Five Signature Tastes from Five States in Malaysia (Part 1)

Five Signature Tastes from Five States in Malaysia
Join Us On A State-Hopping Discovery To Unveil Signature Tastes Across Malaysia!

Have you ever wondered which is the single most distinctive culinary delight of Malaysia? When you think of Italy, pizzas come to mind. The US, big burgers and hot dogs! Japan, sushi of course. Even Vietnam has the pho. Well, Malaysia is kind of unique, and when it comes to a lockdown on one single culinary dish it is mind boggling. This is because Malaysia is a cultural hot pot of sorts with culinary delights that are multi-racial and infused over history with many regional, if not global, influences. Needless to say, this has made Malaysia a foodie’s haven for locals and visitors from all over.
On the surface, many would agree that the evergreen ‘nasi lemak’ is a classic signature dish of Malaysia. Just ask any Malaysian overseas what they miss most about their country. This rather simple coconut milk flavoured, enhanced curry rice called nasi lemak usually comes up tops. Then there is the inevitable ‘roti canai’, a varied Malaysian version of the Indian paratha or flatbread, that is always a breakfast favourite amongst all the races here.

Going deeper, one would find that Malaysia’s gastronomical delights are of astronomical proportions! Different states have their own signature culinary delight, or local food. Indeed, many states have more than one.

Lets embark on a culinary trip around five states of Malaysia to tempt your appetite. So, like they say in local lingo, ‘Jom cari makan!’ (‘Let’s go find food!’).
PERLIS : ‘Pulut Mempelam’ (Sticky Glutinous Rice with Mango)
This northern-most state of Peninsular Malaysia borders Thailand and it is not surprising that one of the signature delights here is sticky glutinous rice with mango. However, in Perlis the distinctively sweeter, tender and very fragrant Mempelam or Harum Manis mango species is the highlight. The sticky glutinous rice is cooked, and served, with fresh coconut milk and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The combination of flavours is addictive!

PENANG : ‘Char Koay Teow’ (Flat Rice Noodle)
On the island or on the mainland of this state the most famous street food is none other than ‘char koay teow’. Literally, it means fried rice-based noodles, called ‘koay teow’. Along the state’s streets and in food bazaars the sizzling charcoal fire, the cling-clang rhythms of the ladles on cast iron woks and the chef’s frying stunts are hard to miss. And so is the taste, it seems. Eggs, fresh bean sprouts, plenty of chili paste and a few shrimps have made this dish world-synonymous with Penang.

TERENGGANU : ‘Nasi Dagang’ (Aromatic Rice)
This east coast state has a localised version of ‘nasi lemak’ called ‘nasi dagang’, literally meaning ‘trader’s rice’, which could have meant a fast meal for the traders on the fishing coastline. The distinct mix of Jasmine rice and white sticky or glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk and spices results in an aromatic combo, usually served with village pickles and a local tuna curry called gulai ikan tonggol. Rich and tempting? You don’t try, you won’t know.

KELANTAN : ‘Nasi Kerabu’ (Blue Dyed Rice)
Also along the east coast, this state is home to many traditional culinary delights, including ‘nasi kerabu’, with its most distinctive visual feature of blue dyed rice! The blue dye from the butterfly-pea’s flower petals are infused into the rice when boiled together. Of course, the flower petals have many herbal benefits besides turning the rice Smurfy blue. Traditionally, dried butterfly-pea flowers are used as herbal tea. Nasi kerabu is served with a plateful of local pickles, keropok fish crackers fragrant sauces, strong spicy sambal, salted egg and fried chicken. All in all, nasi kerabu is a stunning presentation, both gastronomically and visually.

SARAWAK : ‘Kolo’ Noodle
On the far side of Malaysia, in Borneo, you will find distinctive culinary signatures that reflect the local cultural diversity too. One such dish is the kolo noodle. Legend has it that the traditional Hakka kolo noodle symbolises the harmony of the many ethnic tribes of the people of Sarawak. Hence, mixing these egg noodle strands represents the unity of the people. Unlike its cousin the wanton noodle, kolo noodle is served without the thick black soy sauce. The locals add a dash of fish sauce, ‘red’ barbecued meat sauce, vegetables, minced and slices of barbecued meat.
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