I suppose I should pause the narrative for a moment and do a quick post on Malaysian food.
You may recall my Thai Food post, in which I raved about the spectacular taste, diversity, availability, and rock-bottom prices of eating out in Thailand. So what about Malaysia, just South of the border?
Malaysian food has a reputation of being fantastic – and that’s little surprise considering the mishmash of cultures that make up the country. There are native Malays, ethnic Chinese, and Indians; remnants of periods under the Dutch, Portuguese, and British; minority communities from Thailand and Laos; a seemingly endless supply of flavors and influences.
And while this has indeed led to a colorful array of offerings, I was surprised to find that on a whole, I still didn’t like it nearly as much as in Thailand.
Many Chinese-style dishes, delicious though they may be, take so much work picking through the gristle and bone as to make them barely worth the effort. Indian dishes, bursting with flavor and spice, are often pre-made and sitting in troughs – which guidebooks specifically advise against (buffet-style meals are probably the easiest way to assure food-bourne illness). And slightly rarer Nonya dishes seem nearly always expensive; great for a sample but a bit much to live off of exclusively.
The result is that after trying each dish once or twice, I find myself generally reverting to just a few trusted favorites: tandoori chicken, the always-available Roti, and a few noodle concoctions from my nearest mall food court. After awhile – for the first time since leaving home – I’m even finding myself resorting to snacks from the supermarket.
(I should mention that food courts in Asia are *not* like those in the West; they’re more or less “collections of slightly higher-standard local eateries” rather than “big International chains.” Each booth has a specialty; noodle dishes, rice dishes, soup, porridge, dessert, etc. Only slightly more costly than food on the street, this provides a conveniently centralized place to try almost anything – all with clearly marked prices and point-and-choose menus. Even paying is easy: you buy these “prepaid coupons” at one central register, then exchange those for the actual meal.)
Anyway, as I near the end of my trip through Malaysia one of the things I find myself most looking forward to is a change in cuisine. And I’m not the only one; at least six different travelers I’ve met have specifically mentioned similar opinions. “Malaysian food is alright,” they agree, “but it does get repetitive…and can’t hold a candle to Thai!”
(…with just one exception: Cendol. Incredibly, my very favorite dish – err, dessert – is perhaps the only one I never photographed. And although it may look like green worms in puke (see here), I assure you that it tastes just amazing. Shaved ice with coconut milk, jelly noodles, red sweet beans, and palm sugar. Yum!)