As a 7th generation Malay myself, I’d like to think I know at least a smattering about my own cuisine; so much so to be able to put into words the utterly delectable and intricately spiced dishes of the Malay culture. Here, unbeknownst to many, exist 3 distinctly different versions. The original Indonesian Malay dishes, its hybrid in Malaysian cuisine influenced by its neighbors and lastly to the shores of our own island which the Sri Lankan Malay community also call their home.

While some Malay dishes veer off into dragon breath land, others embody a savory sweetness which is again tinged with heat. Lemongrass, chillies and coconut feature heavily in all 3 distinctions with the South Asian versions leaning toward the sweeter side and the Lankan’s bringing in the heat. So without further ado; I present an insight into Makanan di Melayu


A well-loved delicacy the world over, Satay is a dry dish of beef, chicken or mutton, marinated to perfection with a blend of chillies, lemongrass, ginger, garlic and coconut, paired sometimes with a peanut sauce in kebab form or eaten as a side dish to a simple dish of rice and curry. In Sri Lanka, satay is a hybrid of its slow cooked cousin rendang. Over a low flame, the meat absorbs the essence of the ground coconut spice mix to result in the most nirvana-esque taste journey you will ever experience. But that’s just me – be sure to try it for yourselves!


Sri Lanka’s version of Nasi Goreng has actually become a staple favourite nationwide as well as regular lunches featuring their own version of the Gurang . Contrary to popular Sri Lankan belief however nasi does not mean fried and goreng does not mean rice – so just for the record it directly translates to rice fried and not vice versa. No matter! The key ingredient in the original version is ofcourse belacan a salty shrimp head/tail paste that transforms the Goreng into something worth writing about. Seasoned with soya sauce and its regular condiment companions, it’s often served with satay skewers, fried prawn crackers and a lovely egg fried sunny side up. It’s the perfect thing to exercise those restraints on your waistband.


A family favourite? A taste to get acquainted with? Sometimes even integrated into Sinhala/Tamil New Year tables, Dodol is the most well-known sweetmeat in Malay cuisine. Made from coconut milk, jaggery and rice flour, it’s sticky, thick and sweet. Sometimes if you’re lucky, a bit just may reward you with a yummy caramelised cashewnut as a bonus.


Like most households around Sri Lanka, you may have had to throw away some overripe bananas at one point or other in your lifetime. As a tropical island, bananas are abundant in Sri Lanka, and many scrupulous Sri Lankan Malay grandmother / Neyney would turn these into soft delicious banana fritters. Officially called Kuih Kodok (Kodok means Toad in Malay – given the resemblance! ) in Sri Lanka these are fondly referred to as pillows and are delicious dipped in treacle or on its own eaten while warm. Basically mashed up overripe bananas are mixed with flour, eggs and sugar – generous spoonfuls then dropped into hot oil to form this delicious snack.


An absolute favourite come Ramadan or Haj festival, legend has it that the humble Watalappan has the power to turn even the greatest of enemies into friends! Jaggery, thick coconut milk, cardamom, nutmeg and a whole lot of eggs (A dozen or so to a big bowl in fact) are whisked together by hand and either steamed or baked and garnished with cashews. While the Indonesian’s have their own in the form of serikaya nothing beats our local version.


We’ve all had the popular Sri Lankan short-eat pattis at some time in our life. But have you tried its Malay big brother the pasthol? Almost double the size, the local Malay version features a traditional filling of fried tripe or baabath tempered with onions and potatoes – delicious deep fried goodness! In Malaysia you get a similar version in the form of the curry puff – curry based potatoes, boiled egg and chicken or beef encased in a thick pastry shell, fried to a golden brown.

While this is just a snapshot of the many yummy delicacies found in Malay cuisine, it’s safe to say that it continues to grow thanks to cultural influences from neighboring countries and novel takes on family favourites. Whatever it may be, the soul of Malay cooking lies in the warmth and hospitability of its people, so be sure to indulge yourself in their company AND cooking if you do get the opportunity!

By Raiza Saldin

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