The “F” section is my first stop when purchasing a guidebook. This is what I did on my recent trip to Malaysia. Whereas I used to compile a list listing all the dishes that I wanted, while I was anticipating each one, I became confused and frustrated by the ambiguity, random nature, and lack of information about the food. To fully comprehend and appreciate the enormity of what was to be a major part of my trip, it took me more time to research and gather more information.
This is where you’ll find the best way to taste local cuisines. They are a friendly family environment and offer freshly prepared snacks that will delight both tourists and locals. A little bit of knowledge about the local culture can go a long way.
I decided to start with basics: proper eating habits. It was not easy to be invisible as a red-haired trekker of six feet, with a big rucksack, zinc cream, and a heavy rucksack covering my face. To avoid offending anyone at the hawker shops, I decided to learn some Malaysian guidelines.
It is a common rule in Asia that the right hand should be used when eating. It is a huge mistake to use the left hand when you are using it for different purposes. It’s easy to master even for a left-hander. Not when you consider how many knives are used every day to eat the wrong courses here in England.
So, simple eating etiquette is sorted. We are all ready to go, guns blazing, and to devour something that we cannot find in Tescos. This brings me back into my original dilemma: What is Malaysian Cuisine? Many Malaysian dishes are influenced by multiple ethnicities, such as Indian curries or Chinese noodles. This combination has resulted in many delicious, unusual, and amazing dishes. The only thing that limits the creativity of the chefs is their imagination. It’s up to you to decide which dishes to try and, arguably, which ones to avoid.
I’ve chosen to concentrate on “Nasi Lemak”. It is also known as the “Unofficial National Dish Of Malayasia”, which in English means “rice in fat”. I don’t know if that says “DEVOUR MY!” but it certainly doesn’t. The main dish is rice cooked in coconut cream, served with cucumber slices and dried anchovies. It makes our long-standing UK national dish of fish & chips seem somewhat bland, I think you will agree. I loved it, despite how bizarre it sounds. It shows the true essence of Malaysian food and the bizarre combinations that are involved.
Malaysian food is a perfect example of how a country’s cuisine can reflect its diversity. There is so much talk about fusion cooking, the art of using different elements to create an unusual and innovative dish. It is especially popular in Asia. My guess would be that most of the “unique combinations” and “innovative style” dishes we see in the West are actually standard fare from a Malaysian market stall.
Experimenting with different foods and local cuisines in different countries is a rewarding experience. This is one of my favorite and most daring moments of travel. It’s the interactions with the vendors and customers as we try one thing we can all identify with. Food can bridge any perceived cultural gap. Food is a great excuse to travel and discover the cultural and culinary delights in a country. It’s an unforgettable experience. Maybe that’s what we feel the most culture shock. We aren’t eating the same food as at home. It is the fact that our culture has changed.