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Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine

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Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei share a complex heritage reflected to this day in their food, a unique mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian elements.

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malaysian and singaporean cuisine Travel Guide :

Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine

Peranakan/Nonya cuisine

Culinary borrowings

Many regional terms and the odd euphemism tend to crop up in notionally English menus. A few of the more common ones:

assam 
tamarind (Malay)
bee hoon 
thin rice noodles (Chinese 米粉)
gonggong 
a type of cockle (Chinese)
hor fun 
very wide, flat rice noodles (Chinese 河粉)
kangkong 
water convolvulus, an aquatic vegetable (Chinese)
kway teow 
flat rice noodles (Chinese 果条)
mee 
thick egg noodles (Chinese 麺)
sotong 
squid (Malay)
spare parts 
offal such as liver, heart, gizzard

The most identifiable cuisine in the region is Peranakan or Nonya cuisine, born from the mixed Malay and Chinese communities of what were once the British colonies of the Straits Settlements (modern-day Singapore, Penang and Malacca).

  • Kaya is a jam-like spread made from egg and coconut, an odd-sounding but tasty combination. Served on toast for breakfast, canonically accompanied by runny eggs and strong, sweet coffee (kopi).
  • Laksa refers to a rather large variety of noodle soups eaten in the region. Assam laksa from Penang is an appetizing sour soup noodle, Johor laksa is spaghetti topped with a sauce of fish, herbs and spices; Katong laksa is a coconut curry soup topped with cockles or shrimp from Singapore (otherwise known as curry-noodle in Malaysia), and Sarawak laksa is the specialty of Kuching on the island of Borneo.
  • Rojak is a salad of bean sprouts, pineapple, white turnip, fried bean cake and anything else on hand, tossed in a black sauce flavored with peanuts and shrimp. Rojak means a mixture of everything in Malay. There are two different kinds of Rojak, Indian or Chinese, differentiated by the different ingredients and sauce used.
Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine

Malay cuisine

Malay food originates largely from the migrants from present-day Indonesia. Characterized by heavy use of spices, most Malay dishes are curries, stews or dips of one kind or another and nasi padang restaurants, offering a wide variety of these to ladle onto your rice, are very popular.

Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine

Main dishes

  • Nasi lemak (lit. "fat rice") is the definitive Malay breakfast, consisting at its simplest of rice cooked in light coconut milk, some ikan bilis (anchovies), peanuts, a slice of cucumber and a dab of chilli on the side. A larger fried fish or chicken wing are common accompaniments. More often than not, also combined with a variety of curries and/or sambal (see below).
  • Rendang, occasionally dubbed "dry curry", is meat stewed for hours on end in a spicy (but rarely fiery) curry paste until almost all water is absorbed. Beef rendang is the most common, although chicken and mutton are spotted sometimes.
  • Sambal is the generic term for chilli sauces of many kinds. Sambal belacan is a common condiment made by mixing chilli with the shrimp paste belacan, while the popular dish sambal sotong consists of squid (sotong) cooked in red chilli sauce.
  • Satay are barbecued skewers of meat, typically chicken or beef (although in Thailand often pork). What separates satay from your ordinary kebab is the slightly spicy peanut-based dipping sauce. In Malacca, there is a variation of sauce made from belimbing or pineapples.
Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine

Desserts

Malay desserts, especially the sweet pastries and jellies (kuih) made largely from coconut and palm sugar (gula melaka), bear a distinct resemblance to those of Thailand. But in the sweltering tropical heat, try one of many concoctions made with ice instead:

  • Ais kacang, also air batu campur (ABC), is a mound of shaved ice (ais) sitting on top of a host of ingredients, but the usual suspects include ground peanuts (kacang), sweet red beans, grass jelly (cincau) and canned corn. Palm sugar and evaporated milk is drizzled over the mountaintop of shaved ice.
  • Bubur cha-cha consists of cubed yam, sweet potato and sago added into coconut milk 'soup'. This can be served warm or cold.
  • Cendol (also chendol) is made with green pea noodles, kidney beans, palm sugar and coconut milk. Ice is shaved into the mixture like the Ais kacang. While most chendol makers sell the original dessert, some have added eccentric ingredients into them. These include fermented glutinous rice ('pulut tapai') and the King of Fruits, Durian.
  • Kuih (or kueh) refer to a plethora of steamed cake-like, mostly made with coconut milk, grated coconut flesh, glutinous rice or tapioca. They are often very colorful and cut into fanciful shapes, but despite their wildly varying appearance tend to taste rather similar.
Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine

Chinese cuisine

Chinese food as eaten in Malaysia and Singapore commonly originates from southern China, particularly Fujian and Canton. While "authentic" fare is certainly available, especially in fancier restaurants, the daily fare served in hawker centres has absorbed a number of tropical touches, most notably the fairly heavy use of chilli and the Malay fermented shrimp paste belachan as condiments. Noodles can also be served not just in soup (? tang), but also "dry" (? kan), meaning that your noodles will be served tossed with chilli and spices in one bowl, and the soup will come in a separate bowl.

