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What is Malaysian Food?

What is Malaysian Food?
Malaysian Food is not one particular distinction of food but a culinary diversity originating from it's multi-ethnic population of Malay, Indian, Eurasian, Chinese, Nyonya and the Indigenous peoples of Borneo.  A brief look into the past and how this multi-ethnic country came to be, is essential in order to comprehend how such a cosmic array of food, has now come to be known all over the world as 'Malaysian Food'. Presented here are some of the various delicious and popular dishes from this rainbow of gastronomic spectrum, with pictures and detailed recipes, from each unique ethnic kitchen. 
 

 

  Where is Malaysia?Where is Malaysia?             Malaysia is in Southeast Asia. Geographic coordinates: 2 30 N, 112 30 E. The size of Malaysia is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico, USA. Malaysia consists of two parts: West Malaysia, also called Peninsular Malaysia or Malaya; and East Malaysia. The two parts are 403 miles [650km] apart and are separated by the South China Sea.

West Malaysia is bordered on the north by Thailand, on the east by the South China Sea, on the south by Singapore [separated by the narrow Johore Straits], and on the west by the Straits of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. There are 11 states and two federal territories in West Malaysia.

East Malaysia is bordered on the north by the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea, on the east by the Celebes Sea, and on the south and west by Kalimantan - the Indonesian part of Borneo. There are 2 states and one federal territory in East Malaysia. Along the coast is the independent nation of Brunei.

The country of Malaysia was formed in 1963 through a federation of the former British colonies of Malaya, including Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia, and the island of Singapore. In 1965, the island of Singapore formed it's own nation country of Singapore.

Although West Malaysia makes up only 31% of the country's area, it has more than 80% of its people. Most of the total population of nearly 23 million, are concentrated on the west coast of West Malaysia. West Malaysia has 11 states: Perlis, Kedah, Pinang [Penang], Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka [Malacca] and Johor; and two Federal Territories [Wilayah Persekutuan] which are coextensive cities of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya. East Malaysia has 2 states: Sabah and Sarawak and one federal territory which is the island of Labuan.

Lying close to the equator, Malaysia has a tropical climate. Temperatures are usually between 68-86F [20-30C]; humidity is usually 90 per cent with an annual monsoonal season blowing southwest [April to October] and northeast [October to February]. Rain, when it comes, generally interrupts the sunshine only briefly; most of it falls in short, strong bursts.

Over two thirds of the land area is still rainforest. Both West and East Malaysia have mountainous interiors and coastal plains. The highest point is Mt. Kinabalu standing at 13,455 ft [4,101 m] in Sabah, is one of the highest peaks in South-East Asia. The longest of the country's many rivers are the 350 miles [560 km]  Rajang River in Sarawak, the 350 miles [560 km] Kinabatangan River in Sabah, and the 200 miles [320 km] Pahang River in West Malaysia.

There are 8000 species of flowering plants in Peninsular or West Malaysia alone, including 2000 tree species, 800 different orchids and 200 types of palm. Wildlife include elephants, rhinos, tigers, leopards, tapirs, sun bears, orangutans and a cornucopia of birds. In East Malaysia on the island of Borneo even more species of animals, birds, plants, trees and flowers proliferate. The largest flower on the planet Rafflesia is native here in the world's oldest rainforest. Its elusive appearance is what botanists live for to glimpse at least once in their lifetime!
 

Most visitors to Malaysia arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport [K.L.I.A.]. The majestic beauty of the gargantuan 'Blue Mosque' is one of the very first landmark a visitor sees from the air, beckoning a warm welcome to this fascinating city Kuala Lumpur. KL, as locals affectionately call it, is a city where the past is still present in the evocative British colonial style buildings. Here, vivid traces of history continue to influence and inspire an unbounded spirit of progress and Malaysia's unhesitating leap into the future. You will see shiny, ultra-modern skyscrapers standing magnificently next to rows of quaint old shop houses. From the midnight lamps of Petaling Street's pasar malam [night market] to the world's tallest buildings, the twin Petronas Towers - KL is a grand gateway to the dizzying multiplicity of Malaysia's history, people and culture. If you like to shop, KL is truly a shopper's paradise. A cultural arts & crafts center, Central Market is a vibrant place to shop for exquisite souvenirs and handicrafts. Visitors are treated to cultural performances, demonstrations, and activities such as batik painting, and Malaysia's beloved wayang kulit [shadow puppet plays]. Countless mega shopping malls in and around the city offer drop-till-you-drop designer labels and brand name merchandise. Visitors cannot help but notice Malaysia's favorite pastime, that is, eating! Gourmet restaurants serving International haute cuisine compete with street food vendors or hawkers selling various local food. Much like Central Park in New York city, Taman Tasik Perdana [Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens] provide escape from the hustle & bustle of the city. Covering nearly 226 acres of land built around an artificial lake, one is treated to a first glimpse of Malaysia's rainforest with it's unsurpassed beauty, greenery, variety of plants, flowers, birds and YES! monkeys that roam freely in the park. Within this garden paradise is South East Asia's largest bird park and one of the world's largest covered aviary. Kuala Lumpur Bird Park offers a rare treat not to be missed; you literally walk inside a 'cage', a huge canopy netting, to see birds perching and winging about freely in a totally natural and beautifully landscaped milieu.

