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Top 5 Must Try Dishes - Malaysia
There are a wide variety of herbs and spices that are used when preparing and cooking Malaysian food. Chili peppers, both fresh and dried, is a staple in many dishes. Belacan is a type of shrimp paste that is pressed into blocks and laid out in the sun to dry. Coconut is a common site in Malaysia, many curries have a base of coconut milk and you can certainly order a fresh young coconut for a refreshing drink under the hot sun. For most of the seasoning in broths, or sauces, soy sauce, lemongrass and tamarind are used.
Because there are such a wide variety of dishes to choose from, below is a guide to the top 5 must dry dishes when visiting Sarawak, East Malaysia.
#1 - Sarawak Laksa
Although there are many variations of this dish, ranging from Assam, fish based, to Curry, coconut based, Laksa, my favorite is from my home state of Sarawak. It's slightly subtler and comes fully loaded with prawns, shredded egg omelette, bean sprouts, and shredded chicken. Its often served with half a lime with sambal belacan on the side for that added kick. The base for the reddish-brown broth is shrimp or chicken stock cooked with sambal (which is a chili paste) for six hours to fully draw out the flavors from the shrimp shells and chicken. Any cafes around town would serve this at $5-6 Malaysia Ringgit, which translate to about $2 CAD and $1.50 USD. Spritz the lime directly into the broth and mix everything together because the acid in the lime will actually enhance everything else in the dish.
#2 - Roti Canai
It is essentially an Indian-influenced flat bread; usually enjoyed throughout the day but mostly during the morning. The bread comprises of fat/lard, flour and water. When you head into any cafes and see the chef make it, it's an amazing sight. They pour the batter onto a flat stone stove, tossed in the air to increase the width of the roti; hence the term "flying bread" that roti can be translated into; and folded multiple times to have a similar size to toast. It is served with a side of curry; this can range from lentil curry to chicken curry. Depending on which cafe, it also be served as a crepe with fresh local fruits like Starfruit, Rambutan etc. Regardless of how you have it, the first bite shows the care and dedication put into the cooking. There is actually a level of flakiness but still tender enough for the mouth to have a party, especially with the spice of the curry.
#3 - Kolo Mee
Kolo Mee has it's roots in the Chinese Malaysians who reside there. It is very similar to the wonton noodle soup seen throughout China and Hong Kong. Kolo Mee is essentially boiled noodles served with sliced BBQ pork and minced five spice pork and vegetables with a side of chicken soup. In different cafes different types of noodles are used, but generally speaking, egg noodles are most common. At first sight the noodles almost glistens in the high afternoon sun, and as the first bite is taken the tenderness and BBQ flavor hits the taste buds like a punch. That's because the left over juices from the BBQ is used to mix the cooked noodles prior to serving. If meat is out of the diet, kosong kolo mee can be a suitable replacement. The term Kosong just means basic/plain. In this instance it'll be served with the noodles tossed in oil and served with vegetables and scallions.
#4 - Rojak
There are three variations one must try when in Malaysia. The toppings will vary between the three variations but the sauce it is served on is universal across the board. it is a sweet thick, peanuty sauce. Now firstly, Mamak rojak. This is the granddaddy of all rojaks. It is served with fried dough fritters, bean curds, boiled potatoes, prawn tempura, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish and cucumber. Secondly, fruit rojaks is as the name implies, loads and loads of fruits from pineapple, jicama, mangoes, green apples and rambutan. Additional toppings can include bean spouts, puffy deep fried tofu and Chinese fritters. Lastly, sotong kangkung has really caught with the locals due to the simplicity of the dish. It consists of cuttlefish as the primary base, water spinach cucumbers, bean curds, chillies and finely chopped peanuts on top. It does not matter which variation is ordered, it's a refreshing dish to be had because it's usually served chilled and the fried fritters provide the contrast to the temperature of the dish. You get the sweet, the cold, the hot, and the spice all in one bite; what can beat that?
#5 - Nasi Lemak
This dish is up for debate as the favorite amongst the locals. It is continually fighting to win the hearts of the locals. Nasi (rice) Lemak is a coconut infused rice served with a hard boiled egg, fried peanuts, anchovies, sambal shrimp paste with slices of cucumbers on the side. Often times in addition to the coconut milk the rice is cooked in, pandan leaves to impart a sweetness to the rice. This dish can be purchased at any corner or food cart for as little as RM1 about $0.30 CAD or $0.25 USD. Simply mix all the ingredients together and enjoy. The sambal shrimp paste provides the spice while the anchovies and fried peanuts gives a texture to the dish. I would recommend ordering the dish as a take out because the chefs would pack everything into a banana leaf and with the rice still steaming hot, the banana leaf will then impart even more flavor to an already flavorful dish.