Meet Chien, Malay Fellow at Brown University.
Apa khabar? My name is Chien Teng and I am from Malaysia!
When I introduce myself as Malaysian, people often mistake me for being of Malay heritage; that isn’t the case. Heterogeneous in nature, we actually have three major races – Malay, Chinese and Indian. We also have whole host of smaller, indigenous races, and have lived together for hundreds of years now. Pretty cool, huh?
Malaysians fondly use the word “rojak” to describe this melting pot of cultures and races. What is rojak, you ask? Rojak means “mixture”, and it is the name of a dish that comprises various fruits, vegetables and meats doused in a thick, tangy peanut sauce. (It is super delicious, I swear.)
Now that I’ve given you some background information, I would like to elucidate on a topic Malaysians are famous worldwide for – our food! The historical migration of various races into our country has culminated in a culinary style that has incorporated a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Portuguese, Thai and Arabian cuisines. Because of this interesting amalgamation of flavors, our cuisines are said to be very exotic and unlike any other.
While I would love to introduce some popular dishes to you – nasi lemak, char kuey teow, laksa, roti canai— I do face a predicament: 1. There are far too many. 2. I think the cultural significance of our food is more interesting!
After all, should I really torture you with vivid descriptions of food that is hardly accessible here in the States? Perhaps…
To start the day, there is no distinction between what one can eat for breakfast, brunch, lunch, tea or dinner in Malaysia. Most dishes are in fact, “all-day-eatable.” This is because Malaysians can have rice/noodles at literally ANY TIME OF THE DAY. Don’t be surprised if I tell you I’ve had the same dish three times in one day – it has happened before!
We also have many “cross-cultural” foods.
“Wait, isn’t all your food cross-cultural?” you might ask.
Well, let me explain. Even though we have distinctly Malaysian cuisines, these are actually further subcategorized into “Chinese Malaysian” cuisine, “Indian Malaysian” cuisine, and many more, which are native dishes that have been localized to the Malaysian taste; you can’t actually find these Chinese/Indian Malaysian dishes in China or India!
We also have cross-cultural cuisines that are distinctly a mix of particular culinary styles. Malaysia is home to Mamaks (Indian Muslims) and Peranakans (mixed Chinese/Malay), both of whom have created their own genre of food – Mamak food and Nyonya food, respectively. Nyonya food, for example, uses Chinese ingredients but mixes them with South-East Asian spices such as coconut milk and lemongrass.
The last thing you should know about Malaysians is that we LOVE our durian. Known as the King of Fruits, this thorny fruit possesses a unique taste that is quite… indescribable. You will fall into one of two schools of thought – love it, or hate it. Its odor is so strong that many hotels ban it from their premises!
It may prove a challenge to find authentic Malaysian food here in the States, but I know that just makes me want to scream “Challenge accepted!” all the more. We’ll start with the easiest – try finding some instant Maggi Mee in your local market!
Chia Chien Teng ‘17 is an economics concentrator at Brown University from sunny Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She enjoys marathoning Korean dramas, learning languages and travelling. Oh, and sleeping. Read more about her here.