Penang needs little introduction to many visitors to Malaysia, having long been known as one of Southeast Asia's finest destinations. Penang and it's intriguing city of Georgetown has more Chinese flavor than either Singapore or Hong Kong. Georgetown is a compact city and it's a delight to wander around. Set off in any direction and you're certain to see beautiful old Chinese houses, vegetable markets, temples, spice shops, trishaws, mahjong games and daily Asian street life. It's colonial past can be seen in the time-worn walls of Fort Cornwallis where Captain Francis Light, set foot in 1786 on what was then a virtually uninhabited island. One can dine on local dishes from hawker stalls, that appear at night along the Esplanade, while gazing at old canons - reminders of Penang's colonial past. Penang is well known as a 'Hawkers Paradise'. City dwellers from KL and Singapore drive for hours on weekend getaways to feast and gorge themselves silly on Penang's hawker food! Reputed as having the best local food, there are many hawker centers, restaurants, kopitiams [Chinese coffee-shops], Mamak [Indian-Muslim] stalls offering satay, assam laksa, roti canai, char kway teow and too-many-to-mention local culinary delights!

This city island has easy access to beaches especially in Batu Ferringhi with it's many beach-front hotels. There are many other islands for beach combers - Langkawi and Pangkor Islands on the west coast. Diving and snorkeling enthusiasts can take their pick of several excellent east-coast islands, including Tioman Island, Pulau Kapas, Pulau Redang and the Perhentian Islands. The most well known of the east coast islands, besides the recently popular Perhentian Islands, is
Tioman. Pulau Tioman, or Tioman Island has long been featured in many international travel magazines as an Island Paradise with it's picture-postcard beaches, clear, coral-filled water, technicolor marine life and virtually unpopulated jungle home to world class resorts. Bicycle enthusiasts can follow favorite bicycle touring routes up the east coast of the peninsula and a cross-peninsula route from Butterworth to Baling.

There is great trekking, fishing and bird-watching in West Malaysia's national park and forest reserve, Taman Negara National Park. Sprawled over 3 states; Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu, it covers about 2693 square miles[4343 sq km] and accessible only by boat. It offers visitors a rare and privileged opportunity to visit one of the most pristine primary rainforests in the world. The wildlife is varied and abundant, especially evident on extended treks or boat trips away from the more frequented areas.

Taiping, in the state of Perak, is bejeweled with beautiful lake gardens. For those who prefer less tourist frequented areas, and also for those architecturally inclined, there are beautiful and well preserved Anglo-Malay buildings, reminisced of colonial days gone by. A favorite night time activity with Malaysians when the unrelenting heat of the day lets up a little, take a leisurely stroll in the local pasar malam [night market]. The birthplace of Malaysia's rubber industry, Kuala Kangsar is the historic royal town boasting fine mosques and palaces. Ipoh is Perak's capital, from which hail many of New York's Chinatown Malaysian-Chinese community. Temples built into some of the many natural caves in the surrounding area, offer an austere place for worship - and a surprise surreal sight if you happening to be driving along the highway.

Melaka [Malacca] is considered Malaysia's most historic city and famous for it's antique shops. During the Ming Dynasty, as a diplomatic gesture to strengthen ties with the rich and strategic port of Malacca, the Emperor of China betrothed his daughter Princess Hang Li Po to the Sultan of Malacca. The princess and her entourage of about 500 formed the first permanent Chinese settlement in Malacca at Bukit China or China Hill. These early Chinese settlers married local Malay brides and gave rise to the first generation of mixed Chinese-Malays known as Peranakan, the male being known as Baba and the female as Nyonya, pronounced nyoh-nyah and sometimes spelt Nonya. For antiques hunters, Malacca holds many hidden treasures especially early Chinese furnishings.

East Malaysia offers scenic grandeur and fascinating wildlife as it's main attractions. In Sabah, Pulau Tiga National Park off Kuala Penyuh has good walking trails across the volcanic island and several snorkeling spots. One of the islands of Pulau Tiga is the site of the first reality TV series 'Survivor'. Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world where sea turtles come to lay their eggs. Such a phenomenon of nature can be witnessed in Turtle Islands National Park, 25 miles [40km] north of Sandakan. Between July and October, nature lovers are treated to this spectacular sight when waves of green sea turtles come ashore to lay their precious cargo of eggs. The Terengganu coast, in north-eastern peninsular West Malaysia, Pulau Pangkor off Lumut, and Selingan Island, north of Sabah, are other favorite turtle-watching locations. Just outside the capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu, the majestic peak of Mt Kinabalu looms. It's one of the easiest mountains in the world to climb and the views from the top are sensational especially at sunsets.

In Sarawak, Gunung Mulu National Park has a number of spectacular caves including the 31.5 mile [51km] long Clearwater Cave, one of the longest in the world. Adventure-caving expeditions can be arranged. The park also has good trekking, especially the four-day hike to the summit of Gunung Mulu, nearly 7780 feet high [2377m]. Sarawak offers the chance to visit longhouse-dwelling Dayak tribes. The area around the capital city, Kuching, comprise remote coastal villages such as Pandan and Sematan. In Bako National Park un-spoilt tropical rainforest, secluded beaches and walking trails await.

As the popular tourism catchphrase goes - "Malaysia is truly a land of fascinating sights & sounds ... and food!" -Pamela Louisa Rodrigues McKenna

 

 
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