Thursday, September 26, 2013

Malaysian Food influenced by different communities

Malaysian food is a rich mélange of flavors and tastes heavily influenced by Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and Thai cuisines. The influences are evident not only in cooking styles like making use of a wok to prepare dishes but also in the type of ingredients used for Malaysian cuisine uses spices common to various other cuisines of South and Far East Asia. In fact, the base of many a Malaysian dish is a Rempah or spice paste made from freshly ground spices. The Rempah is quite similar to the Indian masala paste, an essential for Indian cooking.

Malaysian food is somewhat spicy and also features the liberal used of chutneys (achars) known sambals. These sambals are made with popular Indian, Chinese, Thai and Middle Eastern spices like turmeric, chili, coconut, shallots, dried prawns and more. Other herbs and spices liberally used in Malay cuisine, include common Asian ingredients like lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, cardamom, star anise , fenugreek, coconut milk, galangal, torch ginger and so forth.

Rice, like in other parts of Asia plays a prominent role in Malaysian cuisine. While fragrant Thai rice is most commonly used for Malaysian preparations like Nasi Lemak, basmati rice is usually used for signature Mamak(Indian Muslim) dishes like Nasi  Biryani. Nasi Lemak, a rice based dish of rice cooked in coconut milk and served with dried anchovies, peanuts, boiled egg, dried shrimp and pickled vegetables called ‘acaar’ is in fact considered to be the signature dish of Malaysian cuisine and is consumed at all meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner. A meat or beef curry is usually served as an accompaniment to a Nasi Lemak meal.

Chinese traders who arrived in Malaysia during the early 15th and 16th centuries settled down and intermarried with the local Malay population. This phenomenon gave birth to a unique culture known as the Peranakans or the Straits-Chinese people. The Peranakans are known for their own inimitable culture and traditions and their unique style of cooking which features a blend of Malay and Chinese cuisines. Some popular and well-known Peranakan dishes include preparations like the famed Asam Laksa, Popiahs(fresh spring rolls) and otak-otak (fish ,coconut milk, galangal and spice paste wrapped in banana leaf). The Peranakan people were also responsible for introducing delicate, colored pastries called Kuih to Malaysian cuisine. The various kuih like Kuih Talam, ondeh-ondeh, kuih lapis and others, are made with ingredients like sago, palm sugar, coconut, rice flour and more.

Another significant contribution of the Chinese to Malay cuisine is the widespread use of noodles. Various kinds of noodles like bi-hoon(rice vermicelli), Kuay Teow(flat rice noodles), Hokkien mee( yellow noodles),langka and others serve as the base for many popular Malay dish like Char Kuay Teow, Mee goering and  many more. Similarly the early Indian settlers to Malaysia who were brought to work on rubber and palm oil plantations by the British, introduced their staple foods to Malaysian cuisine. They brought along breads like Dosa(called Thosai in modern–day Malaysia) , flaky parathas  which today form an important component of a Roti Canai meal( a meal featuring a rich paratha served with a spicy chicken curry), idlis(steamed rice dumplings), puri(fried Indian bread) and more. The Indian Muslims in the meanwhile, contributed their most famous dish, the slow-cooked concoction of rice and meats, the biryani which was rechristened nasi biryani in Malaysia and today features an immensely popular dish sold by various Mamak (Indian Muslim) eateries and restaurants throughout the country.

Malaysian cuisine with its numerous flavors and tastes provides a true representation of the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic tapestry of Malaysian society and must be sampled on any visit to the country.

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