Rumors of meals served on banana leaves and a culinary mix of many cultures had us both very excited for the food in Malaysia. While we did find a few amazing dishes that soon became frequent in our diet we never did find banana leaf plated dishes and as a vegetarian I struggled here more than any other country during this trip to find suitable meals. Luckily the lack of options for me was balanced out with the few great dishes we had and I would still say my Malaysian cuisine experience was positive.
Our first impression of food in Malaysia was a late night post-flight meal at an Indian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. The menu was not in English but we asked the waiter for a few vegetarian dishes and were served tasty options that we ate with our hands. Restaurants often had cutlery that was served to us, the foreigners, but if you glanced around you would witness all of the locals eating their rice and curries with their right hand.
It was a perfected technique involving a scooping and dipping action. Popular dishes included coconut curries, mee goreng (fried noodle), nasi goreng (fried rice), and rice with a curried chicken. We had spent most of our time in Malaysia on the coast or on an island and so there were also endless seafood BBQs on the beach.
There is a heavy indian influence in Malaysian cuisine which provided me with a few vegetarian options and my favourite and frequently ordered dishes. We noticed Roti Canai was served at almost every restaurant and so gave it a chance. Roti is a greasy, flaky, delicious, flat bread and is served with a small dish of curry to dip it in. It is is usually listed as a breakfast item but can be enjoyed as a tasty snack any time of the day.
Another discovered favourite is an Indian dish popular for lunch called a Thali. A large tin platter holds a rice dish, nan bread, and crispy popadom bread that is surrounded by half a dozen or more small tin bowls with a variety of different curries, sauces, and dips. Not only is a Thali delicious but it’s fun to eat as you sample numerous dishes and share sauces.
Unfortunately due to the lack of vegetarian options I ate out at fast food restaurants more than I’d like to admit. During our stay on Mabul Island all food was included in the resort price but for three days I was limited to white rice, bananas, and tea (even the vegetables served had small fish mixed in). Luckily I love rice. Even my favourite dish, Roti Canai, was served with a curry that was never vegetarian and I would either pass the piece of chicken to Alistair or dip around it.
If you like seafood and meat curries Malaysia would be a culinary dream. My feelings towards the food are still mixed, I flip flop between thoughts of the best samosas I’ve ever eaten and three days of plain rice, and can’t make up my mind on a concrete thumbs up or down. Overall the delicious dishes outweighed tthe lack of options due to my personal dietary restrictions, and so I will end on a positive note with thoughts of flavorful Thalis and coconut vegetable curries.
Al’s Beer Corner
I was unable to locate any local beers in Malaysia, but given that Islam is their national religion, I was not surprised. Luckily however Malaysia is a multi-ethnic nation and locating exported beer was not a problem. Unfortunately, and perhaps because we ate at predominantly Indian restaurants, beer was often not on the menus wherever we ate and so my Malaysian beer blog will regrettably not be as extensive as I had hoped.
The first thing my stingy self found was that beer is not cheap in Malaysis, I’m guessing that is due to it all being exported. The night markets in Georgetown were selling mostly Carlsberg and Tiger, so for about 5 US dollars I tried a Carlsberg. Now like most westerners I’ve tried Carlsberg before, but being that it had been awhile and it came in a big bottle, apparently I thought it might be different this time.
It wasn’t, and I was not impressed. It looks like a light beer, but the taste was pungent and not enjoyable. I should probably be describing it as yeasty or hoppy, but I’m no beer conesouer so all I can say is it sucked.
While we were on a small island off the coast of Borneo I tried another popular beer in Malaysia, Anchor. If you read Renee’s posts on Cambodia you may recall that I had tried Anchor there as well. I mention this because I can’t exactly give it a true review so you can read Tastebuds Cambodia if you want one.
The story is that we decided to reward ourselves after a day of scuba diving with an afternoon beer, but given the island we were staying on only had power after 6pm, the fridge holding the beer wasn’t on and so my Anchor was piss warm. It was also 5 bucks for a big bottle, but we didn’t care cause we wanted our beer anyway, and you know what, it wasn’t that bad after all. I have to admit, I’d take a piss warm Anchor over a cold Carlsberg any day.
Later that evening we drank a cold Tiger once the power came back on, and I have to give it first place. You just can’t go wrong with that beer. It’s available almost everywhere in SE Asia, reasonably priced, smooth, and sexy.