A few of my favourite foods: Malaysia

Plato was wrong. The food of the soul isn’t knowledge, it’s my mother’s braised duck in five spice, or perhaps her meen fan ko or pan mee, flour ‘noodles’ – kneaded, then torn into thin pieces and boiled in stock, two stalwart favourites from my childhood right up to now. Our relationship with food is complex, and complicated. Food as comfort, food as fuel, food as nostalgia, food as a gateway to other cultures, food that evokes emotions – it is never just food. The foods that you snacked on in your youth, cook in your adulthood, and crave when you’re homesick are as much a function of your own cultural references, geographical context, and personal memory as that of flavour and taste.

In the last ten years of my self-exile from Malaysia, I’ve managed to still the hunger pangs by receiving packets of sambal paste from my parents to cook up my own nasi lemak, or persuading friends to bring back pineapple tarts, mooncakes and other goodies at festival times, or when all else fails, visiting a local Malaysian restaurant in whichever city I happened to live in at the time. Not quite the same, but close enough when one is 15,000 miles away from home. There are, however, a few favourites that are impossible to get even a watery imitation of overseas, and these are some of the ones that I miss the most.

Mee Hoon Sotong
Mee Hoon Sotong (pic from J2Kfm on flickr)

Mee hoon sotong

A dish of vermicelli noodles doused in a light brown broth filled with the complex, smoky flavours of beef and seafood, served with tender slices of braised pork, a few bits of cuttlefish and some green veg, this is one of my favourite breakfasts from the Pasar Besar (wet market) back home. The noodles are usually fried so they are warm and a little crispy on the edges before the soupy sauce is poured over it. I’ve been unable to find even an approximation of this dish in London, New York or Sydney, so if anyone knows or has an idea, please drop me a tip!

Char kuay teow

The most popular variant of this dish is the Penang version, but my favourite is from the hawker stall that used to be located in Temiang across from the temple. By a dark and grimy stall, the vendor would cook using firewood and copious amounts of dark soy sauce, resulting in a dish that was smoky in taste and almost black in colour, topped with sinful, crunchy, divine pieces of lard and bloody fresh cockles. A favourite place of my family’s for supper, we would ask him to add an extra egg and chilli, douse with liberal amounts of white pepper, pair with a homemade brew of cold herbal tea or barley water, then consume ravenously.

Char kuay teow
Char kuay teow (pic from www.tummythoz.blogspot.com.au)

Giant pork buns

Familiar to dim sum connoisseurs around the world, steamed pork buns, filled with chopped up bits of meat, water chestnuts and other assorted (and unidentifiable) food stuffs used to be my go-to comfort food. There were few things in the world a fresh, hot, soft, juicy pork bun couldn’t solve, at least for the short term, but what I loved above all that was the giant pork buns. Double in size, and more importantly, with a whole, boiled quail egg buried inside it, like a creamy, delicious treasure.

Pan Mee
Pan Mee (pic courtesy of Wikipedia)

Mum’s meen fan ko or pan mee

Yet another noodle-ish dish, and one that I can, if I try hard enough, find in Sydney, but my favourite version of this is the one my mum makes. I have memories of being given a small ball of sticky white dough to play with while she stood at the stove, patiently thinning out and tearing pieces of floury dough into a wok filled with simmering, fragrant chicken and anchovy stock. The flavours are simple – stock, fried onions, pepper – but the end result is a beautiful, steaming, soupy dish of goodness. In my household we add crispy fried onions and oil, white pepper, crunchy anchovy, prawns or pork slices and black vinegar – an influence of my dad’s Teochew heritage.

What are some of the foods that you miss from ‘back home’? Are they homecooked dishes, or regional food that isn’t readily accessible elsewhere? Share your thoughts in the comment sections below.

This post brought to you by A-Word-A-Week Challenge fromΒ A Word in Your Ear. Every week, Skinnywench will dip into her old Oxford English dictionary, and pick a random wordto blog about – either a picture or a story that best captures the meaning of that word. This week’s word: “Food.”




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28 Comments

  1. skinnywench says:

    Wonderful, I want to book a flight back to Malaysia right now or visit your mum!

