Ask anyone on the street about what they love about Malaysia and you’ll get a similar answer each time: our local food is amazi...
Ramadhan Culinary Delights
The Muslim holy month of Ramadhan sees a variety of delectable local street food making its yearly appearance and satisfying the gastronomic cravings of Malaysians from all walks of life, writes Meera Raj.
They say that variety is the spice of life, and boy does variety come in spades in Malaysia’s food scene. This is especially true during the holy month of Ramadhan.
Malaysians are avid food lovers. And non-Muslim Malaysians, regardless of ethnicity, also seize the opportunity to join their Malay Muslim brothers in savouring the varied buka puasa treats. In true muhibbah (communal/goodwill) spirit, Malaysians take this time to break fast with their family and friends. For those who choose to break their fast outside of the home, there’s no better place than the Ramadhan food bazaar to find and sample one’s favourite iftar meal. These open-air food markets mushroom all around the city and suburbs during the fasting month.
Here are some of the most popular foods that one can find at the typical Malaysian Ramadhan bazaar.
Ayam percik is the local equivalent to the Western barbecued roast chicken. The chicken pieces are marinated in a spicy concoction of coconut gravy, which is generously laced with aromatic herbs, and then meticulously roasted over charcoal until achieving perfectly succulent goodness. It is then eaten as is or doused with copious amounts of the spicy coconut gravy. It goes very well with another traditional dish, the nasi kerabu. An innovative variant of this is the ayam percik black pepper, for those who like the extra zing in their meat.
There are two basic versions of laksa – curry laksa and asam laksa. While curry laksa has a coconut curry soup base, asam laksa boasts of a tangy and sour fish-based soup. Both are eaten with thick or thin rice noodles (vermicelli) and garnished with generous portions of prawns, sliced vegetables, and daun kesum (Vietnamese coriander). Many different states in Malaysia lay claim to their own version of the curry laksa and/or asam laksa.
Originally an Indian Muslim dish, murtabak is another crowd favourite. It is a thin flatbread pancake which is typically stuffed with minced beef or minced chicken, onions and eggs, and is eaten with curry and sliced onions. A creative and hot selling new variant is the ‘Murtabak Maggi’, which uses Maggi instant noodles as its main ingredient instead of the dough-based flatbread.
The unique thing about nasi kerabu is obviously the rice that is blue in colour! The blue colour comes from the bunga telang flower used in cooking the rice. It is appetisingly garnished with crunchy bean sprouts, cucumber, pickled garlic, salted eggs and crispy fish crackers.
Satay & Kebab
Comfort food for meat lovers, satay is essentially seasoned meat on a skewer, flame-grilled and eaten with ketupat (compressed rice), diced cucumbers and dipped in a mouth-watering sweet peanut sauce. The popular kinds are usually beef and chicken satay, but many local foodies are also hooked on rabbit and mutton satay.
The Malaysian kebab generally follows the Turkish doner kebab where the meat is cooked on a rotating spit before being sliced and wrapped in a pita bread pocket.
Bubur lambuk is a simple yet flavourful rice porridge that comes with diverse ingredients including sweet potatoes, beef and herbs. It is easy to digest and provides instant energy, making it a favourite with the buka puasa crowd. In line with the spirit of the fasting month, community welfare organisations and mosques would regularly prepare large amounts of bubur lambuk to feed whole communities and the less fortunate for free.
The locals call it popiah – a spring roll that is filled with shredded turnips, prawns, eggs and peanuts. Generally, two versions are found at the Ramadhan bazaars: popiah basah (fresh/moist spring roll) and the crispy-on-the-outside popiah goreng (deep-fried spring roll). Commonly eaten as is or with chilli sauce.
Literally translated from Malay to mean ‘net sandwich/bread’, roti jala is a pancake made from batter that is dripped from a special ladle that is perforated with tiny holes. The pancake in the end resembles a lacy fish net, and is a great accompaniment to chicken curry.
What better way to end a satisfying meal than with colourful, bite-sized morsels of heavenly goodness? Kuih-muih is the local lingo referring to (mostly) sweet or savoury desserts. The more common kuih-muih are the wajik, kuih serimuka, putu piring, onde-onde, kuih pelita, kuih lapis and kuih talam. Most of these kuihs are made from rice flour, glutinous rice, glutinous rice flour, tapioca or green bean flour which gives the kuih its distinctive soft yet firm texture. The beautifully vivid colours and tantalising flavours of the kuihs is a result of the flavouring ingredients used such as coconut cream, gula Melaka (palm sugar) and natural flower- or plant-based colouring.
A necessary complement to all that food, washing it down and quenching your thirst with a refreshing cold drink is a must with the buka puasa meal. At the Ramadhan bazaar, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to beverages. In particular, soya bean milk, sugar cane juice and coconut water sellers tend to see long queues at their stalls.