Travel Writing: Malaysia – The Art Of Eating

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Melaka: A very important part of Malaysian food is Nyonya food. These are dishes descendant from early Chinese settlers to Malaysia, who assimilated Malay culture into theirs. Baba is the man, and Nyonya, the woman. We dedicated our Nyonya food tour to another UNESCO World Heritage site, Melaka, a port city south of Kuala Lumpur, that had once been ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British due to its strategic location for international trade.

One of the most famous Nyonya dishes is the laksa, a spicy noodle soup. There are generally two types of laksa: curry laksa and assam laksa. We probably had some of the best laksa at the most hot and blustery of restaurants in the heart of Melaka’s historical centre, Jonker 88, which was packed to the rafters at 3pm on a weekday. Curry laksa is a spicy coconut soup, of which every slurpy spoonful is nourishing to the soul. The soup is rich with tofu puffs, fish balls, prawns and fish cake, thin rice noodles and shredded cucumber to garnish. The assam laksa is a different beast – the broth is sweet and sour, and it comes with a dollop of tuna and a slice of boiled egg. The rice noodles are thick and translucent, with round edges, like udon noodles. The assam laksa is certainly an assault on the taste buds.

You can’t visit any pasar malam (night market) without trying the array of sweet and savoury snacks on offer. My favourites are karipaps, golden butter pasties filled
with either curried potato chunks or chopped boiled egg, white pepper and potato. I usually wash them down with a cup of milky tea, which takes the edge off the spice. I also love cucur udang (prawn fritters). Then there are the many kuih melayu or kuih nyonya: colourful, smooth and succulent sticky cakes made mainly from rice flour and coconut milk. I can easily fill myself up with seri muka and talam, whose pea green flavouring comes from the pandan leaf (South East Asia’s answer to vanilla). These cakes must be eaten slowly, with every bite savoured, and don’t forget your cup of tea.

There is nothing like food to deepen the connection with your heritage. As I ate my way around Malaysia, I realized how little I appreciated in the past the richness of this country’s culture, history and nature. Malaysian society is not perfectly harmonious, there still exists some division amongst racial and religious lines. But when you sit out on the street, eating your meal next to families from different communities, you realize that food really does bring people together, and I strongly believe that when you share your food, you keep the peace. 

Photo: Mw12310

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