In Malaysia we ate happily and we ate well. 10 days was no where near long enough to sample everything on offer. I loved the Malay dishes like the coconut cooked rice of Nasi Lamak, and we both enjoyed the heavy influence of Chinese and Indian cuisine.
Here are just a few of our eating highlights.
Economy Rice in Johor, our first taste of Malaysian cooking. We arrived late into Singapore, and crossed over the border the same night. Arriving at our hostel well past midnight, it wasn’t until the next morning we were driven in search of food by rumbling tummies. We ate breakfast at an economy rice stand. 10 or more dishes are laid out in metal trays. A plastic plate is given a quick wipe with a damp cloth and a large spoon of rice is dumped on from an oversized thermos. From here its guess work. Digging into the dishes with huge metal spoons, trying to identify meats, fish or vegetables hidden with sauces. A few noodles perhaps, something that looks like spinach, a little curry to finish the dish, the smell of spice hitting the back of our throats.
Tandoori Chicken in Kuala Lumpur. The sheer volume of indian food to be found in Malaysia spoke to our curry loving hearts. Many nights of tandoori chicken served with naan bread, dahl and chutneys. Simple but beautiful. Outside of restaurants right across the country sit the round bellied tandoors, glowing red with heat inside, their coals white hot at the bottom. Spiced red chicken is propt inside on long metal skewers. Naans are rolled out and shaped. Picked up in a damp cloth the hand of the cook nips quickly into the heat of the tandoor. A quick flick of the wrist sticks the bread to the walls of the oven. Quickly they puff and cook. When we needed something more we gorged ourselves on banana leaf curries, all the components of a curry, laid out on a banana leaf.
Roti canai eaten in the fisherman’s village on the picture perfect island of Perhentian Kecil. Blue waters lap against the sea wall nearby, the restaurant filled with salt stained divers comparing notes on the morning. Hot, flakey roti, delicious dipped into curry. At 1 Ringgit, about 19p, they are Malaysia’s cheapest meal. We saw several teenage backpackers ordering them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another time we watch as they are made. Little balls of tender dough, rolled out wafer thin, thrown up into the air like a pizza and quickly flipped over into four, creating those wonderful flakey layers.
On the back of a temperamental honda bike we explored the Cameron Highlands. Tea plantations, hidden from the main road, cover rolling hills and dramatic slopes with waves of tea. Dark green bushes, broken with ripples of bright green new leaves. Hiding from the rain, we stop at Boh Tea Plantation for a cup of strong black tea. Wrapping our cold fingers around the mug, warming us up in the chill of the highland air.
Street food in George Town. Penang prides itself as being one of the street food capitals of Asia, it seemed wrong not to test out these claims. We spent a very happy evening dipping into the street hawker areas, picking food from the carts, watching it cooked and dished up. Eating it off plastic and paper plates, a cold beer in hand. Delicious, cheap and good for those like me who struggle to make food decisions when theres so many tempting choices to try. Satay skewers picked up in fat bunches and grilled over charcoals. Moist and tender, served with a paper plate brimming over with sweet, peanutty satay sauce. Sea food noodles, stir fried in a wok over a flaming burner. Crispy samosas filled with potato and peas. Spicy onion bahjis, burning our tongues.
On the suggestion of one of my lovely readers, Laura, we went to China House. She said they had one of the best cake selections you can find in Asia. Well, with a recommendation like that I made sure it worked its way into our Penang itenary. She wasn’t wrong. The cake table is heaving with a huge selection of cakes, everyone of them looking delicious and tempting. If that wasn’t enough, a separate chilled cabinet holds yet more cakes. It took me a good 15 minutes deliberating over the table before deciding what to pick. I choose passionfruit cake with coconut butter, fruity, sharp and moist; something light and suitable for the heat outside. I could happily have tried most of the selection, towering layer cakes, rich tortes, tarts, breads. I wish there was more space in my tummy for slices of the chocolate creations, the orange almond cake, or the tiramisu. For the first time on this trip I miss my oven, dream of my kitchen.