Malaysian cuisine is some of the best in the world. For centuries, the Malay Peninsula has harboured ships from the Middle East, India, Europe, China and Indonesia, with these influences culminating into Penang cuisine. While Kuala Lumpur might be the nation's official capital, Penang is undoubtedly Malaysia's food capital.
Penang Local takes you on a culinary tour of this bustling, intoxicating city in Malaysia's north. With 70 recipes for the dishes that define the city, so you can capture the magic of Malaysia at home.
- Penang Local, by Aim Aris and Ahmad Salim. Smith Street Books, $39.99.
Coconut rice - nasi lemak
Nasi lemak is a fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves. A basic nasi lemak usually comes with sambal, hard-boiled egg, sliced cucumbers, fried peanuts and fried dried anchovies, but these days just about anything goes, such as chicken rendang, cockles rendang or prawn sambal. Typically, street hawkers would wrap the nasi lemak in a banana leaf to make the rice more fragrant - a lovely way to open one's appetite in the morning. Some still do this, but many opt for brown paper as a more convenient and economical wrapping. If you go to the many street stalls, kopitiams (coffee shops) or food courts around Penang you can easily buy the mini version of nasi lemak very cheaply, offering a quick breakfast fix for locals and tourists alike.
400g basmati or long-grain rice
250ml coconut cream
5cm piece ginger, sliced
1 tsp salt
2 pandan leaves, knotted
2 large red onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
15 dried chillies, soaked in water for 15 minutes
30g dried anchovies
2.5cm piece toasted belacan (shrimp paste)
200ml vegetable oil
2 tbsp sugar, plus extra if needed
1 tbsp tamarind paste
hard-boiled eggs, halved, or fried eggs, sunny side up
fried dried anchovies
1. To make the sambal, place the red onion, garlic, drained dried chillies, dried anchovies, belacan and 100ml of the oil in a food processor or blender and process to form a paste.
2. Pour the remaining oil into a frying pan and heat over medium heat. Add the chilli paste and cook, stirring regularly, for four to five minutes until it turns a darker shade of red and the oil has separated.
3. Add the sugar and cook for another minute to let it caramelise with the sambal. Add the tamarind paste and 125ml water and cook, stirring, for three minutes or until the sambal has thickened slightly. Season to taste with salt and extra sugar if needed. Keep in mind that the sambal should be a good balance of sweet, spicy and sour flavours.
4. Wash the rice until the water runs clear, then tip it into a rice cooker. Add the coconut cream and 500ml water and stir in the ginger, salt and pandan leaves.
5. Leave to soak for five to 10 minutes, then switch the rice cooker on and cook the rice according to the manufacturer's instructions.
6. Lightly fluff up the cooked rice with a fork or a wooden spoon. Serve immediately with the sambal, egg, cucumber, peanuts and dried anchovies.
Roti jala - lacy pancakes
Roti jala literally means "net bread" in Malay, due to its lacy or net-like appearance. Traditionally, roti jala was offered during festive seasons or kenduri (Malay community gatherings) but these days it is very common to see them sold by street hawkers as a popular breakfast meal. Roti jala is usually served with chicken curry, but the locals also suggested we try it with a plate of Ayam masak bawang from a stall located in Little India. Safe to say, the flavour combo hit the spot! You will need a special roti jala cup to make these. Local Asian grocery stores that specialise in south-east Asian ingredients normally have them, but if you can't find one, you can use any squeeze bottle - preferably with three to five nozzles, otherwise make your own by puncturing five holes in a clean coconut milk (or similar) tin.
150g plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
180ml coconut milk mixed with 180ml water
vegetable oil, for pan-frying
1. Place all the ingredients except the oil in a clean bowl and stir until well combined. Strain the batter into another bowl. Use a stick blender if needed to get a really smooth texture.
2. Heat a medium frying pan over medium heat and lightly brush with oil.
3. Pour a ladleful of batter into a roti jala cup and move over the frying pan in an overlapping circular motion to create the lacy effect.
