On a recent trip to Malaysia I made with Helen and Ling (both originally from Malaysian) I got a thorough peek into this incredibly multi-faceted cuisine.
We ate almost only on street markets and in hawker centres, where the three main cultures that make up this nation (Malay, Chinese and Indian) display their unique dishes. Being so cheap and so incredibly fresh, you end up sampling dozens of dishes. It seems that the word “grazing” was invented for this kind of experience. You sit surrounded by a multitude of mini-kitchens that constantly create mouth watering local delicacies. How can one resist?
One of my favourites was a typical fried oyster omelette, which wasn’t perfect everywhere but once in a while had just the right balance of runny and crispy, with a strong but not overbearing oyster flavour. When right, it is heavenly.
Helen and Ling, proudly posing with their banana leaf wrapped nasi lemak
Another obvious choice was nasi lemak, probably the most popular dish in Malaysia. Again, if done right this dish – comprised of coconut rice, chilli sauce (sambal), roasted peanuts and small dried anchovies – is as complex a delicacy as any you get in a Michelin starred restaurant.
Nasi lemak also inspired a vegetarian dish I published recently in the Guardian. I highly recommend it, but only if you can take the heat.
To be continued...