Indian Food - "King" Of Spices!

Indian food influence in Malaysian cuisine started in the 19th century when the large
arrivals of Indian migrants were brought into the country as contract laborers to work in rubber estates and on the railways. Some did take the opportunity to set up trade in the textile and food industry. This migrant also brought with them the culinary legacy of Indian food to Malaysia.

Indian cuisine can be divided into two mainstreams, Northern and Southern Indian
cuisine. North Indian cuisine boasts of a diet rich in meat and uses spices and ingredients such as yogurt and ghee in dishes that are elaborate without being overly spicy. Here, bread and chapati (wheat-flour pancakes) replaces rice, which is the center of most South Indian meals. Coconut milk, mustard seeds, and chilies are also widely used in the Southern province.

Spices are the "King" when comes to Indian food. The quantity and proportions vary with each geographical boundary. In true Indian cooking, curry powder is almost never used.  Spices are freshly grounded and added in many different combinations, giving each dish a unique and distinct taste. Spices commonly used are coriander, cumin, turmeric, fennel, mustard and fenugreek. Other fragrant spices added are cardamom, clove, cinnamon and star anise. Both fresh and dried chili peppers are used in varying degrees for different curries - from mild sambars to fiery hot curries such as Vindaloo and Madras curries.


Tandoori Chicken
*Photo's by Flickr

In Malaysia, there is an abundant of Indian restaurants and Indian food stalls to whet your appetite. They are traditionally served on a thali, a circular metal tray on which a number of small bowls called katori, also made from metal, are placed. Eaten with fingers, rice or bread is placed directly on the thali while curries and other dishes are served in the bowls. For South Indian cuisine, banana leaves are often used as plates where rice is served in the center, followed by various curries and accompaniments around it. These include dried fish, pappadams (lentil wafers), fresh chutneys made from herbs, coconut, and acid fruits among others.

Local Indian hawkers have created unique versions of local dishes, which are not found in India. For example, "mee goreng" is a combination of fresh Chinese yellow noodles, tofu, bean-sprouts, and dried shrimp paste. Others local version of Indian food includes “roti canai”, “murtabak” and etc.

Nasi kandar is famously popular in Penang, and many restaurants selling it are well known not only to those on the island but those in other states as well. It is basically a combination of Malay and Indian cuisine and the taste is more robust. This concept came about when "nasi" (rice) hawkers would previously "kandar" (balance a pole on the shoulder with two huge containers on both ends) their wares.

It is quite common to find people from other states detouring to Penang just to stop for a meal of nasi kandar before proceeding on their journey elsewhere.

Others popular Indian food include:

  • Murtabak - is a meat filled version of roti canai. Choice of fillings includes minced mutton, beef or chicken in beaten egg, onions and spices. Goes well with chicken curry and preserved onions.
  • Nasi Briyani - Rice cooked with spices and 'ghee' accompanied by choice of curried dishes. Kurma Chicken is recommended as the top choice. Goes well with air manis or a glass of iced rosed syrup drink.
  • Pasembur - Indian salad comprising of shredded cucumber, turnip, bean sprouts, beancurd, and potatoes topped with prawn fritters, spicy deep fried crab, and octopus, covered with a generous spread of spicy nutty sauce.
  • Tandoori chicken - The Punjab's most famous contribution to Indian cooking has to be the tandoori, an oven made from clay, a simple artifact which does many things like bake bread or roast chicken on long skewers. This authentic tandoori chicken usually served with nan bread and curries. It is available at most Indian restaurants and nasi kandar shops throughout Penang.