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Malaysia – Food and Drink

Monica Tindall is an international educator and traveler.   Her passion for food and travel has led her to create The Yum List,  She is constantly hunting for great places to eat in Malaysia and around the world.  She plans her vacations by where each meal will be taken and sees the other sites on the way. She doesn’t waste time in writing about places that are only average so if it’s on The Yum List, it is worth a visit.  We asked her some questions about the food and drink of Malaysia.

What is the food scene like in Malaysia?

Malaysia is a foodie’s dream – three distinct cultures – Chinese, Indian and Malay – can be found living and eating proudly all on one street corner. Malaysia’s climate and central locality means that a decent variety of fresh ingredients are widely available. Many food lovers have even commented that the Chinese and Indian foods found in Malaysia are often better than their mother countries because of the availability of fresh produce.

What dishes would you recommend to somebody visiting Malaysia?

Eating out is a national pastime in Malaysia.  Locals often don’t have kitchens and street food is cheap and available 24 hours a day, so it is quite common that all meals are taken outside of the home.  Eating as a local won’t set you back more than a few dollars and the high turnover of food ensures that most street corners are pretty safe to eat at.  This translates to food paradise for visitors as the best food can be found by just heading out to the street to see which stalls the people are gathered around.   Popular picks include satay (skewers of meat usually beef or chicken accompanied by a lightly spiced peanut sauce), beef rendang (chunks of meat slowly cooked in coconut milk and spices) and roti canai (a type of unleavened bread flipped, whirled and cooked on the spot) served with dhal.

What is Malaysia’s national dish?
Nasi Lemak is the national dish of Malaysia.  It is simply rice cooked with coconut milk and served with fried anchovies, fried peanuts, cucumber slices, slices of hard boiled egg and sambal (chili paste).  It is eaten throughout the day and comes with any number of extras such as chicken, beef or mutton rendang or curry, fried chicken or dried prawns.

What are some of the common ingredients used in Malaysian cuisine?

Being centrally located in south east Asia, rice and noodles are of course staples but so too are a variety of unleavened breads such as roti canai, chapatti and naan.  As mentioned before Malaysia has access to a wide variety of fresh ingredients and cooks make full use of them.  Fresh vegetables, particularly leafy greens, and tropical fruits are common in many dishes. Beef, chicken, fish and lamb are frequently used proteins and are often cooked with a blend of spices.  Lemon grass, coconut milk and chili are common seasonings. 

What do they drink with their meals and what is the drinking scene like?

About 70% of Malaysians are Malay and therefore Muslim by law.  This means most local drinks are non-alcoholic.  They tend to be very sweet, although there is a great range of freshly squeezed tropical fruit juices too.  For the other 30% of the population and the many expats living in Malaysia there are a number of pubs and clubs serving liquor and the majority of restaurants frequented by expats are licensed.  Alcohol is widely available, although heavily taxed so not the cheapest thing to drink. 

What types of traditional sweets do they eat? 
I’m not the best person to answer this question as what I think of Malaysian sweets can be summed up in one word – “Yuck!”  I’ve lived in Asia for over 8 years and I still just can’t get used to the idea of crunchy jellies and sweetened corn and beans for dessert. Better not to comment any further.
What do you think is one of the most unusual or unique dishes in Malaysia?

An unusual, but popular, food is barbecued stingray.  Any one of the Chinese street stalls located in Jalan Alor, adjacent to Bukit Bintang, are tasty places to experience this sea creature.  It is most often grilled and marinated in a unique blend of spices.  A cold Tiger beer is a worthy accompaniment to this dish. 

Another unusual item  is a stinky fruit in Malaysia called the durian.  It is extremely popular but so pungent that it is banned in most hotels and buildings.   A supposed aphrodisiac, it has heating qualities and is best consumed at one of the many vendors on the side of the road so as not to contaminate your home with the stench.  It is extremely popular with Malaysians, however, there are not many foreigners who have been able to brave the smell yet alone find pleasure in consuming this fruit.

You have some great restaurant reviews, what are some of your favorite places?

My top pick for street food has to be Suzie’s corner – best steaks in town for a price you cannot beat plus a range of local dishes that won’t send you running to the bathroom upon your first visit.  It’s a safe bet for first timers whose tummies have not yet toughened up to Asian bugs.  Suzie’s corner can be found across the road from Ampang Point shopping centre on the corner of Ulu Klang and Jalan Ampang.
For those who’d prefer not to see a rat scurrying through a drain as their meal is being served or breathe in the fumes of passing by cars, Purple Cane Tea Restaurant is a clean and very popular indoor restaurant that won’t break your budget.  This place is packed during lunch with local Chinese.  They offer lighter style Chinese food cooked in tea broths instead of the buckets of oil that is ever so popular in Malaysia.  There are a number of outlets around Kuala Lumpur. The one I frequent the most is at the front of the Shaw Centre behind Times Square in Bukit Bintang.  Another popular venue is the one in the basement of Gardens Mall in Mid Valley City.  My favourite dishes here are the green tea rice, chicken and lotus soup in a tea broth, chicken and cashew nuts, beef with dragon fruit and their steamed fish.  Their menu highlights the most popular items on a one page cover sheet so you can see at glance what their specialties are.

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