Malaysia is an epicurean’s delight when it comes to the richness of its dishes which is defined by the exotic Malaysian spices used in Malaysian cuisine. It is also a hub of diverse cultures, which brings in distinct culinary variations. The cultural influence in Malaysia was a result of the spice trade that gave rise to the influx of many ethnic races back in the 12th century.
A brief history of Spice trade
India and South East Asia was a treasure house of exotic spices and Malaysia, in particular, was known for its pepper. The southeast state of Malacca in Malaysia was an important naval base for trade routes from Europe, India, and China in 400 AD as its deep shores made it easier for ships to dock and the Straits of Malacca was sheltered from storms with the Malaysian Peninsula to the east and the island of Sumatra to the west.
Back then, spices weren’t just for flavouring your food. It was the primary ingredient in medicine, preserving food, incense, and even perfumes. As such because of the high demand for such spices, particularly in Europe, spices were instrumental in trade between East and West.
Malaysia’s major export, being pepper, accounted for over a quarter of all its spice trade. Other spices included cumin, coriander, nutmeg, and cloves that were exported all over the world.
Malacca eventually became the richest seaport in the world during 1500 and came to be known as the most influential port in Southeast Asia which impacted the course of the Malaysia’s history, culture, cuisine, and traditions.
While the spice trade flourished, the influences of different countries and cultures, brought in from merchant traders. migrants, and missionary travellers came into being, giving rise to the eclectic approach towards refining the cuisines.
Influence of cultures on dishes:
The amicable nature of Malaysians was instrumental in giving rise to the influx of cuisines.
It can be seen that the influence of Chinese cuisine is evident in the use of soy sauce and noodles throughout Malaysia, and the use of lemongrass and ginger was brought down from Thailand whereas the typical plantain leaf meal and usage of turmeric was an approach common with the South Indian states as is the satay and nasi goreng (fried rice) dishes hailed from Indonesia. It is interesting to note that the Malaysian cuisine mostly uses meat especially beef, goat, and lamb as many people are of Muslim faith and the dishes that are made of pork also have a beef and chicken counterpart.
However, if you are a vegetarian it could be a challenge to eat in Malaysia since most of the dishes use meat broth as a base, but you can still make do with the rich variety of exotic fruits that are available in abundance.
You can most evidently see all these influences in the food culture and even while you have street food in Penang, Malacca, and various parts of Malaysia.
As time rolled by the spice trade became a pivotal influence in Malaysia’s ethnic and culinary landscape making it a melting pot of cultures and also a food lover’s paradise.
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