‘Jalan’ is the Malaysian word for street or road, and simply means ‘to stroll’. At a humid 80 plus degrees throughout the year, you don’t really feel like sitting inside the house during meal times anyway (it can get pretty suffocating!)
Streets, or Jalans, in Malaysia are brimming with stalls with live cooking stations where chefs can be seen preparing food and stirring pots. Its a sight to behold. And the aroma from the different assortment of dishes put you in a trance. For me, there are three Malaysian street foods that are still etched in my memory.
My love-hate relationship with Malaysian food goes back to 2006, when I was there for studies. To this day I still clearly remember the first thing I had there for lunch was Nasi Lemak from a roadside stall just outside the condominium I was staying at. Nasi basically means rice, and Lemak means fat or cream.
Having been used to eating long grained basmati rice back home, the short grained (somewhat sticky) rice cooked in coconut cream didn’t impress me much. It was served with a piece of fried chicken, boiled egg, fried peanuts, pickled vegetables and sambal (chili paste with anchovies- dried fish), all wrapped in a piece of brown paper! Nah, not my cup of tea. The chicken was too bland, and the sambal had a very strong taste of anchovies. It was six months before I tried Nasi Lemak again. It took me a while to get used to the flavor, but eventually, I fell in love with it. I later found out that there are variations to this dish; it can also be served with chicken or beef curry, and even fried fish.
Chicken Satay (or Satay Ayam)
My all-time-favourite Malaysian street food has to be Chicken Satay, also called Satay Ayam. Boneless, succulent pieces of chicken on bamboo sticks grilled to perfection over charcoal, and served with chunky sweet and spicy peanut sauce, rice cubes and sliced cucumber.
Every single bite feels like an explosion of flavor in your mouth. Just like Nasi Lemak, you can find Satay at every other street and night market, as well as at five-start hotels.
Char Keow Teow
My bond with Malaysian food wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Char Keow Teow – another one of my all-time favourites. This dish consists of flat rice noodles cooked with prawns, sotong (squid), dark soy sauce, belacan (shrimp paste), bean sprouts and scrambled eggs.
It is mostly served on a piece of banana leaf on a plate. You can find it almost everywhere and anywhere in Malaysia, but Penang food stalls serve the most authentic version of Char Keow Teow.