Malaysian cuisine: Ricing to the occasion
A neighboring culture shows us how to breathe new life to an old staple.
By Adrienne Dy, M.D.
Rice is something the typical Filipino spread can’t do without, but creativity is definitely something you can add to the table. Mix things up a bit, the Malay way—and give your family a true taste of the different flavors of Asia.
“Combination kasi ng a lot of [cultures], like Malay, Chinese and Indian ang main influences ng Malaysian cuisine,” explains Robert Joseph “RJ” Mabalay, executive sous chef of Berjaya Makati Hotel. Having had culinary training in Malaysia, he offers insights into the country’s abundant and sumptuous fare.
The uniqueness of the cuisine, therefore, lies in its subtle nuances. “Curries are something it has in common with Indian [fare], so sa consistency nalang nag-iiba. Indians like their curries thick, while Malaysians like it soupy, like the Filipinos. As for Chinese influences, these come out in noodle dishes, and in a version of Hainanese chicken. But the sauces are slightly different,” says the chef, citing geographical location as the reason for the cuisine’s influences. In fact, as its closest neighbor, Indonesian food is almost indistinguishable from Malaysian food—even the names are the same.
So deep and intertwined are the influences on Malay consciousness that there are names for all the subgroups: Nonya dishes are by the straits Chinese or the Pernakan—the products of Malaysians who married Chinese immigrants; mamak dishes are the creations of the Indian Muslims. “But all are considered Malaysian,” stresses Chef Mabalay.
True Malay dishes are distinguishable by the ubiquitous use of lemongrass, ginger, galangal—typical Southeast Asian spices. “And there’s always rice!” declares the chef—good news for all Filipinos. Here, he presents a different way of preparing nasi (rice), Malay-style. “Nasi lemak is practically their national food,” says the chef about the dish that uses coconut milk instead of water to cook the rice. Feel free to use organic rice for added health benefits.