KL is one of my favorite places to pass through. As in most Asian countries, legislation aims to protect the dominant native population against immigrant ethnic influence, sometimes to disastrous effects, and constantly keeping its politics on edge. This charged convergence of ethnic and religious mixes (it was my best introduction to the rich history and diversity of Islam) is what–to me, as a tourist–makes Malaysia such a fascinating destination.
And this is where I have always the best food experience! This time we had a true foodie take us around. Malaysia is a premiere culinary destination in SE Asia, and boasts a confluence of truly powerful taste sensations, blending many ethnic influences: Indo-, Malay-, and Chinese. Many thanks to Honey Ahmad, of the acclaimed food network Fried Chillies!
First some bahasa 101 (applies also in Indonesia):
Meat- (Daging- we usually use daging for beef as well)
This is Indian cooking, usually places like this are called ‘mamak’ which
means Indian Muslim because they usually have corner 24-hour eating places that serve the usual curries, rice, roti etc. This particular dish is sotong goreng with some fried cabbage (kobis). Mutton curry is very common.
This is an Indian/ Mamak eatery, where the dishes are set out behind a glass counter. In the Philippines we call it a turo-turo (point-point, because you point at the dishes you want). Fish curry, ayam masak merah (chicken in red sauce/ tomato), and a squid curry and chicken in black sauce (ayam hitam).
Grilled stingray (pari bakar). A usual grilled fish place will be called ikan bakar. That sauce which comes with it is usually chillies, soya sauce and tamarind juice (a variation of these basic ingredients). We call it air assam (sour water is the literal translation).
Another meal that we had was Nasi Kandar (rice and curries and fried stuff). It’s usually the domain of Indian Muslims. Kandar means ‘to carry’ usually with the shoulder. IN the old days Nasi Kandar sellers will carry a long pole with rice and drinks on one side and dishes balancing it on the other side. A noodle dish they have is Mee Rebus.
What I don’t have a picture of and wish I did: The small dishes of chili that come with long beans and cucumbers, called sambal belacan (made of pounded chilies, fermented prawn paste– belacan, and a squeeze of lime). This is a condiment Malays eat with everything and make all sorts of variation from, eg sambal belacan with fermented durians or mangos etc…
If you can get past the requisite brightly-colored plastic tableware, there’s a lot to discover about Malaysian cuisine!