4. Leave the batter to cook until set, roughly two minutes, then slide the pancake onto a plate and allow to cool slightly. Fold in both sides of the pancake, then roll it up to form a neat roll.
5. Repeat with the remaining batter. You should have enough to make about 10 pancakes.
6. Serve the roti jala with your choice of curry.
Nyonya-style fried chicken - inche kabin
This popular Nyonya-style fried chicken was invented long ago by the Hainanese cooks for Peranakan and English households based in Penang during British colonial rule. The chicken is marinated in spices and coconut milk to give more depth of flavour than the typical Malaysian-style fried chicken, and the Worcestershire sauce in the dipping sauce clearly shows the English influence at the time of invention.
8 chicken drumsticks
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
2 red shallots, roughly chopped
1 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground fennel
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 1/2 tbsp coconut milk
Worcestershire dipping sauce:
2 tsp mustard powder
1 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp lime juice
1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1. To make the spice paste, place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blitz to a smooth paste.
2. Place the chicken in a glass or ceramic bowl, add the spice paste and turn to coat well. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least three hours, or overnight if time permits.
3. To make the dipping sauce, whisk together all the ingredients in a bowl.
4. Heat the oil for deep-frying in a wok or heavy-based saucepan over medium heat until hot and a little smoky. Add the marinated chicken, in batches if necessary, and cook for three to four minutes or until cooked and lightly golden in colour. Remove and drain on paper towel.
5. When you are ready to serve, reheat the oil over medium-high heat and deep-fry the chicken for another one to two minutes until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towel, then serve immediately with the dipping sauce.
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Prawn fritters - cucur udang
I have fond childhood memories of enjoying these fritters as an afternoon snack, usually with a cup of hot black tea. The fritters are often served with either a chilli or peanut dipping sauce but my favourite is definitely peanut sauce as its sweet-savoury flavour goes really well with the crispy prawns.
300g plain flour
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
1 tbsp air kapur (limestone water) (see note; optional)
115g kucai (Chinese chives), trimmed and snipped into 1.5cm lengths
1 large red onion, finely sliced
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
12 large banana prawns peeled and deveined, tails removed
1. Combine the flour, turmeric, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Sprinkle over the yeast, add 435ml water and mix well. Stir in the air kapur, if using, kucai and sliced onion. Allow the batter to rest for at least 30 minutes to yield a crispier fritter.
2. Heat the oil for deep-frying in a wok over medium-high heat until hot and a little smoky. When the oil is ready, dip a stainless-steel spoon into the hot oil and leave for 15-20 seconds, then lift it out and pour about two tablespoons of the batter into the spoon. Place one prawn on the batter, then gently lower the spoon into the hot oil. Cook for one to two minutes until the batter has firmed up and started to separate from the spoon, then push the fritter off the spoon into the oil to finish cooking over medium heat until golden brown, about three to four minutes. Once the fritter is in the oil, start on the next one.
3. Remove the cooked fritters with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Repeat with the remaining batter and prawns. Serve warm with your choice of dipping sauce.
Note: To make limestone water, blend one teaspoon limestone paste with one tablespoon water. Limestone paste can be easily purchased online or from Asian grocery stores specialising in Southeast Asian ingredients. It is added to the batter to make the fritters super light and crisp, but you can omit it if you are unable to source it.
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp Malaysian chilli paste
1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, bruised
1.5cm piece galangal, peeled (optional)
21/2 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp ground coriander
140g ground dry-roasted peanuts
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp kecap manis
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chilli paste and stir-fry for one to two minutes until aromatic. Add the lemongrass, galangal, brown sugar and coriander and stir-fry for another 30 seconds.
2. Stir in the ground peanuts, tamarind paste, kecap manis and up to 125 ml water. Season to taste with salt.
3. Reduce the heat to medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for five to 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened to your desired consistency and the oil has separated. Remove from the heat and leave to cool at room temperature. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days or in the freezer for up to three months.
Makes about 500ml.
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