Bak kut teh at the Old Stall, Bak kut teh at the Old Stall,
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Bak kut teh at the Old Stall, Klang
  • Bak kut teh (???), lit. "pork bone tea", is a simple-sounding soup of pork ribs simmered for hours in a broth that can be light and peppery or dark and salty. The port of Klang, to the west of Kuala Lumpur, is particularly famous for this as it was first eaten here by Fujian port workers. Bak kut teh is typically eaten with white rice, mui choy (pickled vegetables) and a pot of strong Chinese tea, hence the name (the broth itself doesn't contain any tea). To impress the locals, order some you tiao fritters from a nearby stall and cut them up into bite-sized chunks to dip into your soup. If you eat Bak kut teh at food courts or at places other than Klang, a host of ingredients are added in. These include pig's stomach, intestines, vegetables, mushrooms and even herbs. There are also different types of pork flesh used. These include lean meat, spare ribs, the hind leg, and pure 'skin and fat'. You can request that they do not include those into your bak kut teh. Unlike in Klang, bak kut teh cooked elsewhere is served in communal pots. This means that if you order for two, they bring you a bigger pot instead of two small ones.
  • Char kway teow (???) is a simple-sounding but delicious dish of wide, flat rice noodles stir-fried with lots of soy sauce and various goodies, in particular cockles. They usually taste sweet in Singapore, salty in Malaysia.
  • Chee cheong fun is a favorite breakfast consisting of lasagna-type rice noodles rolled up (various different kinds exist in KL), and various types of fried meats including fishballs and fried tofu. The dish is usually topped with a generous amount of sauce. Not to be missed!
  • Chilli crab is a whole crab ladled with oodles of sticky, tangy chilli sauce. Notoriously difficult to eat... but irresistibly delicious!
  • Hainanese chicken rice (????) is steamed chicken served with special gently spiced rice and tasty ginger and chilli dipping sauces. The chicken doesn't taste like much, the secret is in the rice and the sauces!
  • Hokkien mee (???) can refer to two entirely different dishes. In most of Malaysia, this means thick egg noodles fried with dark soy sauce and pork lard, but in Singapore and Penang, it's usually mixed egg and thin rice noodles in light, fragrant stock with prawns and other seafood. In other parts, the prawn version is known as Ha Mee (Prawn Noodles)
  • Fish ball noodles come in many forms, but the type most often seen is mee pok, which consists of egg noodles tossed in chilli sauce (Singapore) or thick soy sauce (Malaysia), with the fishballs floating in a separate bowl of soup on the side.
  • Yong tau foo (???) literally means "boiled tofu", but it's more exciting than it sounds. The diner selects their favorites from a vast assortment of tofu, fish paste, seafood and vegetables and they are then sliced into bite-size pieces, cooked briefly in boiling water and then served either in broth as soup or "dry" with the broth in a separate bowl. The dish can be eaten by itself or with any choice of noodles. Essential accompaniments are spicy chili sauce and a distinctive brown sauce for dipping (aptly called "Sweet Sauce").
Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine

Indian cuisine

The smallest of the area's minorities, the Indians have had proportionally the smallest impact on the local culinary scene — but two innovations little seen in India have been eagerly adopted by the whole population:

  • Fish head curry is, true to the name, a gigantic curried fish head cooked until it's ready to fall apart. The head itself is not eaten, as there's plenty of meat to be found inside and all around. Singapore's Little India is the place to sample this. Note that there are two distinct styles, the fiery Indian and the milder Chinese kind. A note of caution for western travellers: Unlike fishes served in the west where the bones are removed, the fish in the "Fish head curry" is whole and with its bones intact. It is highly unlikely that a chef would entertain requests to have it deboned as the bones enhance the flavour of the curry.
  • Roti canai (Malaysia) or Roti prata (Singapore) is the localized version of paratha, flat bread tossed in the air like pizza, rapidly cooked in oil, and eaten dipped in curry. Modern-day variations can incorporate unorthodox ingredients like cheese, chocolate and even ice cream, but some canonical versions include:
    • roti kosong — plain
    • roti telur — with egg
    • murtabak — layered with chicken, mutton or fish

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