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Differences between Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines


KennethT
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I don't know if this is the correct forum for this topic, but here goes.  Tonight, my wife and I went down to Chinatown in NYC to a Malaysian/Indonesian restaurant, which got me thinking that I don't really know that much about either cuisine.  Are there a lot of similar dishes to these cuisines (like roti, rendang, etc) or is it just that this restaurant is trying to broaden their base by carrying both - like American-Chinese restaurants that also have sushi... ?

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When you say "Malaysian (cuisine)" do you really mean "Malaysian Cuisine" or do you mean "MALAY cuisine"?

When you say "Indonesian (cuisine)" do you mean pan-Indonesian Cuisine or any particular subset of it?

Keep in mind, as one example, that even Peranakan cuisine is both Malaysian and Indonesian because it exists in both countries.

 

If you mean MALAY cuisine vs the dominant generalized kind of cuisine found in Indonesia then many of the regionalities are subsets of a broad spectrum, yes - with dishes that are common to both Malay cuisine and Javanese or Sumatran cuisine &etc, say (rendang being one example - with Minangkabau origins), but perhaps with different spicing and/or way of preparation. "Nasi Goreng" (literally, "fried rice") is another dish that is ubiquitous in both countries overlapping both Malay (and even Malaysian-Chinese and Malaysian-Indian and Mamak & etc, to a point) cuisines as well as Sumatran/Javanese/Padang/etcetc cuisines but is frequently thought of in the West as "Indonesian". Here's an old thread here on eG on nasi goreng. There are also various food items in Java, especially, which look like clunky versions of "siu mai" or "wonton" but are called by Malay/Indonesian(as a language) names --- but that's because they ARE the local Chinese (Hakka, mainly) versions of same. "Fried chicken" can be done in various ways and will differ accouding to which ethnic or regional group is doing it, across Malaysia and Indonesia. Balinese cuisine (as a subset of Indonesian) has strong Hindu influences and includes a popular Balinese rendition of roast PIG which, of course, would be verboten in most of otherwise majority Muslim Indonesia. And so on.

(Take a long look at the many threads on eating in Indonesia (vs eating in Malaysia) especially those posted by a certain once-poster on another forum for lots of details on a personal level)

 

What was this restaurant you went to, and what was on their menu? Who were the owners? (ethnic Malay, or ethnic Chinese, or some other?)

Edited by huiray (log)
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@huirayYour post perfectly illustrates my ignorance of these areas.  Unfortunately, there are very few examples of any Malay or Indonesian restaurants in NYC, and even fewer in Manhattan.  And like many NYers, I don't spend nearly enough time in the outer boroughs to sample what is here.  Unfortunately, unlike while on vacation when I am perfectly willing to travel across the city for a particular restaurant or dish several times a day, in 'real llife' I don't have nearly enough free time, and I tend not to do so at all.

 

I understand that there would be large differences between cuisines from say Bali, Java and Sumatra, but I don't think there are any examples of any specific regions here in NYC.  The same for regional Malay...  We do have some regional Thai restaurants - but unless it's Chiang Mai, or Isaan, it's also not represented.

 

As for the specific restaurant last night, it's called Sanuria.  Here It was our first time there, so I don't know who were the owners, or their nationalities.  I couldn't tell for sure, but I thought that the patrons there (except for us) were Chinese, not Malay or Indonesian, and I had the impression that they were speaking some form of Chinese, but I could be wrong because I don't have a lot of experience listening to the Malay or Indonesian languages.  The restaurant claims to be "Malaysian/Indonesian" and the menu itself doesn't distinguish between which is which... it's just broken down into beef, chicken, pork, seafood, etc.  Plus, the menu they gave us was in English, but many of the titles were non-descript, like "Shrimp with special sauce" (we got that, and it was excellent - reminded me of a shrimp dish at a Malay mini-chain called Penang that used to exist but is no longer).  Even the beef rendang wasn't called rendang, it was beef with dry curry - but when I ordered I ordered it as 'rendang', and the woman had no issue with it.  It was quite good as well - not as sweet as it can be at other places which is more my preference.

