many centuries ago, Malaysia was on the spice route and still, many spices
are part of the daily cooking. In Malaysian cooking, many different influences
can be found, probably as many as populations that have visited the country
for long term trading or invading.
One of the major likenesses is with the
Indonesian kitchen; a soup like
soto ayam may be found
in both. A lot of recipes look Indian, others have a similarity to Chinese.
Roti canai is very popular for breakfast and dinner, Roti canai could be
Indian, it looks like a luxury version of
chapati or the
paratha. It is eaten with sugar for breakfast or with dahl curry. For lunch,
the meal is often served in a banana leaf, like in
Bali. The Nonya
cuisine (Nonya means woman in the Chinese Hokkien dialect but refers to
Malay women of high social standing, married to strait-Chinese businessmen
five centuries ago) is a combination of Malay and
Stir frying in the wok is common and many spices are used, and they are
processed using a pestle and mortar. Fish, cuttlefish and shrimps are part
of many dishes. A popular dish is
Laksa, noodles in spicy
coconut soup, with prawn paste (belachan), shrimp, lemon grass and chicken.
Even though laksa means thousand(s), which is supposed to be the number
of ingredients of this soup, there is no need to worry, there are many ingredients
to it, but not so many, and most of them are spices anyway.
After the 16th century, Portuguese, English and Dutch came to the island.
Especially the British in the 19th century encouraged Chinese to work in
the tin mines, leading to the further introduction and stabilization of
availability Chinese dishes in the Malaysian kitchen.
Even inside Malaysia, differences are found. For instance in
apart from the mentioned Chinese and Indian inhabitants, there are more
than 30 indigenous ethnic groups, which all have their own specific dishes.
The largest group Kadazan Dusun, lives in mountains and valley and is busy
on rice paddies, and rice is the main staple food. In other parts of the
island, this may be corn or cassava. The Kadazan Dusun also use many seeds
and roots, and river fish, and little oil, as that was not always available
in the hard to reach interior of the island, so many recipes are cooked
The second largest group, the Bajau, are originally a sea faring crowd and
thus will have mostly fish on the menu. As the island of Borneo is covered
with a huge rain forest, the menu is based on available ingredients, and
you will find coconut juice, lime juice and banana leaves in many of the
recipes. The latter two ingredients also help to increase shelf life of
the food, as in the old days a fridge was not available, and in remote areas
still is not. Therefore, also dried small fish (ikan bilis) and shrimp paste
are very popular ingredients. As not all ingredients are always readily
available everywhere, like for instance indigenous vegetables like sayur
manis, and fruits like jackfruit, I sometimes adapted the recipes a little.
Durians I have left out as well, even though they are very popular in Sabah,
not only for their non availability, but also because most "Western" people
hate the smell of this fruit.