Countries Visited

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Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pass the peanut sauce: Foods of Malaysia

Andy and I had our first date in a Malaysian restaurant, and we later got engaged there, so it's safe to say that Malaysian food is pretty near and dear to our hearts...and it's even better (and way cheaper) in Malaysia than in New Jersey. On the peninsula, the mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian people in the population means that you get excellent offerings from all three of those cuisines, plus authentic fusion cuisine that's developed out of centuries of the groups' comingling. Throw in lots of peanut sauce and some crazy icy desserts and you've got a real winner of a country for eating.

Our goal as soon as we got off the plane was to find our favorite snack from our previous trip to Malaysia: roti canai. It's a South Indian-style fried flatbread served with tasty dipping sauce. The sauce can be dal-like if you get it at an Indian restaurant but is usually more coconutty or peanutty from Malay vendors. At the bus station where we got this one, they gave us a typical Malay-style sauce and a fishier sauce (ick) too. The whole thing costs about 25 cents US. I think we ate roti canai every day that we were in Malaysia!After that roti canai, I was thirsty, but didn't recognize any of the drink names on the menu. Andy encouraged me to be adventurous, so I went for a "sirap." Turns out to be very sweet, red, and rosewater-flavored. Also, note how gleamingly clean the bus station cafeteria is. Welcome to Malaysia!
Breakfast, Malay-style! On the left, nasi lemak, which is rice boiled in coconut milk, served with green veggies, peanuts, boiled egg, and, in this case, some curried chicken. On the right, a soup with chicken, fried tofu, veggies, noodles, and a coconut-milk-based broth. Nope, no corn flakes.
And after breakfast, who wouldn't like a little dessert? Like Indonesia, Malaysia has many desserts that feature some combination of shaved ice, jellies, and other random stuff. This one is a special cendol, which has molasses syrup, rosewater syrup, mango, and condensed milk on top, and jellies and corn on the bottom. You know, everyone's favorite combination.
I got to practice my Chinese with this man! OK, all I managed to say was "thank you" and "good-bye," but he understood me. Oh yeah, those Mandarin podcasts are really paying off now... Anyway, he did sell me a darn good cup of cold soy milk.

Melaka and Penang, both on Malaysia's west coast, are both known for their "Baba Nyonya" or "Straits Chinese" cuisine. Chinese people who came to Malaysia in the 15th and 16th centuries adapted their cooking to use local ingredients and, voila, delicious, fusion-y results were born. Since eating was pretty much our main activity on this trip to Malaysia, we had to visit both places.

At a Nyonya restaurant in Melaka, we ordered these "dessert" cups. They came before our main dish, and weren't really sweet, but were still really good. I can't remember what they are called, but they consist of a crunchy outer cup and are filled with shredded veggies and tasty sauces. Can anyone identify?

We also got some Nyonya mee goreng, or fried noodles. They turned out to have prawns and fishcake in them, which made them kind of fishy for us, but they weren't bad considering that.
Back to crazy desserts! There are many types of cendol--I think this was just a regular one, which means no mango, or rosewater. You can see the corn and a green jelly peeking out from underneath! This one may have had beans down bottom, too.
We went to a cook-your-own-satay restaurant in Melaka, where you choose sticks of different meats, veggies, or eggs, then cook them in a pot of oil/peanut sauce that's bubbling, fondue-style, in the middle of your table.
We chose stuff to cook by sight, so a lot more of them ended up being fishy than we anticipated, but it was excellent anyway. Here you can see some quail's eggs and some squid (as you've probably guessed, that was my plate). Andy ate a lot of sausages on sticks, and a lot of the peanut sauce with a spoon...
The best of many bus-station snacks: warm, sweet-peanut-goo-filled buns. These powered us right on down to Singapore.
Another reason to love Malaysia: They have Reese's Peanut Butter Cups!! Another excellent bus snack. Or anytime snack. (I later learned that you can also find these pretty easily in Thailand.)
Back in Malaysia after a few weeks in Indonesia...and straight to the crazy dessert vendor! Here's an ABC, which has pretty much every type of jelly and syrup you can imagine, the requisite corn and beans, and a bonus couple of scoops of ice cream on top of the shaved ice. A great welcome to Penang.In Georgetown, the main town on Penang island, we hit a Chinese restaurant for some dim sum for breakfast. Here you can see two types of pork buns, some sticky rice with various kinds of pork in it, and some pork tea. OK, it was just regular Chinese tea, but it was still a really pig-heavy breakfast for a majority-Muslim country.
Boiled peanuts, which we kind of associate with the American south, are also a popular snack in Malaysia. The nuts itself soften to the consistency of beans and are quite tasty. It may actually be boiled peanuts, not beans, that are in the icy desserts we ate in Malaysia; we're not sure.
A Chinese street vendor in Georgetown was making pancakes in little with a variety of filling choices. Shockingly, one of them was...pork! I chose that one, and was surprised when he put something the consistency of candy floss in my pancake. I can't wait to get to China and find out what other new forms pork can take...
In the Cameron Highlands, we lunched on a warming bowl of curry mee. Basically, a spicy soup with noodles, vegetables, and chicken. Good stuff.

We then went off in search of the region's strawberry farms. We quickly learned that they're all really touristy and charge exhorbitant amounts to let you pick your own berries...but they also all sell delicious, cheap popsicles made with fresh strawberries and juice and a touch of sugar. OK, a lot of sugar. We may have had two in a row each...or was it three? Ah, who remembers such piddling details?
Nips are a mix of knockoff peanut M&Ms, except that half the candies have a raisin inside instead of a peanut. We had fun trying to guess by shape which one we'd get.
Char kway teow is a fried rice noodle dish popular in Malaysia. We tried the "Cameron Highlands" version, which just means it has a lot of vegetables in it, since lots of veggies are grown in the highlands. Andy loved it, but I got one spicy pepper and had to drink a liter of water before my mouth stopped burning.
Along with our daily roti canai, we tried a strawberry roti in the highlands. Sure, it was a touristy dish, and cost three times as much as regular roti, but how often do you get a chance to eat fried, Indian-style bread with strawberries in it? It was pretty good.
Fresh strawberries were beyond our price range, but we found a package of dried strawberries we could afford. Let's hope the antioxidants survived the sulfuring-and-sugaring process.
Lots of veggies grown in the highlands = lots of deep-fried veggies available. We tried mushrooms. Not bad, but would've been better if they were hot.
Our stay in Malaysia was short, but we ate really well. There was plenty of street food, lots of good, cheap restaurant food, and tons of variety between regions and ethnic specialties, so we never got bored. Melaka was our favorite culinary destination, but Georgetown had good offerings too. And I have some great food memories from our last trip here, in which we visited Borneo and Kuala Lumpur. If you like to eat, then you ought to come eat in Malaysia.

1 comment:

  1. Everything looks so yummy! Especially the Reese's.