10 Signature Malaysian Foods with healthy eating tips

Malaysia is undoubtedly food heaven. Many tourists come to Malaysia for a food trip, and many local foods are also frequent rankers on major websites, like nasi lemak, asam laksa and so on. As a multiracial country, we are fortunate enough to have the chance to taste different kinds of cuisines.

Celebrating Malaysia's 65 years old, I take this opportunity to introduce 10 signature Malaysian dishes, from a healthy eating perspective.

(I am not suggesting all the food mentioned originated in Malaysia. Instead, the foods are consumed widely and popular in the country) 

1. Nasi Lemak

No one will deny Nasi Lemak is our national dish. Nasi lemak means “fat rice”, as the rice is cooked with santan(coconut milk).
The combination of the aromatic rice with sambal, alongside with ikan bilis, cucumber slices, and salted peanut is heavenly good! It is no wonder Nasi lemak is always ranked number one in Malaysian food.

However, nasi lemak has it bad name of “lemak”, it is always accused of being the culprit of overweight and high cholesterol. The truth is, santan doesn't contain any cholesterol as it's not from animal origin. We should pay more attention to the side dishes, which is usually cook in frying method.

It is recommended to eat 1 packet of nasi lemak each time. Instead of fried chicken or fried egg, choose hard-boiled egg and ask for more cucumber from the stall owner.

2. Satay

Who can resist when you smell the smoky barbeque scent when you walk by a satay stall? Dipping the meat skewer into the slightly spicy peanut sauce, you can finish 10 skewers without realizing it.

Since it’s made from meat, satay is a good source of protein. However, it is not suitable to make it as your usual protein source. This is because to make it so irresistible, most of the satay stalls use fatty parts of meat. Besides, the charred part creates a substance called "acrylamide", which may trigger cancer if overconsume. 

To eat it in a healthier way, request leaner meat,  more cucumber and onion slices, and remove the black, overly charred part. Besides, control the amount of “satay kuah”.

3. Asam Laksa

There are different kind of laksa in Malaysia, such as Sarawak laksa, Nyonya laksa, curry laksa and so on, but Asam laksa definitely steals the name. Also known as Penang laksa, it is known for its sour + spicy+ umami broth, which is made from mackerel, tamarind and various spices.

Besides the appetizing broth, Asam laksa is usually topped with veggies, like cucumber, lettuce, onion, mint and pineapples. They not only enhance the aroma but also increase fibre content in the meal. It is a must-eat when you visit Penang! 

4. Char Kuey Teow

Another signature from Penang. Char Kuey Teow (CKT) is a stirred-fried rice noodle of Chinese origin. To cook a plate of real CKT, “wok hei” (breath of the wok) is the important key. Although it might vary from stall to stall, CKT is normally served with prawns, cockles, lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and a generous amount of bean sprouts. 

CKT is high in calories because the stir-frying process requires lots of oil. It is inhuman to stop one from eating this local gourmet, the best advice is to enjoy it once in a while and eat lighter next meal.

5. Roti Canai

The making of roti canai is like a show. Seeing the Indian man pulling the dough to tissue-like thin, flapping and throwing is so interesting to watch. Roti canai is a flatbread that originated from India, it is crispy outside but soft inside, and is best to eat with dhal.

However, the humble flatbread is loaded with calories, and the ghee contributes saturated fat that is not so heart-friendly. What’s worse is, we don’t usually eat only one piece, and it is a must to match it with teh tarik. 

Order 1 piece of roti canai instead or 2 (or three), and add on 2 eggs to increase your satiety. Or else, you might give its relative - Thosai or Chapati a try, which is much lower in fat, higher in protein and just as delicious.

6. Bak Kut Teh (it’s NON-HALAL)

How can we forget about Bak Kut Teh(BKT) when talking about Malaysia's signature food? BKT is truly originated from Malaysia, Klang to be exact. BKT means “Meat, Bone, Tea”, it is a dish where pork ribs are simmered in herbal-based soup. Although it’s not halal, the dish is very common among the Chinese population in Malaysia. 

BKT is always eaten with rice, sometimes with a plate of stir-fried vegetables as a side dish. To reduce the burden- choose lean meat, order a plate of veggies and avoid overconsuming the soup. Now we even have Chik Kut Teh (“chicken, bone, tea”), which uses chicken instead of pork. Highly recommend that Muslim friends give it a try!

7. Kaya toast and half-boiled egg

Kaya toast is a Hainanese cuisine and a national breakfast that you can easily find anywhere in Malaysia. It is served with 2 pieces of golden-toasted bread smeared with a layer of butter and kaya, and 2 runny eggs in a cup. The right way to eat it - drizzle the egg with soy sauce and white pepper, stir it, dip the toast into egg mixture and EAT. 

The simple dish contains a balanced amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat, so it is considered an ideal breakfast. However, some stall owners are too generous to give you a thick piece of butter or kaya spread on the toast, you may consider removing some of them by yourself.

8. Nasi Kandar

Nasi kandar got its name as long ago, the rice was sold by men shouldering a pole, with big baskets at each end - one with hot steamed rice and one with curry dishes. It is also a cuisine originated in Malaysia (Penang) by India Muslim, whom we called “Mamak”.

Although there is no any cannabis in the rice, nasi kandar has always been called "nasi ganja", probably because you will addicted to once you tried it!

Today, nasi kandar has become the “self-service” style, where you can choose the dishes you want, It is not hard to make a balanced meal with nasi kandar - rice, meat/fish/seafood and veggies. However, remember to not “banjir” your rice with curry, a moderate amount will do.

9. Ais Kacang

Living under the hot sun, how can Malaysian survive without ice? Ais kacang, literally means “bean ice”, is a traditional ice dessert in the country. With sweet red bean and shaved ice as based, you can top anything on ais kacang. It commonly served with corn, attap chee, peanut, and glass jelly. It is then drizzled with colourful syrups and condensed milk. Needless to say, this is basically a bowl of ice with sugar. 

Unlike drinks, you can’t ask for “kurang manis” ais kacang, it simply does not make sense. What can you do is exercise more to prevent it from converting to fat and being stored in your body.

10. Fruits

Last but not least, the fruits. With abundant sunshine, Malaysia is blessed with a lot of tropical fruits. From banana, papaya, and mango to langsat, rambutan, duku..you name it. Durian, love it or hate it, we must admit it is the “king of the fruit”.

Fruits are precious gifts to us. They are so delicious, packed with a lot of vitamins, minerals and fibre. There are no forbidden fruits, you can eat any fruit you like with the amount controlled. Eat 2 servings of fruits each day to ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs.

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