Malaysia Food Exploration: Not Photographed But Not Forgotten

I’m going to have to put another pound in my imaginary “blog fail” jar. Perhaps even two, as with supreme skill and despite having eaten them more than once, there were no photos taken of two Malaysian legends: nasi lemak and char kway teow.

I was sorely tempted not to mention the fact and to sweep it all under the table, moving on to the next post while whistling softly to myself. However as both these dishes are delicious, I just couldn’t do it.

Nasi lemak is technically the name of coconut rice (nasi meaning “rice”), but normally you get much more. You often see portions wrapped for sale, but it is easy enough to order it on a plate.

In addition to the rice, usual accompaniments are roasted peanuts, crispy dried anchovies (ikan bilis), hard-boiled egg, some cucumber slices, a spicy sauce (sambal) and a portion of curried or fried meat. It is quite calorific, with intense flavours from the anchovies and sambal complementing the subtler tastes of the rice, egg and cucumber. Fried chicken or a chicken leg smothered in coconut curry both make admirable additions.

Char kway teow offers less startling flavours, being at heart a fried noodle dish. Wide flat rice noodles are stir-fried with ingredients like meat or shellfish, bean sprouts, egg, spring onions, soy sauce, chilli and a lot of fat. This last item makes them glisten with an oily sheen, but does wonders for the taste. As with nasi lemak there are many variants, so you may want to check exactly what you’ll be getting before you buy a portion.

Both these dishes are widely available and range in price from the very cheap stall versions to fancier, pricier options in city restaurants. I have come across much debate on where to find the best char kway teow or nasi lemak in Penang and beyond, and if you’re serious about finding the ultimate example, a little online research will soon see you bombarded with options.

Oh, and a few moments with a search engine will see you with more pictures of the above dishes than anyone could ever need, plus the extra exertion of typing may burn part of a calorie. You can thank me later.


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