of Malaysia and Singapore.
Hawker food are so-called because they are sold by hawkers from mobile street stalls, but are now more often found in small informal restaurants, commonly called "coffee shops", or in hawker centers, which are like food courts, but on a larger scale. Examples of hawker food include Char Kway Teow
, a stir-fried flat rice noodle dish, and Hae Mee
, shrimp and wheat noodles in a spicy broth.
In the next couple of days, expect to see my own attempt at Malaysian chicken curry, and we'll probably make Laksa
is a regional oddity, a Dayak raw fish salad that is unique to Sarawak. Ms Congee hopes to illustrate two slightly different versions of Umai
for lunch today.
Edited by Laksa, 21 August 2004 - 06:59 AM.