Having spent 7 months living in the city of Cyberjaya, about an hour outside of Kuala Lumpur, I got to know the country at least a little bit. It’s a big country and due to work commitments we didn’t get to travel as much as we would have liked, but we certainly enjoyed the whole Malaysian experience.
Of course a large part of that experience relates to food, and the rest of the world is slowly waking up to the joys of Malaysian cuisine. However, even though most of the food was incredible, sometimes it proved a little difficult to adapt to Malaysian snacking habits. I’ve picked out five of the weirder snacks that I sampled on my travels in that beautiful country.
Popcorn is devilishly difficult to find in many parts of Malaysia – certainly in Cyberjaya where we were staying. That is why I was delighted to come across a packet of the stuff in a small shop in the centre of town and didn’t bother checking what it was flavoured with. To quote the travel writer Richard Sterling, the smell of a durian fruit ‘is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock’. Not exactly the most appetising description you would think, and yet Malaysian people love these things. We tried one of these smelly fruits at an open market – it’s not bad, kind of a wet, custardy texture but tasted alright – but it’s not a natural partner for popcorn.
I literally would not feed these things to a cat, much less a human I had any sort of empathy for. I am not sure who pops down to their local convenience store with the intention of purchasing dried fish fillets, but I guess there is a market for them somewhere. This snack managed the remarkable feat of tasting even worse than I was sure it would, and I was unable to even come close to finishing off the packet. Imagine getting a dead fish, peeling a few strips off of it and then toasting and salting those strips. Well dried fish fillets taste like that, except more so and in a bad way.
To rob a sentence from Wikipedia, ‘The cephalopod class of molluscs, particularly the Coleoidea subclass (cuttlefish, squid, octopuses), are thought to be the most intelligent invertebrates and an important example of advanced cognitive evolution in animals.’ With that in mind, it is only to be hoped that the cuttlefish used to flavour these snacks didn’t know in advance what his fate would be. While cuttlefish may be smarter than pretty much anything else in the ocean (and quite a few people walking around up here as well) they do suffer from the unfortunate fact of being tasty. You really don’t want to be a delicious creature when there are humans about the place, because they are just going to find various ways to kill and eat you. In fact these cuttlefish-flavoured chips were probably the tastiest of all these snacks, just as long as you can forget the fact that one of the principal ingredients could probably solve a Rubik’s cube.
Dried seaweed tastes exactly as bad as you imagine it’s going to taste. Sure, there is the smug satisfaction to be gained from chomping through strips of this stuff while all around are eating far less healthy treats. However, this is negated by the fact that you are basically eating rectangles of toasted grass which have been liberally sprinkled with salt. There is a reason that salt has been prized through centuries of human existence, but it can’t work miracles. They even sell a seaweed-flavoured Pringles, but this is a black mark against the otherwise good name of Pringles and should be avoided at all costs.
I have spent the last few paragraphs being less than complimentary about various Malaysian snacks, so think it’s only fair to finish on a positive note. Malaysia is justifiably famous for its street food, and if you are ever in Kuala Lumpur you should make it your business to check out Jalan Alor. This street is lined with stalls selling every type of dish you can imagine, including the most famous Malaysian dish of all: Nasi Lemak.
This dish is the equivalent of fish and chips in the UK or paella in Spain, as it is the one dish that everybody in Malaysia loves. It usually comprises of a meat like chicken or lamb, accompanied by cucumber, a boiled egg and the beautiful rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves that give the dish its unique flavour. When you buy the street version, it will be served to you wrapped in a banana leaf, but regardless of whether you eat it from a leaf or a plate it will be delicious.
Hopefully this quick tour of Malaysian snack-foods hasn’t quelled your hunger to come visit this amazing country. Besides its awesome cuisine, Malaysia offers beautiful beaches, tropical jungles, stunning scenery and some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you will meet anywhere in the world. If it’s not already on your bucket list, then you need to make a new list with Malaysia near the top!
Written by Ross, the founder & owner of www.howtoraveller.com blog.
collection of personal photos by the author