Before heading to Malaysia we were well aware that it was known as having some of the most exotic and flavorful food – anywhere. This is particularly true of the food in Georgetown on the Island of Penang. So, I’ll go so far as to admit that it was one of the reasons that we decided to go there. And we’re not alone – many people are now traveling to a destination purely for its food. If you count yourself in that group, Malaysia should be on your list of places to visit. The blending of flavors from China, Indonesia, and India (to name a few) has resulted in dishes that will satisfy the foodie in all of us. Here are a few of our favorite dishes from a visit to the island of Penang, Malaysia. You won’t want to leave Malaysia without trying each of them.
Rendang is a dish that originated in Indonesia but is popular throughout Southeast Asia. It’s typically made for special occasions due to the time it takes to slow cook this dish to perfection. We were introduced to the dish at a cooking class in the popular Tropical Spice Garden. We made the curry paste (featuring red chilies, ginger, shallots, and lemongrass) from scratch. The magical ingredient is toasted coconut paste that gives the dish its deep rich color and slightly nutty taste, which we also cooked and ground by hand as well. The resulting flavor is complex and addictive. In case you won’t be able to get to Malaysia soon and find yourself drooling you can cook our version of Chicken Curry Coconut Chicken Rendang at home.
Char Kuey Teow
This flat noodle dish is a popular street hawker menu item. It’s smoky flavor is very difficult to replicate as it is cooked in woks that have been slowly seasoned over time. It is also necessary to cook the Char KwayTeow in small batches in order to get allow the liquids to cook down so that the noodles are dry before serving. That may mean that it can take a little longer to get a portion of this dish, featuring seafood and crispy Chinese sausage bits. But it’s a wait that is not without its rewards.
There are many versions of laksa noodle soup. It can be slightly sour with the addition of tamarind or creamy when a base of coconut milk is used instead of a spicy broth. The common denominator for this soup is the liberal use of rice noodles. The dish is so popular that it can be eaten any time of the day. Maybe not the first thing you are used to thinking about for breakfast, but since spending more time in Southeast Asia I’ve realized soup for breakfast is sometimes the perfect thing.
Coconut rice, or Nasi Lemak, is a simple preparation of steamed or boiled rice cooked in coconut milk with ginger and pandan leaves (found in Malaysia). The added flavoring gives the rice a creamy and slightly nutty flavor that is said to be a foundation of Malaysian cuisine. So much so that coconut rice is eaten throughout the day and accompanies most meals, and is considered Malaysia’s national dish. We’ve included our Coconut Rice recipe for this simple dish – which may just become a nice substitution for the plain rice on your dinner table.
Beyond the Malaysian dishes that we tried, there are lots of other food options in Penang in particular. There are thriving Indian and Chinese populations on the island offering up the versions of their favorite dishes. Malaysia is a foodie paradise and we felt we were only able to scratch the surface of all that it had to offer during our short visit. Which just means we’ll need to find our way back – which may just become a habit we can live with.
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