Cooking spotlight: Malaysia’s melting pot


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As a land of immigrants Canada is no stranger to cuisine from dozens of countries and cultures  from Mexican, Caribbean and Jewish to Chinese, Japanese, French and Italian. But there may be one country that gives us a run for our money when it comes to our delicious cooking mosaic  and thats Malaysia.

At the centre of one of historys most important trade routes in southeast Asia, Malaysia became a meeting place for Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Dutch, Portuguese and British traders and with this political, economic and cultural interaction, a fascinating, multi-faceted and unique cuisine was born.

While there are an endless variety of Malaysian dishes, from char kuey teow and tom yum to rendang and nasi lemak, the countrys cooking is mostly made up of a half dozen ingredients:

  • Sambal is a spicy, sweet and salty condiment made from chilies, lime and fermented shrimp paste  its not Malaysian if sambal isnt on the plate.
  • Belacan  or savoury and pungent dried, fermented shrimp  is a must for stews and curries. Its an acquired taste but one well worth getting to know.
  • Bananas are hardly foreign to Canadians but how theyre used in Malaysian cuisine can be  banana leaves offer a delicate flavour and help wrap food, and the taste of cooked pink banana flowers reminds many of artichoke.
  • Coconut is another exotic delicacy weve become familiar with  Malaysians make good use of coconut milk and dried coconut fruit to enrich and thicken stews and curries.
  • Fruits, fruits and more fruits  Malaysia has an abundance of tropical fruits many of us have never seen or tasted, like Calamansi limes, dragonfruit, rambutan and mangosteen, as well as others like mangos that were better acquainted with.
  • Rice and noodles  we may be familiar with these cooking staples but Malaysians incorporate them in a variety of fascinating and delicious ways, in every meal, from breakfast to after-dinner dessert.

So, where to begin? If youre lucky enough to have a Malaysian restaurant in your area, pop by and ask for recommendations. If not heres a list of 25 delightful dishes you can begin discovering for yourself, right in your kitchen.

Laksa? Rendang? Mee goreng? If youve tried Malaysian cuisine, tell us your favourite in the Shop Talk Blog community forum now or leave tips for other foodie members. We always love hearing from you.

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Did you know?

The word ketchup derives from the Malay word ketjap via China. But Malaysian ketchup isnt a tomato sauce  its soya sauce! English settlers introduced their version  made with mushrooms  to the American colonies in the early 18th century. Tomato-based ketchup didnt appear until about 1800.

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