Blue Pacific Flavors is proud to be an international company with critical business operations throughout Asia. In honor of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, our team is sharing their flavor heritage from around the world. This week we are excited to feature the favorite Malaysian foods of Lydia Ewe, Purchasing Manager and Communications Coordinator for Blue Pacific China. Lydia, a native of Malaysia, couldn’t choose just one favorite food because there are so many wonderful Malay dishes. And after seeing her selections, we have to agree! So, in no particular order, here are three “must-eats” from Malaysia – followed by recipes so you can experience Lydia’s World of Flavor.
Bak Kut Teh
“Bak kut teh (which literally means ‘meat bone tea’ in Teochew) is a very popular Malaysian herbal soup dish made with pork ribs and Chinese herbs,” Lydia shares. “While there are no tea leaves or tea involved, ‘tea’ became attached to the name due to the fact that people often drink tea while eating it to counteract the fatty, greasy nature of the broth.” Bak kut teh is thought to have originated in China’s Fujian province, where it was later introduced to Malaysia sometime in the 19th century.
“Bak kut teh (which literally means ‘meat bone tea’ in Teochew) is a very popular Malaysian herbal soup dish made with pork ribs and Chinese herbs.”
There are three traditional variations to the beloved soup based on regional differences. Hokkien bak kut teh is a dark, thick, and cloudy soup with a robust flavor stemming from a copious amount of herbs, soy sauce, and rock sugar. The Cantonese version is less salty than the Hokkien and has a strong herbal, almost medicinal flavor, paired with additional ingredients like button mushrooms, dried tofu, and Chinese cabbage. Teochew bak kut teh usually has a clear, light brown broth that’s skimmed once it’s been simmered, with a delicious garlic and pepper flavor.
Although the herbs used in all three variations of the soup vary from recipe to recipe, some of the most common ones include star anise, cloves, Goji berries, peppercorns, cinnamon, angelica root, dates, and licorice root. “Traditionally served in a clay pot with rice, it’s a full, satisfying meal!” Lydia says. “In Malaysia, everyone loves bak kut teh.”
“Traditionally served in a clay pot, served with rice, it’s a full, satisfying meal!”
“Nasi lemak literally means ‘coconut rice’ in Malay,” says Lydia. “It’s the de facto national dish of Malaysia.” Nasi lamek is widely found at food centers, roadside stalls, and food vans throughout Malaysia and Singapore. It’s so popular that decades ago it was sold door-to-door by vendors carrying the rice dish wrapped in banana leaves. Although it’s a favorite breakfast meal, nasi lemak is commonly enjoyed throughout the day.
The rice is traditionally steamed with coconut milk and lightly salted, but the real magic comes from the leaves used to season the rice while it cooks. “Pandan leaves or screwpipe leaves are the secret ingredient,” Lydia shares. “The leaves are highly fragrant with a floral smell. A nasi lemak would not be authentic without the leaves and the coconut milk.”
“Pandan leaves or screwpipe leaves are the secret ingredient; the leaves are highly fragrant with a floral smell. A nasi lemak would not be authentic without the leaves and the coconut milk.”
Nasi lemak is traditionally served with crisp fried fish (generally anchovies), water spinach, thin slices of cucumber, a fried or boiled egg, and a generous dollop of sambal. Sambal is a type of chili paste that’s typically made using a combination of dried chilis, shallots, garlic, and shrimp paste, sweetened with sugar and tamarind for a delicious sweet and tangy flavor. Depending on the recipe, sliced lemongrass may also be added. “Sambal is the soul of nasi lemak,” says Lydia. “It brings together all the various toppings and completes the iconic dish.”
“Sambal is the soul of nasi lemak. It brings together all the various toppings and completes the iconic dish.”
“Rojak (which literally means ‘mixed’ in Malay) is a popular local salad of mixed vegetables (tofu) and fruits (pineapple, cucumber, jicama, guava, and mango are commonly used ingredients), drizzled with a sweet, spicy, and sour sauce comprising local prawn paste, sugar and lime and a sprinkle of chopped peanuts,” says Lydia. The combination of soft, crisp, and crunchy textures with the complex, flavorful sauce makes the salad a delightful bowl of contrasts that work together in perfect harmony. “The overall effect is very refreshing!” Lydia adds.
“The overall effect is very refreshing!”
The origin of the salad remains unknown, although it’s thought that the dish may have originated in Indonesia. Today, rojak is standard fare served by street vendors in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, but the ingredients and recipes can vary greatly between the regions. Penang rojak, for example, often consists of squid fritters, jambu air, and guavas while omitting the tofu. Mamak rojak, also known as Pasambok in Penang, includes a mixture of potatoes, cucumber, prawn fritters, bean sprouts, hard-boiled eggs, and cuttlefish.
Pasembur rojak, a version specific to Penang, Malaysia, emphasizes tart fruits like green apples and guava and is often topped with poached jellyfish and a sauce made from sweet potatoes. Indonesian rojaks (called rojuk) are typically fruit-based, with the ingredients commonly being mashed together rather than sliced, chopped, or shredded.
Experience the Flavors of Malaysia
We hope you enjoyed learning about Lydia’s World of Flavor as much as we did. Now it’s time to try these popular Malaysian dishes yourself! Please enjoy the following recipes in celebration of Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Thank you Lydia for inspiring our palates with the beautiful flavors of Malaysia.
1. Bak kut teh | Infopedia. (n.d.). Eresources.nlb.gov.sg. https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1800_2011-03-18.html
2. Nasi lemak | Infopedia. (n.d.). Eresources.nlb.gov.sg. https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1739_2010-12-13.html
3. What Is Rojak? (with pictures). (n.d.). Www.wise-Geek.com. Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://www.wise-geek.com/what-is-rojak.htm