Tag Archives: South East Asia

Photo Essay: Kuala Lumpur and Malacca

19 Jan

Last month, Farva and I spent a few days in Malaysia – specifically, Kuala Lumpur and Malacca. We decided to document our time there through snapshots of the food we had the pleasure of trying and the stories it unveiled.

Entrance to Jonker Walk in Malacca

The Portuguese Settlement in Malacca

We spent a day in Malacca, a nostalgic city with a protracted colonial history. Malacca was colonized by the Portuguese in the 1500s, followed by the Dutch in the 1600s and finally the British arrived in the 1800s. The footprint of the trifecta of colonizers and waves of immigration from China over centuries are reflected in the cuisine most prominently. Peranakan and Portuguese-Eurasian food for instance, is the product of cross cultural marriages between local Malays and Chinese immigrants during 15th and 16th century, and between the Malays/Chinese/Indian and Portuguese during the 16th and 17th century. Malacca’s rich Peranakan culture (the name given to the descendants of early Chinese migrants to Malacca) has given birth to a type of cuisine commonly called ‘Nyonya’ cuisine. As a result of inter-marriages, the Nyonya style of cooking blends Chinese flavours with malay herbs and Indian spices and the recipes have been improved to perfection over time.

Beef Rendang at Restoran Peranakan

At the no-frills family-run Restoran Peranakan (see end of post for details) – we had delicious Beef Rendang, tender slices of beef blended with chilli, lemongrass, turmeric and coconut milk. Beef Rendang is also associated with Hari Raya, the yearly celebration by Muslims that marks the end of Ramadhan. According to tradition, due to the flavourful aroma of coconut milk and spices cooking in a wok for hours, those who were fasting during Ramadhan would crave for the fasting month to be over so that they could indulge in this delicacy on Hari Raya.

A notable culinary remnant from the Portuguese era are the famous Portuguese egg tarts or pastéis de nata (above). Flaky on the outside and creamy on the inside.

The Nyonya pineapple tarts (below) are mouth watering pastries wrapped in home-made pineapple jam with just the right amount of sweetness.


Laksa, which literally translates as ‘many’ from Sanskrit is a reference to the recipe traditionally having numerous ingredients. An aromatic dish of rice vermicelli and yellow noodles in a broth with coconut milk and curry paste (comprising chilli, garlic, Asian shallots and toasted belachan (shrimp paste)), laksa is a Malacca staple.  There are several varieties of laksa but the most popular (and photographed below) is curry laksa.

Curry Laksa

Fruit vendor selling durians, rambutans and dragonfruit outside a Buddhist Temple on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur

Dragonfruit

In KL we spent an afternoon in Little India where food hawker stalls line the tiny narrow lanes selling everything from shimmery chiffons to the Don 2 soundtrack.

Fried Indian snacks

Ever since I first visited a Malaysian restaurant (Penang in NYC), I’ve been in love with Roti canai. I used to think that the measure of how good a Malaysian restaurant is by how good their Roti canai is. However, I’ve now learnt that what is considered to be an integral part of the menus of Malaysian restaurants in New York or London does not feature on the menus of sit-down restaurants in KL. It’s the quintessential street food to be enjoyed while sipping a chilled soft drink from mamak stalls (food establishments run by Tamil Muslims). The cripsy roti is served with daal curry – a gravy made from lentils with carrots, and potatoes, chicken or fish curry with a dash of sambal for added spiciness.

Excellent Blogs on Food and Travel in Malaysia

Eating Asia

Rasa Malaysia

A Whiff of Lemongrass

Restaurants We Visited

Restoran Peranakan, Malacca
Restoran Peranakan on Heeren Street is the courtyard of a huge Peranakan house. The menu is limited but the food quality is very good. Prices range from RM 10 – 15 per person (US$ 3-5).

Estana Curry House, Jalan Nagasari, KL

You won’t find this place in the guidebooks but it was recommended to us by a taxi driver.  Roti canai is delicious and only RM 1.5 (50 cents). Need I say more?

%d bloggers like this: