Tantalizing Spices Of Malay Food!

The variety of Malay food is best characterized by its extensive use of chilli, coconut milk and frying method.

Ingredients such as lemon grass, pandan (screw pine) leaves, and kaffir lime leaves
have been uses extensively in Malay cooking method. The introduction of Fresh herbs such as daun kemangi (a type of basil), daun kesum (polygonum or laksa leaf), nutmeg, kunyit (turmeric) and bunga kantan (wild ginger buds) in Malay cooking has also added a distinctive flavor in the dishes.

Seasonings play an important role in Malay food as they often enhance the food taste and flavors. Many of the seasonings are not dried spices but are fresh ingredients such as fresh turmeric, galangal, fresh chili paste, onions, and garlic. A combination of fresh seasonings and dried spices are normally pounded together to
make a fine paste and cooked with oil.

As with their Chinese counterpart, rice is the main serving in any Malay food be it breakfirst, lunch, dinner or sometimes even supper. Most meals are eaten using fingers, and eating utensils are kept to a minimum. Food are scooped by the whole finger and the thumb are use to push it into the mouth.

Most of the time, all dishes are served at the same time, accompanied by a refreshing drink such as syrup. Fish is popular in Malay cooking, as with other seafood such as shrimps and cuttlefish. Beef and mutton are very popular choices but never pork as it is against their religious beliefs to eat pork. The other popular white meat is chicken.


*Photo's by Flickr

In traditional Malay food, you can find a few servings of meat and/or fish dishes (cooked in varying methods), accompanied by a few servings of vegetables, and not forgetting, a serving of 'ulam', consisting of raw or steamed vegetables or leaves (most of which are highly beneficial for health) which are usually dipped into 'sambal belacan'-made up of belacan (shrimp paste) blended with fresh chillies (the hotter the better), and/or with some anchovies and tamarind juice. Methods for preparing 'sambal belacan' may differ from one household to another, but when asked, most Malays would say that having 'ulam' and 'sambal belacan' is a must if they were to have an authentic Malay food.

One of the most unique Malay dishes is the "roti jala" (lacy pancakes), which sometimes replaces the staple rice. Roti jala is an ideal accompaniment to any dish with lots of rich gravy and is often served during special occasions. It is made from a mixture of plain flour and eggs, with a pinch of turmeric powder and butter. A dessert is a must in any Malay meal which is normally very sweet and includes ingredients such as coconut milk, palm sugar, and flour.

The best place to enjoy Malay food in Penang is at roadside stalls, hawker centre and at the Malay restaurant. You'll be amazed by the variety and quality of food that this place has.

Others popular dishes in Malay food include:

  • ketupat - A rice dumpling that has been wrapped in a woven palm leaf pouch. It's usually eaten with rendang (a type of dry beef curry) or served as an accompaniment to satay. There are many varieties of ketupat, with two of the more common ones being ketupat nasi (white rice and is wrapped in a square shape with coconut palm leaves) and ketupat pulut (A glutinous rice that is usually wrapped in a triangular shape using the leaves of the fan palm or Licuala.
  • Nasi Lemak -Steamed rice with pandan leaves and coconut milk which is a real appetite opener. It's added with some fried chicken or squid and egg (boiled or fried) and the all-important sambal (condiment of chili, onions and sometimes shrimp). Best served hot with just about every meal. Purists say that nasi lemak ought to be eaten in an authentic setting, nasi lemak should be eaten at a mamak teh tarik stall (wooden pushcart with wooden bench and tables arranged by the roadside, normally under a shady tree) and wash it down with a cup of teh tarik (literally translated to mean "Pull Tea" - or tea
    that is poured in mid-air from one container to another).
  • Ice Kachang - Known as Shaved Ice Dessert, it is a favorite local dessert. ¬†Sweet red beans, agar agar [seaweed jelly], barley pearls, sweet corn and fruits are covered with shaved ice, then laced with rose syrup, brown sugar syrup and sweetened condensed milk. It is a great summer cooler to quench your thirst!
  • Satay - Satay is another popular Malay dish. Pieces of marinated chicken or beef are skewered and cooked over a charcoal fire where they are periodically brushed over with oil. The skewered meat is then served hot, accompanied by a special peanut sauce. Essential additions to this dish include the peanut sauce, which is slightly spicy, and ketupat (cubes of compressed rice). Also, cucumber slices does help the taste and completes this delicious meal.
  • Rendang - Rendang is a classic Malay food that combines meat (chicken, beef or mutton) and a host of herbs and spices including ginger, coriander, nutmegs, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon and lemon grass. Those ingredients are then simmered in low heat until fully cooked. This dish is a favorite during the Hari Raya Puasa celebrations.