 

Anyway, definitely much more research is in order... and I'll have to head to the outer boroughs to see others out.....  @Deryn, thanks for the link to that thread, I didn't find it myself.  I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I will soon.

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@KennethT, I followed your link for Sanuria and went to the "Street View" on Google. The view shows the awning with Chinese ideograms on it which (on the left) is more-or-less an onomatopoeia for "Sanuria" and on the right says "small eats shop/stall" = smaller-scale restaurant. I would say this pegs the owners as of Chinese ethnicity or heritage. I doubt any ethnic-Malay-owned shop would put Chinese ideograms on their frontage, except in special circumstances.

 

I also looked around and found this: http://www.menupages.com/restaurants/sanur/menu

If this indeed looks like what you also were looking at then I would say most of the stuff on offer is Malaysian-Chinese cuisine, plus standard Malay-type dishes as interpreted by Malaysian Chinese folks.  I would not peg it as a "Malay cuisine" place. The "Indonesian" stuff I would speculate would be sort-of similar dishes as found in "Indonesia", interpreted through the owner's lens. There may be some Nyonya-type influences too.

 

I plugged in "malay restaurant" into a google map search and got this: https://www.google.com/maps/search/malay+restaurant/@40.7052248,-74.0494413,12z/data=!3m1!4b1

Laut - my understanding was that when it first opened years ago it was much more attuned to Malay cuisine ( @Pan, can you confirm or deny this, please?) but when I look at the menu now it looks like a HUGE mash-up between Malaysian-Chinese, sort-of Thai, sort-of Malay, plus this-and-that. The "Nyonya" restaurants do serve Nyonya-derived if not always true Nyonya dishes plus the usual mash-ups for a restaurant of this sort in a Western place. Most of the others (if not all) seem to hew more to Malaysian-Chinese cuisine than not.

(p.s.: Hainanese Chicken Rice is NOT a Nyonya dish even if it is offered in the "Nyonya" restaurants in NYC.)

 

Just as an aside: If one walks into a Malay house, or an actual Malay restaurant, there is often what can only be described as a "Malay smell". I suppose this might be interpreted as somewhat...umm...politically incorrect, but folks who grew up around those parts "know" what is meant here.

Edited by huiray (log)
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BTW in that old thread one of the posters says that..."In Malaysia the well established culinary traditions of both China and India have to some extent been assimilated into what we think of Malaysian cuisine today. Think of the many Malaysian curries for example - or fried noodles and laksa etc as examples of the Indian and Chinese influences repectively."

 

I think this is incorrect, or at least over-simplistic.  I think it more correct to say that "Malaysian Cuisine" is an amalgam of all these disparate cuisines which have absorbed each other's influences into their cuisines. So, for example, it is more like Regional Chinese cuisines (Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien, predominantly) absorbing and incorporating MALAY influences and spices into themselves – rather than either Malay or "Malaysian" cuisine absorbing Chinese influences.¶¶ (Or one of the regional Chinese cuisines absorbing Southern Indian - Tamilian, or Keralan, for example - influences) There is a distinct difference between the two ways of saying it.  The Wikipedia article I cited above in my first post here actually is a decent summary of the cuisine.

 

The poster also ignored the influence of the colonial eras (both Portuguese and British) and both the Eurasian and "Colonial Hainanese" cuisines/dishes that resulted. "Hainanese Pork Chop", for example, is probably found nowhere else besides Malaysia (and Singapore) - deriving from when British colonialists employed cooks who happened to be Hainanese in their kitchens,** and these cooks adapted the ways and demands of their British/English employers to what they knew. Look up Hainanese Pork Chop, one might find it interesting. The Portuguese influence is frequently more pronounced in the Malaccan regions (NOT Moluccan - a completely different geographical place) and Eurasian Cuisine is a recognized sub-category in Malaysian Cuisine.

