Malaysian food is so rich and varied, it can illicit many responses. Most of the time, the response is overwhelmingly positive. There are though instances where initial excitement is rapidly replaced by a frown and then a desperate search for a place to hide the remaining contents of your bowl. Thankfully, such examples are hard to come by and most of the time, only good can come from trying something new whilst on the Malaysian peninsular.
Here are eight examples of things I tried whilst in Malaysia that I insist you try too when you make your way there.
Let’s first explore some of the options from Malacca’s vast array of restaurants and bars.
1. Coconut Shake
To start, a coconut shake. Rich and creamy, thick with coconut and topped with ice cream, this drink was a real treat. People come from miles around to Klebang Original, a large roadside restaurant on the outskirts of Malacca to down a glass or two. My mouth waters just thinking about this sweet, frothy glass of deliciousness.
2. Durian Fruit Cendol
Durian fruit is a Malaysian staple. Everyone says a visit to the region wouldn’t be complete without trying it, so I did. In fact, this is the second time I tried it. It is also the last time, for it is disgusting.
In the photo above, the Durian itself is the yellow stuff. Underneath is a ball of syrup-covered shaved ice to form the classic Malaysian dessert Cendol.
A quick search online results in a number of words used to describe the taste of this infamous sludge. Depending on the person and the particular variety, it can taste like ‘heaven’, ‘death’, ‘onions’, ‘liquid petroleum’, ‘cream’ or like ‘sour yoghurt’. To me, it tasted like rotting onions. I still ate it all though, saluting the last bite safe in the knowledge I’d never be eating it again. Urgh!
3. Vegetarian Laksa
While it’s getting easier, it’s still quite difficult to find vegetarian food in South East Asia. Which is why it was such a lovely surprise to find a vegetarian cafe down a side street in Malacca. I’ve had my fair share of curry Laksa’s, but this one could quite possibly be the best I’ve had. It struck the right balance between fragrant and spicy and the meat alternatives (in place of chicken and prawns) offered a variety of textures and flavours.
4. Soursop Shake
This was the first time I tried Soursop and it won’t be the last. This punchy, zesty, tangy fruit makes a mean shake. I had this at a supremely cool cafe called The Baboon House in Malacca. The place is sumptuously decorated with lots of brickwork, wood and leafy plants. Some tables, like the one I was sat at had tiny fish swimming around in glass bowls. Young people flock here for the shakes and the burgers and to look around the attached art gallery. The place had a really cool vibe and would be somewhere I’d visit often if I lived in Malacca.
5. Freshly-Squeezed Sugar Cane Juice
The scene in the first photo of this set doesn’t exactly scream, “lovely place to eat and drink,” but don’t be fooled. Sure, there’s the burnt out shell of a building in the background and an ever-present procession of cars and vans passing by, but this is a local market, where real life happens. The stalls running along both sides of the road were packed with tables surrounded by locals eating Nasi Goreng and Nasi Lemak, washed down with the ice-filled cups of fresh juice.
I joined them briefly for a drink to get out of the hot midday sun. The chap sitting down the foreground of the first photo was very surprised to see me. Perhaps trade had been a little slow that morning. I stuck one finger in the air and he jumped into action, sticking an entire sugar cane into a mangle. The shredded remains of the cane came out one side, while fresh juice poured out of the other.
It’s surprising just how refreshing sugar cane juice is. I think most people would expect it to be overly sweet and sticky but it isn’t. So long as it’s fresh, it’s no sweeter than cola and just as thirst quenching.
Jonker Walk Night Market
Every Friday and Saturday evening, Jalan Hang Jebat in the centre of Malacca becomes the Jonker Walk Night Market. As I discovered, the market focusses on food and drink more than anything else and is therefore a great place to have your evening meal. A wide variety of delicious foods from different parts of Asia are on offer and it’s all really cheap! As well as food stalls, there are other traders selling gifts and low budget goods, plus there’s a large outdoor karaoke stage at the top of the street where entertainment is provided.
When I visited, it was Chinese New Year season, so the street was decorated with lanterns whilst ‘lions’ roamed the side streets, visiting restaurants and businesses to wish them luck for the forthcoming year. The market bustled with tourists and locals and the mood was buoyant and festive. I spent a good few happy hours strolling from stall to stall, feasting on light bites until I was full.
6. Deep-fried Vegetable Snacks
One stall at the market was attracting quite a crowd so I fought my way through the throng to find out what was on the menu. I discovered a stall offering deep-fried vegetable snacks for an unbelievably low price. You could fill a bag with Spring Rolls, Sweet Potato Fritters and Samosas (among other options) and have the whole lot drizzled with chilli sauce for next to nothing. This was a meal in itself and I struggled to finish everything, but it was so tasty.
7. Taiwan ‘Han Bao’
I’ve tried to find some information about this snack but I haven’t had any luck, leading me to suspect this isn’t something that’s particularly well known in Taiwan, more something the stall owners have concocted. I could be wrong though, so if you recognise what these are, let me know.
They were essentially thick, freshly-prepared omelette cakes with a choice of filling. I could have had crab meat, chicken floss or octopus, but I opted for Taiwan sausage. The omelette was firm and slightly crispy on the outside while the sausage filling was both sweet and peppery.
8. Satay Fish Balls
A visit to South East Asia just isn’t complete without eating a cup full of fish balls. The uninitiated almost always underestimates how hot these littles guys get, leading to many burnt tongues. Persevere though and you will undoubtedly join the millions of fish ball fans across Asia. The ones pictured were served with a satay sauce and were quite delicious and moreish.