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      Trust me, after I finished writing this post I was a) very hungry and b) longing for mum and home!

  2. NicoleHmm says:

    This is making me really hungry! I love Asian food! <3

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      Me too! It’s so varied though – there are so many choices and variations. What’s your favourite Asian food and are there any that you miss particularly if you no longer live in your hometown?

      1. NicoleHmm says:

        I’m from the Philippines, but I love Chinese and Japanese dishes! Oh I miss all that! Moved to Norway, and I’m quite tired of eating bread here.. hehe πŸ˜‰

        1. Peggy Tee says:

          No way, you moved to Norway?! Aren’t there Asian restaurants there? Or are they quite thin on the ground? I’m actually heading up to Oslo, Bergen and Tromso next year – any local tips and such about where to eat, stay and what to do would be greatly appreciated!

          1. Nikki says:

            Ohh then I reccomend visiting Hong Kong Garden! Their roasted Pecking Duck is definitely a must-try! And if you have some spare time, maybe you can go see Geiranger.

          2. Peggy Tee says:

            What’s Geiranger, Nikki? We are in Oslo, Bergen and Tromso – local recommends welcome! Thanks! x

          3. Nikki says:

            It’s a famous tourist spot! It’s located in central Norway though. I’m not so familiar with the spots in the cities you named since I haven’t been there myself *blush*, but here’s a site that might just help you!
            http://www.visitnorway.com/en/Where-to-go/Fjord-Norway/The-Geirangerfjord/

          4. Peggy Tee says:

            You’re a star, thank you Nikki! Or… what do they say in Norway? Takk? πŸ™‚

          5. Nikki says:

            Takk, yes. VΓ¦rsΓ₯god! (You’re welcome!) πŸ˜‰

  3. I’ve only had Malaysian food a few times (in the US, so probably not the real thing) but it was wonderful…. someday I hope to experience it in Malaysia.

    Since I’m “home” it’s hard to miss that food. But I do miss prsut (prosciutto) from Croatia & Montenegro – much better than the italian version. Mora (a type of blackberry) juice in Ecuador. I could drink that every day. Oh wait, I DID drink that nearly every day I was in Ecuador!

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      When you do go to Malaysia, Kevin, let me know and I’ll give you a list of all the good spots to chow down… Oh the places you will go to… and the deliciousness that you will eat!

      Any form of cured ham is good in my books, but you say that this Croatian prsut is *better* than the Italian version?! How can this be true?! I must try it for myself…. now to book a flight to Dubrovnik…

      1. Yes, someday I will go to Malaysia. So many places to go. I need a sugar momma!

        Yes, the prsut IS better in Croatia & Montenegro. It’s incredible. Such a shame I couldn’t bring a bunch back with me. Croatia is amazing – I’d happily move there.

  4. Christina says:

    Peggy!! These sound delicious.
    I love reading about all of your travels. Hope all is well on your front. =)

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      Thanks for your comment, Christina! Happy trails to you wherever you may be.

  5. wjingyi says:

    Pegs,
    Apparently the mee hoon sotong only available in Seremban and not any other states in Malaysia, not even in KL!

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      Well then that means I have no luck in finding it outside of Malaysia, if it can’t even be found outside of Seremban! Thanks for the heads up!

  6. I am not sure what I would have for a meal if I had these choices! Yummy good post. πŸ™‚

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      Do as the locals do… and have one of each, then share! πŸ˜‰

  7. stephglaser says:

    Wow…these meals all looks so amazing. You’re so right, Peggy, about food taking you places and bringing you back. I am going to travel and eat vicariously through your blog. I’d love to visit Malaysia some day. Thanks for following Travel Oops! Steph

    1. Peggy Tee says:

      Absolutely – food evokes memories. Love your blog, Steph, you made me lol! I hope you make it to Malaysia one day – it’s total foodie heaven and the best thing of all is that it’s all cheapcheapcheap! πŸ™‚

  8. I LOVE Malaysia cuisine! πŸ™‚

    1. Me too Amy! What is your favorite Malaysian meal?

  9. Siva says:

    shall i eat some yummy local food and tag you? nothing beats Malaysian food……

    1. Don’t you already do that?! :p For some reason I’m craving kuih!

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