 

** The Hainanese were the last (in a general sense) of the regional folks from China to get to Malaysia/Singapore. Most of the regional/dialect-specific groups from China tended to cluster in certain industries or lines of work; and by the time the Hainanese arrived, cooking for others was one of the last things left for them to do if they could not establish themselves independently.

 

ETA: ¶¶ Of course the flow goes both ways - Malays also adopt some of the styles and character of Chinese/Indian etc cuisines, but with "halal" requirements and their own taste preferences coming into play. "Hainanese Chicken Rice" is much loved by the Malays, for example, but they put their spin on it and make the chicken into a ROASTED chicken. (Malays hate "rubbery" skin, in general, which normal HCR would have)

Edited by huiray
Added ¶¶ note. (log)
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Laut is not far from my apartment - we get delivery from them from time to time.  Their chicken rice is not bad, but their rendang is on the sweet side, and not always very tender... I find.  The roti canai is pretty good, but their curry sauce is not spectacular - pretty bland.

 

I'm not surprised about what you said about Sanuria... it is located in Manhattan's chinatown, and I assume that most of their clientele are Chinese of some sort.  They had handwritten signs upon walking in using Chinese characters, and English underneath explaining how they'd be closing for lunar NY and reopening on Thursday.

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4 hours ago, KennethT said:

...at a Malay mini-chain called Penang...

 

BTW Penang was not a Malay cuisine chain either. It was an amalgam of Malaysian-Chinese and Malaysian-Malay-(Chinese/Indian). :-)

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13 hours ago, huiray said:

I plugged in "malay restaurant" into a google map search and got this: https://www.google.com/maps/search/malay+restaurant/@40.7052248,-74.0494413,12z/data=!3m1!4b1

Laut - my understanding was that when it first opened years ago it was much more attuned to Malay cuisine ( @Pan, can you confirm or deny this, please?) but when I look at the menu now it looks like a HUGE mash-up between Malaysian-Chinese, sort-of Thai, sort-of Malay, plus this-and-that.

 

I would more or less deny that. If I remember correctly, Laut always served Malaysian and Thai food and pretty quickly also added sushi. They did have more Malay dishes than some other "Malaysian" restaurants in Manhattan, but you had to know which dishes on the menu were really Malaysian, and even then, getting them to be made spicy and real was a bit hit or miss.

 

Sanur (this is the place on Doyers St., right?), if I remember correctly, was - at least the last time I went there (probably well over 10 years ago) - run by a husband-and-wife team, both Overseas Chinese people. One of them was from, I think, Batam, an Indonesian island just south of Singapore, and the other was from somewhere in Malaysia (Ipoh? Penang? I don't remember). It is not easy to find specifically Malay, as opposed to Malaysian food in New York.

 

What follows may not be as knowledgeable a discourse as you'd get from a real expert, but here goes:

 

My experience in terms of rendang is that in Indonesia, they cook it down longer than in Malaysia, so that it has a more refined taste and more tender meat. More generally, since many Sumatrans (especially but not only in Riau and Palembang) are basically Malay and loads of Minangkabau came to Malaysia starting in the 19th century, not surprisingly, there is more overlap between Malaysian and Sumatran cuisines than there is between Malaysian food and the styles in Java, Bali and other Indonesian islands. But even talking about "Malaysian food" ignores the large differences between West Coast and East Coast styles. Kelantanese food, for example, is quite distinct from West Coast food, and unfortunately, I don't think you're ever likely to find items like Ayam Percik or Nasi Kerabu in Malaysian restaurants in New York.

