One of the highlights of visiting Malaysia is being able to indulge in the cuisine. Because of Malaysia's geographic position and climate, the cuisine contains many unique fruits and vegetables and the cooking style draws influences from diverse regions. During our trip to Borneo, we explored open markets, food stalls, local coffee shops and restaurants.
Malaysia's cuisine has been shaped by many generations and culinary ideas and ingredients shared from the surrounding regions. Some dishes such as mee goreng (fried noodles), satay and nasi goreng (fried rice) are internationally known. While in Borneo, we found the "fried bee hoon" to be quite popular and the seafood salad wrapped in banana leaf was a delight!
Is Malaysian Food Spicy?
The food is known to be spicy due to the liberal use of locally grown chilies. However, they vary in size and taste (some are mild, others hot). Belacan is a shrimp paste which is pressed into a block and sun-dried. Although very pungent while in a raw state, when it is cooked the aroma mellows and a depth of flavor to a dish is the result.
Coconut is another typical feature of Malaysian cuisine. All parts of the coconut are used in cooking; water, oil and milk. They are used in savory noodle soups and sweet coconut crepe deserts. There is also nothing more refreshing on a hot day than a tasty coconut beverage.
The tasty vegetables that you will typically find in the markets are amaranth (bayam), bean sprouts (taugeh), brinjals (terung), bitter gourd (peria), bok choi (sawi), cabbage (kobis), choy sum, cucumber (timun) but as can be seen in the open market photos, there are many more.
King of Fruits
Because of Malaysia's tropical climate, fruit is also grown year-round. Many varieties
are common such as banana, jackfruit, papaya, mango, pineapple, watermelon, and of course the king of fruit - DURIAN! You will know this fruit from miles away, as its smell can carry.
Durian is a fruit that many people love to hate or truly love. In Malaysia, it is quite popular. During our visit in July, it was not in season, but is abundant in April and May. If you want to sample the Durian without the smell of the pungent raw fruit, we recommend the freeze dried Durian which can be purchased on Amazon. The consistency is unique, and has a creamier consistency than other fruits.
Malaysian Appetizers and Deserts
Another feature of Malay food scene is kuih, which are usually bite-sized foods. Examples include sepi - crispy folded coconut-flavored wafer biscuits.
For desert, we try Kochi is a glutenous rice dumplings filled with a sweet paste, shaped into a pyramid-like and wrapped with banana leaves. We liked the sweet pancakes and fried bananas served at the open market in Serian in Southern Sarawak.
Flavors and Herbs
I have visited Malaysia and Singapore many times and noticed some differences in Sarawakian cuisine. It is less spicy, and the flavors seemed more subtle. Since it lies on the north coast of Borneo, there is an abundance of fresh seafood and natural herbs like turmeric, lemongrass, ginger, lime and tapioca leaves.
Cuisine Steeped in Traditions
During our visit to a traditional Iban longhouse, pepper was being dried in the sun. Rice is a staple and Nasi aruk is a traditional Sarawakian Malay fried rice dish. In addition to fish, chicken, pork, beef are stapes. Popular dishes in Sarawak are kolo mee, sayur midin belacan, tomato mee, linut and ayam pansuh.
Top Dish to Try!
If we have to recommend one Malaysian dish to tempt your palate it is the Laksa Sarawak. Famous travel chef, Anthony Bourdain endorsed the Laksa Sarawak, a dish with noodles served in an aromatic spiced coconut milk soup, topped with shredded chicken, omelet, bean sprouts, prawns, and garnished with coriander.
We hope you have the opportunity to travel here and experience the sights and flavors of this region.
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