Spices are the heart and soul of Indian cooking. The quantity and proportions vary with each geographical boundary. In true Indian cooking, curry powder is almost never used. Spices are freshly grounded and added in many different combinations, giving each dish a unique and distinct taste. Spices commonly used are coriander, cumin, turmeric, fennel, mustard and fenugreek. Other fragrant spices added are cardamom, clove, cinnamon and star anise. Both fresh and dried chili peppers are used in varying degrees for different curries - from mild sambars to fiery hot curries such as Vindaloo and Madras curries.
There are numerous Indian restaurants in Malaysia serving authentic Northern and Southern Indian cuisine. Many cater to specialized regional Indian cuisine and customary needs. Indians in Malaysia come from different religious sects - Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Muslim and other religions. The most widespread local Indian stalls, eateries and restaurants you will find in Malaysia, are Indian-Muslim.
Affectionately referred to by locals as Mamak stall or Mamak restaurant, they serve an extraordinary cuisine of Indian-Muslim food - a culinary assimilation of Indian and Malay cooking styles. The curries and entrees are unmistakably Indian, yet unlike those found in India.(Maa-ma is how they refer their uncle by tamilians..But it is a local concept that mamak means uncle for locals here.In spite of the equatorial climate, a hot beverage of Indian-style tea is very popular, called teh tarik. Teh is tea in Malay and tarik means to pull or to jerk or to tug. The milky tea is prepared by using out-stretched hands, pouring [pulling] the piping hot tea from one mug to another several times. The higher the pull, the thicker the froth, the thicker the froth, the yummier - kind of like a 'frappe'. Many of these Mamak stalls and restaurants are open 24 hours, much appreciated and well-loved by late-night owls! Good eats to be had at these round-the-clock joints are Tandoori Chicken, Murtabak and Roti Canai [pronounced Chan-nai]. Roti Canai is also called Roti Prata or Paratha [the original Indian name]. Roti Canai is now well-known as a popular 'Malaysian' appetizer - on menus in Malaysian restaurants all over the world. It is served with a side of curry, usually a Malaysian Chicken Curry.
The peranakan (baba nyonya) people are famous for their nyonya cuisine. Their kuihs are something to taste and talk about. Their food is very rich in coconut milk. I'm still a learner in their cuisine. After many trial and errors , I can do some of their kuihs. One can easily spot authentic Nyonya food in Malaysia by its cooking style. Nyonya food is in a unique gastronomic realm all of it's own - with specific and subtle nuances of tastes and flavors, quite undiscovered still in the international culinary world.
Nyonya cuisine is also famous for it's Kuih [cake or dessert]. Nyonya desserts are varied and extraordinary. They are strongly Malay influenced - made from local ingredients such as sweet potato, yams, agar agar, gula Melaka [palm sugar], coconut milk, glutinous rice - and Chinese ingredients such as red beans, green beans or mung beans. The ubiquitous vanilla bean used for essence is replaced by a local plant leaf Pandan or Pandanus [Screwpine leaves], giving Nyonya desserts it's signature quintessence.Among the favorite and famous kuihs and cuisine are Kuih Lapis, Kuih Koswee, Kuih Bangkit, Sambal Ikan, Lemak Sayur etc.
Chinese cuisine is generally milder compared to Malay or Indian fare. But thanks to the influence from this multiethnic country, Chinese cuisine in Malaysia, has taken on a spicier touch, often reinventing classic Chinese dishes. Many Chinese dishes are unique in Malaysia and not found in China. Chilies are used frequently to bestow fiery hotness to many of it's dishes such as the famous - Chili Crab also known as Singapore Chili Crab in Singapore.
The best known and most popular variety of Chinese food is Cantonese food. The food is quickly stir-fried with just a touch of oil and the result is crisp and fresh. With Cantonese food, the more people sitting at a meal the better, because dishes are traditionally shared so everyone will manage to sample the greatest variety. A corollary of this is that Cantonese food should be balanced: traditionally, all foods are said to be either Yin [cooling] like vegetables, most fruits and clear soup; or Yang [heat-y] like starchy foods and meat. A cooling food should be balance with a heat-y food and with not too much of one or the other.
In Malay cuisine fresh aromatic herbs and roots are used, some familiar, such as lemongrass, ginger, garlic, shallots, kaffir limes and fresh chilies. Both fresh and dried chilies are used, usually ground into a sambal or chili paste to add hotness to dishes. There are however, less commonly known herbs and roots that are essential in Malay cooking; such as daun kemangi [a type of basil], daun kesum [polygonum, commonly called laksa leaf], bunga kantan [wild ginger flower buds or torch ginger], kunyit basah [turmeric root], lengkuas [galangal] and pandan or pandanus [screwpine leave]. Dried spices frequently used in Malay cooking are jintan manis [fennel], jintan putih [cumin] and ketumbar [coriander]; Other dried spices used are cloves, cardamom, star anise, mustard seeds, fenugreek, cinnamon and nutmeg. Both fresh and dried ingredients are frequently used together, usually ground into a rempah ['spice paste]. The rempah is then sautéed in oil to bring out it's flavorful aroma and toasted goodness. Santan[coconut milk] is the basis of Malay lemak dishes. Lemak dishes are typically not hot to taste; it is aromatically spiced and coconut milk is added for a creamy richness [lemak].
Assam Jawa, or tamarind paste is a key element in many Malay assam dishes for adding a sour or tangy taste; especially for fish and seafood dishes. What is tamarind paste? Tamarind paste is the pulp extracted from tamarind pods commonly used as a souring ingredient in Latin America, India, Africa and Asia. While the prime taste is sour, the underlying tang is slightly sweet, reminiscent of dried apricots or dried prunes. The pulp or paste is commonly sold in the form of a semi-dry flat block. To use, simply pinch a small lump from the block and soak it in some warm water. Use your fingers to squish it about in the water to separate the seeds and fibers; the resulting paste or tamarind water is used for cooking.
There are 14 states in Malaysia and in each state the malays have different flavours in their cooking. Among their famous dishes are the rendang (made with chicken or beef), serunding, nasi lemak, asam pedas, many varieties of sambal etc. Most of their food are hot and spicy similar to indian cuisine. There are also the Indian-Muslim community who are famous for their roti canai and curries.
At present , the recipes which I have contributed at Bawarchi.com under Malaysian Delicacies are all transferred here.But you can still fine the recipes there.All my future recipes will be featured here only and I will not be submitting any more contribution in there. I would like to thank all those who have shown interest in my recipes and will try to add new ones from time to time.I am sorry for mails which I did not reply as the mentioned email add is no more active for some time.Any queries or comments are welcome here.Since most of the contributions were done years back ,am sorry there are no pictures at present to accompany the dishes.I will try to add in pictures related to the relevant dishes in due time.