Culinary Basics: Malaysian Cuisine

Malaysian cuisine is as rich in flavor as the region is in history.

By Hillary Mason
Credit: PxHere

Malaysian cuisine is as rich in flavor as the region is in history. The easiest way to highlight this is to point out that Malaysians today are descendants of Malay, India, Thai, the Middle East, and China. It’s a culture that has gone through centuries of upheaval and all of this comes together to create a cuisine that’s uniquely Malaysian.

Two of the stalwarts in Asian cuisine are rice and noodles, and Malaysia is no different. Yet its position south of Thailand and north of Singapore give its dishes plenty of variety. From the liberal use of lemongrass, garlic, and shallots to turmeric, limes, and chilies. It’s a potent mix that can awaken taste buds. 

What’s interesting about Malaysian cuisine is that the diet is surprisingly unhealthy. It is high in sugars despite containing lots of vegetables and seafood. So, if you or someone you know is on a diet or diabetic be careful.

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Rice and noodles

In Malaysian cuisine there’s a host of interesting flavors, including masak lamak, which is a coconut gravy, masak pedas, which is a chili powder coating, and masak hitam, a sweet soy sauce. Each of these can be used individually or in combinations with any vegetables or proteins to create a variety of dishes. 

However, despite the amazing flavors, anyone wanting to experience Malaysian cuisine will need to enjoy rice and noodles, or nasi and mee as they’re called in Malaysia. In fact, the amount of rice and noodle dishes available can overwhelm, but the key thing is to know the ingredients they’re with. So keep an eye out for Ayam which means chicken or telur which means egg. 

Another staple of Malaysian cuisine is roti bread. A crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, roundly shaped warm chunk of deliciousness. It’s common in Malaysian street food and is one of the Indian influences seen across Malaysian cuisine.

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Dishes of Malaysia

Nasi Lemak: This is the national dish of Malaysia. Including chilies, anchovies, peanuts, and boiled eggs cooked with rice. What makes it special is that the rice is cooked in fresh coconut milk. The dish can also include fish, chicken, or beef and it can be served as any meal throughout the day. 

Ayam Masak Marah: A popular dish in Malaysia, similar to Italian chicken cacciatore but incredibly spicy. It’s chicken pieces are fried until brown and then slowly cooked in tomato sauce with rice. 

Ikan Pari Bakar: A classic street food consisting of grilled stingray marinated in spices and then wrapped in banana leaves, cooked over coals. Served alongside a sambal sauce, which is made from chilies. 

Malaysia is south of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, west of the Philippines, and north of Singapore and Indonesia. 

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