Chinese food is famed the world over, but Malaysian-Chinese cuisine boasts a unique appeal. Originally derived from the cuisine of Southern China, Malaysian-Chinese food reflects the incorporation of local ingredients, as well as influences from Malay and Indian cooking. As the Malaysian-Chinese menu is vast, there is a seemingly never-ending array of foods to enjoy. Among the most popular of Malaysian-Chinese delicacies, is Bak Kut Teh (pork ribs soup). Consisting of pork meat, intestines and ribs, boiled with garlic and soy sauce, the dish was first made famous decades ago in Klang, where labourers considered it a health tonic. It then became a favourite across Malaysia, even spawning a chicken version, called the Chik Kut Teh.
Bakkwa (barbecued pork), is another popular delicacy that can be found throughout the nation. Usually served during festive occasions like Chinese New Year, it can also be enjoyed year-round. A popular dish that is served only during the New Year, however, is yee sang (raw fish salad). Made of slices of raw fish, shredded vegetables, sauces and condiments, the dish is meant to symbolise good luck, prosperity and abundance in the year ahead. Before it can be eaten, everyone at the table will stand up to toss and mix the yee sang with their chopsticks, while saying auspicious wishes.
Two Chinese dishes that have become extremely popular among all races in Malaysia, are yong tau foo and dim sum. Yong tau foo is a Hakka dish that features tofu and vegetables stuffed with fish paste. It is often served with a clear soup and two dipping sauces – a dark, sweet and sour one, and a chilli-based one. Dim sum, on the other hand, refers to an array of savoury, bite-sized dumplings. Arranged in small saucers and steamed in bamboo containers, the dumplings are enjoyed with an assortment of dipping sauces, particularly as a snack for yum cha (morning or afternoon tea). Among the many varieties of dim sum are siew mai (with pork or chicken stuffing), wu kok (yam puff) and har gau (shrimp stuffing).
Since rice is a staple in China and Malaysia alike, there is a wide variety of rice-based Chinese dishes to be enjoyed. Kai fan (chicken rice) is one of the most popular. While the chicken is usually roasted, the Hainanese version features steamed chicken. Both are served with rice cooked in chicken stock. In the historical city of Malacca, the chicken rice is often formed into balls, while in Ipoh, it is often served with a plate of bean sprouts.
Ngah po fan (claypot rice) is also a popular savoury rice dish. Cooked over high heat in a clay pot, the rice is flavoured with soy sauce, oyster sauce or dried salted fish. It is served as a one-pot meal that can incorporate meat and vegetables. In Chinese kitchens, rice may also be served as zhou (congee), served with fish slices, chicken breast, salted egg, century egg and minced pork. The Teochew version of the porridge is among the most popular in Malaysia.
Noodles of all types and textures are also an essential part of Chinese cuisine. Among the most well-loved are: Cantonese kway teow, which is flat rice noodles served in a thick egg and cornstarch white sauce; as well as char kway teow, which is flat rice noodles stir-fried with bean sprouts, prawns, egg, chives and sometimes cockles. Not to be sidelined are Hokkien char mee, which comprises of thick yellow noodles fried with soy sauce and lard, as well as wonton mee, which are thin egg noodles flavoured with oil and soy sauce, served with dumplings and choy sum (Chinese flowering cabbage).
The best thing about Malaysian-Chinese food is certainly its variety and availability. So if you’re yearning for a comforting plate of rice, or a steaming bowl of noodles, look no further!
Editor’s Pick – Best Chinese Food in Malaysia
1. Char Kuey Teow
2. Asam Laksa
3. Bak Kut Teh
4. Hai Nan Chicken rice
5. Yong Tou Fu
6. Lo Bak
7. Asam fish
8. Fried Oyster
10. Fou Thiu Chiong