Feb 23, 2009


Chicken Rice

Chinese merchants and traders have long ago been linked to the Malayan Peninsula in the South China Sea. The natural port of Malacca was a strategic trading post and a vital link to other traders from far across the globe. In order to establish trade and diplomatic ties, the ruling Chinese Emperor ordered a royal entourage to escort Princess Hang Li Po to marry the Sultan of Malacca. This historic juncture marked the first Chinese settlers in the port town of Malacca on the Malayan Peninsula. Many of these early settlers intermarried and integrated with local Malays, forming a unique community called Peranakan.

It was, however, later in history during the 1800s, that the Chinese came in masses to the Malayan Peninsula. It was during the era of the last European colonists, the British, that a large influx of Chinese journeyed to the Malayan Peninsula for employment. Tin had long since been discovered in the jungles of the Malayan Peninsula. It was only now under the British, that large scale tin mining was viable and operational. The booming tin mining industry attracted the much needed workforce of Chinese who came in large numbers, mostly from the Southern provinces of China.  These early Chinese migrants were guest workers who came with the intention of one day returning to their homeland and families. Although the majority of Chinese were employed in the tin mining industry, some were small business merchants and artisans. Various small businesses, those supporting the tin mining industry and those in general soon contributed to the initial economic growth of the country. When Malaysia gained independence from the British in 1957, many Chinese returned to their homeland in China; and many more chose to stay, making up 26% of today's population of 22 million in Malaysia. 

The Chinese brought with them not only their skills, culture, languages and customs but also the various provincial styles of Chinese cuisines. Chinese cuisine in Malaysia is mainlyCantonese, Hokkien, Hainanese, Teochew and Hakka styles of cooking. Chinese cuisine is generally milder compared to Malay or Indian fare. But thanks to the influence from this multiethnic country, Chinese cuisine in Malaysia, has taken on a spicier touch, often reinventing classic Chinese dishes. Many Chinese dishes are unique in Malaysia and not found in China. Chilies are used frequently to bestow fiery hotness to many of it's dishes such as the famous Chili Crab - also known asSingapore Chili Crab in Singapore.

The best known and most popular variety of Chinese food isCantonese food. The food is quickly stir-fried with just a touch of oil and the result is crisp and fresh. With Cantonese food, the more people sitting at a meal the better, because dishes are traditionally shared so everyone will manage to sample the greatest variety. A corollary of this is that Cantonese food should be balanced: traditionally, all foods are said to be either Yin [cooling] like vegetables, most fruits and clear soup; or Yang [heat-y] like starchy foods and meat. A cooling food should be balance with a heat-y food and with not too much of one or the other.

Cantonese specialty is Dim Sum or 'little heart'. Dim sum is usually consumed during lunch or as a brunch, popular on weekends. Dim sum restaurants are usually large, noisy affairs - the dim sum served in little baskets or bowls and are whisked around the tables on individual trolleys or carts. As they come by , you simply ask for a plate of this or a bowl of that. At the end the meal you are billed according to the empty containers on your table. The dim sum has between 10 to 30 items and includes delights such as Steamed Pork & Shrimp DumplingsSteamed Pork RibletsSteamed Vegetable DumplingsSteamed Soft Noodles with shrimp, Steamed Crabsticks stuffed with fish paste, Deep-fried Dumplings with salted eggs, Steamed Red Bean cakes and delicious desserts of Baked Egg Custard to name a few. Cantonese cuisine offers dishes from one end of the gastronomic spectrum - pricey delicacies like Braised AbaloneShark's Fin SoupBird's Nest Soup to meals on the cheap like Mee [noodles] andCongee  [rice porridge] - on the other end of the spectrum.

Far less familiar than the food from Canton are the cuisines from the North and the West of China - SzechuanShanghaiand PekingSzechuan food is the fiery food of China, where red pepper and chili really get into the act. While food from Canton is delicate and understated, Szechuan food flavors are strong and dramatic - garlic and chilies play their part in dishes like Szechuan BeefMa Po Tofu [Chili Tofu] and the ubiquitous Hot & Sour Soup.

Beijing or Peking food is, of course best known for the famousPeking Duck. Beijing food is less subtle than Cantonese food. Beijing food is usually eaten with hot steamed buns, pancakes or noodles, as rice is not grown in the cold regions of the north of China. In Malaysia, the traditional pancakes served with Peking Duck are often omitted, rice being favored by diners in local Chinese restaurants.

Shanghai food is not easily found in Malaysia. Since most of Malaysia's Chinese are from the South, particularly fromHainan and Hakka, it is quite easy to find food from this region. Throughout Malaysia, one of the most widespread economical meal is Hainan Chicken Rice.  The Hainanese are also famous for Steamboat, an Oriental version of the Swiss Fondue or Japanese Shabu-Shabu. Thin slices of raw meat, seafood and vegetables are cooked at the table in a pot of soup broth heated by hot charcoals. Nowadays 'electric Steamboats' are more the norm especially in restaurants.

Although Hokkien food is rated on the lower end of the Chinese gastronomic scale, it has provided the popularHokkien Fried Mee; thick egg noodles fried with meat, seafood and vegetables in a rich soy sauce. Another famous Hokkien treat is Popiah or Hokkien Spring Rolls; a vegetable filling of stewed jicama [sengkuang], carrots and bean sprouts are rolled in a rice paper wrapper with minced prawns, fried shallots and lettuce. A very popular Hokkien herbal soup isBak Kut Teh [also spelt Bakuteh]which in English is translated as 'Pork Rib [Pork Bone] Tea', traditionally served for breakfast as an invigorating tonic to start the day with Ewe Char Koay [Chinese crullers]. Pork ribs are long simmered in a 'tea' of Chinese medicinal herbs and whole cloves of garlic, often with dried shitake mushrooms added for a rich, earthy flavor. A chicken version Chi Kut Teh [also spelt Chikuteh] is also popular.

Teochew food, from the area around Swatow in China, is another style noted for it's delicate and at the same time robust flavors. This cuisine is famous for it's seafood as well as it's Congee [rice porridge]. Teochew Congee is a simple meal; a bowl of rice porridge is served with a medley of small appetizing side dishes, to pick and choose from. The most popular Chinese hawker dish is Char Kway Teow; flat rice noodles fried with fresh shrimp, cockles, bean sprouts, egg, and chives made hot to taste with a smoky chili paste.

Hakka dishes are also easily found in food centers. The best known Hakka dish is the Yong Tau Foo. Soy Bean cakes [tofu], bitter gourd, whole red chilies and various other vegetables are stuffed with a fish or seafood paste, then steamed or boiled in a broth and served with a chili dipping sauce.


Mooncakes are a must during the Mid Autumn or Mooncake Festival, when the moon is at it's brightest all year. Rich and sweet, these special celebratory cakes are made with various fillings of sweet red bean paste, white lotus seeds, lotus seed paste and a whole egg yolk, symbolizing the full moon.

In Malaysia, there are countless Chinese restaurants, hawker stalls and Chinese coffee shops "Kopitiams".  Kopitiamstypically serve customers coffee and other hot or cold beverages. Independent hawker stalls operate in the same way, offering customers a myriad of culinary delights. There are upscale Chinese restaurants offering Chinese specialties and delicacies, many of which are large scale premises; especially in major hotels, that also cater to special celebrations and wedding banquets. For everyday dining, there are Hawker Centers everywhere selling noodle type dishes and other local fare. Hawker Centers can range from 3 or 4 hawker stalls together in one spot, to huge Hawker Centers with never-ending hawker stalls offering a bewildering array of food.