CNN Travel and Lonely Planet have called Penang the “Culinary Capital of Malaysia” and its food cannot be outdone. In Penang there is a saying “chiak si hock” which means, “Eating brings prosperity”. Penangites are seriously proud of their varied and diverse cuisine. This island food paradise offers a blend of Thai, Chinese and Indian cooking and Malaysian street food and it is some of the best in the world. Penang cuisine is essentially a street food culture that has become over time a micro cuisine and the dishes found in the hawker markets make up the backbone of Malaysian cuisine.
Penang is found on the northern tip of the Straits of Malacca and was originally a Siamese state. From Siam, it became part of the Ming Dynasty and in the 1800’s it was a very important trading post for the East India Company. The resulting influx of migrants from China, Thailand and India had a deep impact on the native Malay culture. Even today, the vast number of migrants from China means that Malaysia and Penang in particular has the highest number of Chinese people outside of China.
Over time with the influences of these migrant populations, the cuisine of Malaysia became exquisitely blended with the Indian, Thai and Chinese influences. The successful adaptions of the migrants country of original foods and the nuances created from the crafting of traditional dishes with nontraditional ingredients became the centre point of Malaysian Penang cuisine.
Malay Penang food is strong, spicy and aromatic, combining the rich tastes of the many herbs and spices found in Southeast Asia. Malaysian Penangite food is often eaten with the hands. It is a art form to scoop up a mouthful of rice along with the curry, vegetables or meat into the palm of your hand and then ladle it into your mouth without some escaping to land in your lap, but with practice it is an art you can become very good at. Rice is the basic or staple of a Malaysian meal and it is usually eaten with meats, curries and vegetable dishes. The Malaysian sambal is a traditional condiment that spices up an already flavorful feast.
The Malaysian diet contains a lot of seafood, as they were originally a seafaring people. Fish, prawns, crab and squid are favorites along with meats such as mutton, chicken and beef. The seafood and meat elements of the meal are often marinated with very specific blend of spices and herbs prior to cooking. While it is very popular to have raw vegetables along with a spicy dip most vegetables are stir-fried or grilled before being combined with other ingredients.
A favorite condiment and added too many a Malaysian dish is a Sambal or a chile paste or sauce. Sambals combine lemongrass, shallots, ginger, chilies and garlic, which are blended together and then cooked down into a tangy spicy hot sauce or to a thick paste, which is added to almost anything in Penang.
Favorite Malaysian herbs include; galangal (lengkuas) which is similar to ginger, turmeric (kunyit), kaffir lime leaves, laksa leaves (daun kesom) which are sometimes known as Vietnamese Mint or Vietnamese cilantro, wild ginger flower buds or torch ginger (bunga kantan) and screwpine leaves (pandan leaves, which leave a sweet, soft flavor which is used both in main courses and dessert recipes) all these add that distinctive Malaysian flavour to the dishes.
Malay food is generally spicy. Dishes are not always necessarily super hot, but there will always be a chili-based sambal on hand. Traditional Southeast Asian herbs and spices meet Indian, Middle Eastern and Chinese spices in Malaysian food, leading to fragrant combinations of coriander and cumin (the basis of many Malay curries) with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, cardamom, star anise and fenugreek.
Check out this website for some phenomenal Malaysian recipes
In the 15th century, Malacca a major city in Malaysia was one of the greatest trading centers of the spice trade. This gave Malaysia and Penang access to an incredibly variety of spices such as fennel, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cloves, star anise, mustard seeds, cinnamon sticks, fenugreek and nutmeg which are all used quite frequently in the variety of Malay soup, curry and noodle dishes.
With coconut trees thriving in the tropical weather of Malaysia, they have become an important ingredient in cooking. Coconut milk and cream called santan adds a depth of creaminess and flavor to the ‘lemak’ curries. The coconut water, fruit and oil are all used and nothing goes to waste.
Want to read more about micro cuisine? Click here.
Pin it for later