Edited by Pan (log)
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Michael aka "Pan"

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Those 2 countries cuisine do not make a big difference really. The basic ingredients are still there like in the sambal (chili paste) to make curry - galangal (lengkuas), lemon grass, onions, ginger, garlic, chili, tumeric, belachan (fermented shrimp paste) fish sauce, thai basil, mint, to name a few. Yes there are long grain rice, glutinuous rice, basmati (indian) and even Jasmine rice. The dishes are more or less the same and maybe they are called a different name. All 3 countries use coconut milk, coconut products like grated coconut, tamarind juice in their curry. Example, rojak (vege salad mixed in peanut sauce) in Malaysia and Indonesia called it gado gado. Tom yam soup (thai sweet and sour soup) in Thailand, Malaysia called it assam and with coconut milk made into assam lemak and Indonesia called it mee java and so is mee goreng (spicy )fried noodles in all 3 countries. These countries are neighbors so their influences to each other in term of food, traditional costumes, cultures and tradition are only slight difference.

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  • 4 weeks later...
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  • 1 year later...

Hmmm... good question..

 

I'm a Malaysian Chinese. In my personal opinion, the differences is Malaysian cuisine are more like fusion and mixture where the variety of races in Malaysia are basically allowed to spread their own cuisine as wide, free or as much as their like while being true to their root.

For example, the Hainanese Chicken Rice, despite the name, it is not from Hainan, China. It is a dish modified in Malaysia by the early Hainanese that came to Malaysia. The rice is cooked with chicken stock and ginger which some said are inspiration from the Indian briyani and they also added pandan leave into the rice which is said inspired from the Malay, Nasi Lemak. Hey, it is a Chinese food but made in Malaysia. Don't you think it satisfy the requirement of being a Malaysian cuisine?

 

While, the Indonesian cuisine to me, they look like cuisine which is developed with mostly influences of the Malay Indonesian. I mean have you tried their dim sum or their Kwetiau Siram which i believe is the indonesian version of WAT TAN HOR (CANTONESE FRIED NOODLES WITH SILKY EGG SAUCE). I think it just how it is in the " Old" Indonesia when you see the Indonesian Chinese are not even allowed to have Chinese name. I believe it is the same as in their cuisine.

 

I think the terms for such condition is "Assimilation"? While Malaysia cuisine are more like "Acculturation"  and also "Amalgamation" for the case like Penang Nyonya, Malacca Nyonya and Malacca Kristang.

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I think I wrote about the Indonesian restaurant I frequented for many years, located in Inglewood, CA. from the early '60s through the 80s' till I moved up here to Lancaster and the trip was just too long.

J.B.'s Little Bali  was owned and operated by a couple from Indonesia and their extended family.  

The place was always full - one needed reservations for more than 2 and there were big round tables because most parties were 6, 8, 10.

There were many patrons who were obviously asian, but there were also a lot of Dutch ex-pats who had lived in Indonesia for years, or decades.  I'm nosy, I asked and in most cases, the people were friendly and willing, if not eager to share their stories.  The set-price meal was the "COMPLETE RIJSTTAFEL" and it took a long time to get through all the "courses" - one is not supposed to rush eating - so there was plenty of time for conversation.

"Bob" (the "B" of J.B.)  explained every dish and the sideboys that accompanied them. Warned about the extremely hot SAMBALS and suggested how to add flavor to the dish without "inflaming it" (there were small containers of TOOTHPICKS on the table to dip into the sambals and then poke into the serving on one's plate.)

Water or beer was served with the first round of dishes, 5, I think - included Gado-Gado salad, still one of my favorites.  

As we emptied those dishes, different ones would replace them - one was savory banana fritters, which I loved, and vegetables in a sauce with coconut chips that went so well with the rice.  Bob explained there were always an uneven number of dishes because otherwise it would be bad luck.

Then tea, black tea with a hint of vanilla along with some sweets, fresh fruits and some tiny cakes and dumplings with sweet fillings.

Finally, a round of ginger tea to "settle the stomach." 

 

As far as I knew, this was a "pure Indonesian"  restaurant.  The dishes were all in my Indonesian cookbooks and were described in other books about Indonesia itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by andiesenji (log)
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"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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