As a land of immigrants, the United States is no stranger to cooking from dozens of countries and cultures from Caribbean and Jewish to Chinese, Japanese, French and Italian, not to mention a few weve created right here like Korean-Mexican. But there may be one country that gives us a run for our money when it comes to our delicious melting pot – and that’s Malaysia.
At the center of one of history’s most important trade routes in southeast Asia, Malaysia became a meeting place for Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Dutch, Portuguese and British traders and with this political, economic and cultural interaction, a fascinating, multi-faceted and unique cuisine was born.
While there are an endless variety of Malaysian dishes, from char kuey teow and tom yum to rendang and nasi lemak, the countrys cooking is mostly made up of a half dozen ingredients:
- Sambal is a spicy, sweet and salty condiment made from chilies, lime and fermented shrimp paste – it’s not Malaysian if sambal isn’t on the plate.
- Belacan or savory and pungent dried, fermented shrimp is a must for stews and curries. It’s an acquired taste but one well worth getting to know.
- Bananas are hardly foreign to Americans but how they’re used in Malaysian cuisine can be banana leaves offer a delicate flavor and help wrap food, and the taste of cooked pink banana flowers reminds many of artichoke.
- Coconut is another exotic delicacy we’ve become familiar with Malaysians make good use of coconut milk and dried coconut fruit to enrich and thicken stews and curries.
- Fruits, fruits and more fruits – Malaysia has an abundance of tropical fruits many of us have never seen or tasted, like Calamansi limes, dragonfruit, rambutan and mangosteen, as well as others like mangos that we’re better acquainted with.
- Rice and noodles – we may be familiar with these cooking staples but Malaysians incorporate them in a variety of fascinating and delicious ways, in every meal, from breakfast to after-dinner dessert.
So, where to begin? If you’re lucky enough to have a Malaysian restaurant in your area, pop by and ask for recommendations. If not here’s a list of 25 delightful dishes you can begin discovering for yourself, right in your kitchen.
Laksa? Rendang? Mee goreng? If youve tried Malaysian cuisine, tell us your favorite in the Shop Talk Blog community forum now or leave tips for other foodie members. We always love hearing from you.
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Did you know?
The word “ketchup” derives from the Malay word “ketjap” via China. But Malaysian ketchup isn’t a tomato sauce – it’s soya sauce! English settlers introduced their version – made with mushrooms – to the American colonies in the early 18th century. Tomato-based ketchup didn’t appear until about 1800.