Malay cuisine is the traditional food of the ethnic Malays of Southeast Asia, residing in modern-day Malaysia, Indonesia (parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan), Singapore, Brunei, Southern Thailand and the Philippines (mostly southern) as well as Cocos Islands, Christmas Island, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
The main characteristic of traditional Malay cuisine is the generous use of spices. Coconut milk is also important in giving Malay dishes their rich, creamy character. The other foundation is belacan (prawn paste), which is used as a base for sambal, a rich sauce or condiment made from belacan, chilli peppers, onions and garlic. Malay cooking also makes plentiful use of lemongrass and galangal.
Nearly every Malay meal is served with rice, which is also the staple food in many other Asian cultures. Although there are various types of dishes in a Malay meal, all are served at once, not in courses. A typical meal consists of a plate of rice for each person on the table. Dishes are meant to be shared among the diners and each dish is provided with a spoon. The diner proceeds to spoon the dishes of his choosing onto his rice plate. Food is eaten delicately with the fingers of right hand, never with the left which is used for personal ablutions, and Malays rarely use utensils.
History and influences
It is uncertain when the Malay culinary traditions took shape, but the earliest record of the tradition is from the 15th century when Malacca Sultanate became the important trade centre in the Malay archipelago. The most important legacy of Malacca derived from its involvement in the spice trade, its openness to the ingredients and culinary techniques introduced by foreigners notably the Arabs, Persians, Chinese and Indians and its cultivation of a rich eclectic gastronomy. Malacca was also a catalyst for the development of two other rich and unique culinary cultures which are the fusion of Malay with Chinese and European traditions, cuisines respectively known as Nyonya and Eurasian. In the centuries before and after Malacca, there were other non-Malay groups from Buginese and Javanese to Minangkabau who were absorbed into Malay society at different times, aided by similarity in lifestyle and a common religion, and had varying degrees of influence on Malay food.
It is important to understand the nuance and differences of what makes a dish Malay, which is intertwined with the differences between the concept of Malay as an ethnic group or as a race. In Indonesia, Malay cuisine more specifically refers to the cuisine of ethnic Malay people who traditionally inhabit the east coast of Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula and coastal Borneo. In Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and outside the Malay archipelago (such as Sri Lanka and South Africa) however, the term “Malay cuisine” often takes a broader scope, which includes the culinary traditions of other neighbouring common Austronesian peoples, often including Minangkabaus, Javanese and Bugis, or even their fusion derivatives.
Nasi lemak, rice cooked in rich coconut milk, is probably the most popular dish, ubiquitous in Malay towns and villages. Nasi lemak is considered Malaysia’s national dish. Another example is ketupat or nasi himpit, compressed rice cooked in palm leaves. It is popular especially during Hari Raya. Various meats and vegetables could be made into gulai or kari, a type of curry dish with variations of spice mixtures that display an Indian influence long present in Malay cuisine. Since most Malays are Muslims, Malay cuisine rigorously observes Islamic halal dietary law. Protein intake is mostly taken from beef, water buffalo, goat, and lamb, and also includes poultry and fish. Pork, non-halal meat, and alcohol are prohibited. Laksa, a fusion of Malay and Chinese cuisine, is also a popular dish. Malay cuisine has also adopted some neighbouring food traditions, such as rendang adopted from Minangkabau cuisine in Sumatra, nasi ulam from Betawi cuisine and satays from Javanese cuisine in Java. However, the Malays have developed distinctive tastes and recipes.
Malay cuisine has also spread outside the Malay archipelago and influenced other cuisine there. Bobotie is a South African dish with its origins in Cape Malay. It consists of spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping. Of the many dishes common to South Africa, bobotie is perhaps closest to being the national dish because it is not commonly found in any other country. The recipe originates from the Dutch East India Company colonies in Batavia, with the name derived from the Indonesian bobotok. In other countries, kalu dodol is a Sri Lankan dessert with Sri Lankan Malay origins. Vancouver massage It consists of kithul jaggery (from the sap of the toddy palm), rice flour and coconut milk.