By: Urmila Ramakrishnan
Laksa got your tongue? Well it certainly has mine. Back in December Buzzfeed posted an article about the 27 reasons why Singapore is the most delicious place on earth. While you can find these delectable treats in Singapore, most of them originate from the neighboring country Malaysia. I, being the daughter of a Malaysian-born Indian know the difference between a Singaporean laksa and a Malaysian one (and my biased matter-of-fact opinion says Malaysia’s takes the fish cake). That, coupled with my many summers spent in both countries, I know a thing or two about amazing Malaysian food.
So, I thought I would share why Malaysia is the tastiest place in the world. What makes it so great? Imagine combining Chinese chow fun, with the aroma of Indian spices, topped with the native flare of Malaysian cuisine. Well, you don’t have to imagine because it’s called char kway teow. The dish takes the flat noodle to a whole new level by frying it and adding a unique blend of seafood and other ingredients. If you find yourself in the small town of Seremban, the best place to get this street food is at Glutton Square. The open-air eatery serves up one of the best renditions of kway teow I’ve ever had. If you’re not a fan of cockles—a chewy, squid-like little critter—make sure you tell them saya ta’mahu kerang.
On to the next one. You know satay, right? The marinated meat-on-a-stick that’s commonly complemented with peanut sauce and famed at Thai restaurants actually comes from Nonya Malaysian cuisine. The most famous place to sink your teeth into this skewered deliciousness is Restoran Haji Samuri in Kajang, which is famous for its rabbit and chicken varieties.
Now, let’s talk about something sweet. Kueh is the pinnacle of native-Malaysian eating. Ask any Malaysian where kueh lapis is from, and they’ll tell you Malaysia. The glutinous rainbow-layered dessert combines texture with a touch of sweetness to give you a perfect pair to your high tea. Other varieties of kueh are dadar and Ondeh Ondeh, which are two of my favorites. If you are searching for a great piece of this, I’d recommend the sweet shop called Nyonya Colors on the second floor of Kuala Lumpur City Centre. It’s in the middle of a tourist destination, easy to find and it’s damn good.
Speaking of high tea, Buzzfeed mentioned kopi ice, which is basically Malay for iced coffee. Malaysia has this drink, and many more amazing ones. My favorite is Teh Tarik—or literally, pulled tea. Think condensed milk, spiced tea and a froth to end all cappuccino froths. The froth comes from “pulling” the tea. The steaming-hot beverage is transferred from cup to cup to cool it down and produce the foamy top layer of goodness. Pairing with a Malaysian-Indo breakfast of roti Chennai and mutton curry makes for the perfect meal.
Roti Chennai has its roots in India, but the Malaysians perfected it. The dough is tossed like a pizza, then folded, fried and served with curry or lentils. If you’re in the mood for a decadent treat, you can ask for something called roti susu. It’s a rendition of the traditional roti Chennai, but instead of pairing it with curry, it’s drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. Another variation is a deep fried version called roti bom.
Another breakfast item is something called nasi lemak. It’s basically a spicy sardine paste served over fragrant rice, with cucumbers and an egg. The simpl dish is wrapped in a pandan leaf, which makes it easy to carry from place to place.
Another thing that is amazing in Malaysia (that Singapore can’t get right) is rojak. The street food snack is a mix of crunchy fruits, vegetables, and fryums, beansprouts, prawn paste and a sweet-spicy sauce. There are many variations, but the best are from hawker stands in Penang.
There’s a depth and variety of iced beverages that hit the spot on a hot and humid afternoon. There’s limau ice—a refreshing limeade-like cold drink—barley water, sugarcane juice and ice Milo. On top of that, you can find sodas like Kickapoo and Sarsi, which are unlike any in the U.S.
To come full circle, my absolute favorite Malaysian food is a curry soup called laksa. The dish is mostly served in the morning, and it combines seafood, noodles, barbecued pork, bean sprouts, and a curry broth that leaves a tingle on your tongue. It’s the perfect balance between hearty and spicy, decadent and light, and unique and inviting at the same time. The best place I’ve had laksa is PD Eating Point, in Port Dickson. The man that makes it has been perfecting the curry broth for years. Just thinking about it triggers my salivary glands.
There are dozens of other foods to try, from mangosteen to durian and even steamed corn with butter or pandan cake. The beauty of Malaysia is its laid-back “boleh” (can do) attitude that makes you want to keep coming back, filling your stomach and testing your taste buds.
Urmila Ramakrishnan bleeds Minnesota nice. Hailing from the suburbs of the Minneapple (aka Minneapolis), she’s a true Midwesterner, with a hint of spice. The Indian-American caught the travel bug as a baby and has been feeding it since. In her 24 years, she’s been to more then 24 countries. And that’s not her only hobby. Like most 20-somethings, she has way too many interests and wants to do them all at the same time. In trying to find that one full-time job as a journalist, she started her own food blog and YouTube channel. The unconventional foodie loves to nosh on everything from sushi and laksa to grilled cheese and pizza. Between applying for jobs, attempting food adventures on a budget and managing her social media, Urmila harbors a secret love for kickboxing and mixed martial arts. She started training after a women’s self-defense class, and it’s the one thing that keeps her body as active as her mind (not to mention MMA is totally legit). Her one piece of advice is to do what you love. It’s that philosophy that got her into writing, and she loves every adventure that’s come with it.[divider] [/divider]