Food. You can’t avoid it. Humans need to have it (ideally) three times a day. It is often one of the most memorable part of any trip, and it can either make or break a holiday. Malaysia is a great foodie destination, due to the fact that the unique blend of cultures that make up Malaysia also blend together to create unique culinary offerings. The main ethnic groups of Malaysia are Malay, Chinese, and Indian. So no matter what you crave, you will be able to find something to suit your palate.
All of the foods on this list are ones that I tried on my two week trip to Malaysia. So by all means, it is not exhaustive. I am only including things that I myself personally tried…or even cooked! I was very lucky to be offered a chance to learn about typical Malay food with the Lazat cooking school, and learned to make a few of the items on this list.
The first thing we made at Lazat cooking school was otak otak. These amazing little appetizers combine white fish with a blend of herbs, leaves, and spices to create delicious bite size parcels. Ana and Sue from Lazat explained that the reason they used so many leaves and herbs was to cover up the taste of fish which may have been slightly less than fresh, back in the days before the refrigerator. This isn’t an issue any more in Malaysia, but otak otak is so delicious that the recipe stuck. I am also a person who doesn’t particularly like fish, but I loved these! I even plan to make them for my next dinner party.
Bak kut teh is a traditional Chinese dish which is found in Malaysia and Singapore. The mean literally translates to “meat bone tea”, and consists of meaty chunks of pork which are simmered in a broth for several hours with many different Chinese herbs. It is served in a large pot, and everyone spoons it out over their own personal dish of rice or noodles. However the best part of bak kut teh is the youtiao which is served with it. Youtiao is fried strips of bread which are dipped into the soup. Delicious!
I have to admit, steam boat took me a little outside of my food comfort zone. I am typically a vegetarian (although I relax those rules when travelling), and I am just learning how to enjoy fish. So imagine me facing off with steamboat. Steamboat is a large pot of simmering meat stock soup. Which isn’t out of my comfort zone at all. The issue was with everything else. At the beginning of a steam boat dining experience, we are brought several plates full of raw fish, raw meat, meat/fish balls, noodles, vegetables, strange mushrooms, and eggs. These things are tossed into the soup and cooked like a sort of Asian fondue. Everyone then fights it out with their chopsticks for the prime items. I however, fought it out for the very few articles of which I could actually identify their origin.
Even though I am usually a vegetarian, I am willing to eat meat when I travel in order to truly experience the destination. Also, being vegetarian in places like Asia, is just really, really, difficult. However, I still find it difficult to eat meats when I have no idea where they came from.
Needless to say, I did my best to pick out the tofu and the noodles from the steamboat. I did, however, love the communal nature of eating steam boat with a bunch of friends.
The king of the fruits! Poor Durian though, even though he is the king of the fruits, he is still banned from most hotels and indoor shopping areas. Why? He stinks! The durian is a very large fruit with a strong, hard, and very very spiky exterior. The following is an except from the wikepedia article on Durian:
“The edible flesh emits a distinctive odour, strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine and gym socks.”
Road side stalls sell the raw fruit, while various other vendors sell durian ice cream, and durian cream puffs. My first durian encounter was with the cream puffs. I unwittingly popped it into my mouth, and was suddenly attacked by the pungent smell and flavour. However, being combined with sugar and puff pastry made it much more palatable. My experience with the raw fruit itself did not go as smoothly, and I instead opted to stick with the “queen of the fruits”, mangosteen.
Now here is a Malaysian desert, that pretty much everyone can agree on. Onde Onde are made with a dough from glutinous rice flour which is infused with juice from the pandan leaf. The pandan leaf does not add any flavour, but it does give the onde onde its green colour. Chunks of raw palm sugar are then rolled into the centre of small pieces of the dough, which are then boiled in water for a few minutes, and then rolled in fresh coconut. The result is a chewy coconut ball, which explodes with melted palm sugar in the middle. MMMmmmm!
What are your most memorable exotic foods from travelling?