You may well have been expecting Jordan to feature this month but I have included a section below as there was too much delicious food to cover here alone! Instead, I have been inspired by my best friend’s travels - she is lucky enough to be off gallivanting around Malaysia at the moment and has been sending me the most food-envy-inducing pictures of her gastronomical exploits.
Malaysia is perhaps the ultimate melting pot of South East Asian cuisine, largely due to its location and history. Malaysia benefits from culinary influences from China, India, Indonesia and Thailand as well as the Middle East and Europe. If you look at Malaysia on a map you can see that it sits right in the middle of many of the area's sea trading routes. Malaysia has seen high levels of immigration from China and India in particular, as a result of this. You can easily see these influences on the popular food consumed throughout Malaysia, from rotis and curries to stir fries and hot pots.
However, Malaysian cuisine still has its own distinctive style and features. Sambal, for example, a chilli sauce, is a staple of Malaysian cooking and is served alongside many dishes. Unsurprisingly, with the amount of coastline that Malaysia has, seafood is also a staple in the national cuisine. The Malaysian shrimp paste Belacan, gives extra umami richness to many dishes.
Two common dishes that you may have expected to see here are Laksa and Rendang. I have not chosen these as I already feature these dishes in my Indonesian and Malaysian Group Class - available to book here: https://www.eatwithailsa.com/bookforagroup
Nasi Lemak is the unofficial, official dish of Malaysia. It roughly translates to mean creamy or fatty rice. The star of the dish is of course, the rice that is cooked in coconut milk and flavoured with pandan leaves, giving it a sweet and creamy flavour. Of course, without the accompaniments you don’t have much of a dish. The rice is traditionally served with Sambal, fried anchovies (ikan bilis), a hard boiled egg, cucumber and fried peanuts.
Although traditionally a breakfast dish, Nasi Lemak now transcends the idea of mealtimes and is eaten at all times of day. For a heartier meal it is often served alongside a Rendang curry or fried chicken. What happened?
I always seem to make a mess of one of the dishes don't I?! Unfortunately on this occasion I managed to make a pig's ear of the most important element of THE national dish. Doh.
I didn’t read the recipe properly and forgot to add water to the rice, as well as the coconut milk. I did think it looked a bit dry.. I managed to semi-salvage the situation upon realising that all was not well and added in some water (well after the time it was supposed to be added). The result was cooked but sloppy rice. Not the characteristic fluffy rice I was after, but still edible. The sides however, were a triumph - the flavour of the sambal happily compensated for the texture of the rice and I particularly enjoyed the little salty, crispy pops from the anchovies.
Did you like it?
Despite the textural issues, it all tasted fantastic. Marks out of 10: 8/10
Char kuey teow
This dish is a street food classic sold throughout Malaysia and is largely Chinese in origin. In Hokkien ‘Char kuey teow’ translates as stir-fried rice cake strips - does what it says on the tin, eh? The original dish may have consisted of just that, but the defining characteristics of the Malaysian version include the addition of sea food such as prawns and cockles.
It was originally a dish consumed largely by farmers and fishermen and could be made using whatever leftovers were available. The noodles are stir-fried in pork lard, rather than oil which was popular with workers as it was a cheap way to get lots of fat into their diet. Nowadays it is just as popular with locals and tourists.
As you can see from the photo - this dish definitely falls into the ugly delicious category. The sauce should be a bit darker than pictured here but I had run out of dark soy sauce which gives it its colour. It’s a very simple meal to throw together, consisting of having a very hot wok and quickly stir frying the garlic, prawns, chinese sausage and then noodles, eggs and beansprouts. Spicy sambal, fish sauce and soy sauce are used to flavour. Did you like it?
I very much enjoyed it, with the exception of the Chinese sausage. This was a new ingredient for me and I didn't expect it to be quite as sweet as it was. I had imagined it to be like a Chinese chorizo and wasn’t a huge fan of how it actually tasted. Other than that - very quick and simple, I would definitely make it again. Marks out of 10: 9/10
Bak Kut Teh (Meat Bone Tea) & Youtiao
Bak Kut Teh or ‘meat bone tea’ is another Chinese influenced dish that started out as a meal for the workers. There is some debate about the name as to whether the ‘Teh’ refers to the name of the creator of the dish, or because it is customary to drink Oolong tea alongside the broth. Allegedly, there is something special in Oolong tea which makes it easier to digest the fattiness of the broth. There are many regional versions of Bak Kut Teh but at its simplest it consists of a broth made from pork bones and lots of Chinese herbs.
The herbs needed to make this dish can be bought individually or as pre-made sachets. Having never heard of most of the herbs, I opted for a sachet. To give you an idea, the herbs the recipe called for were:
Ummm.. I’ve heard of Goji Berries?
The broth is simmered over a few hours and is traditionally served with rice and fried dough sticks (Youtiao), which I had a go at making as well!
There is quite a bit of process that goes into this dish. The first critical step is blanching the meat. This gets rid of all the impurities and means that the end result is not cloudy. The meat is rinsed and set aside and water is brought to the boil along with lots of garlic and the herb packet. It did actually look like I was brewing a large cup of tea at this stage. Once this has simmered away for half an hour, the meat is added back in and this is then simmered until the meat is meltingly soft.
Right at the end, I added Enoki and button mushrooms, Chinese leaf, and tofu puffs to soak up the flavour.
Did you like it?
This was super rich. You can see from the photo I served up a huge portion as I was very hungry at the time, and I reckon I only managed about ⅓ of it! The recipe I used called for pork belly as well as ribs, which I think was a bit unnecessary in the end as the fattiness from the broth meant that the fatty pork belly was overkill. The Youtiao and Tofu puffs soaked up the broth beautifully and were a more enjoyable part of the meal. Having said this, I loved the subtle taste that came through from the Chinese herbs, and without the pork belly, I reckon this has the potential to be a 10/10 dish. I will definitely be making this again (with adjustments.)
Marks out of 10: 8/10
You can view all previous 'Country of the Month' articles HERE.