The unique appeal of Chinese food is its vast menu. Just as the Chinese will eat anything with their backs facing the sun, the cooks will cook it in every conceivable way. For example, there are countless variations revolving on one simple theme of noodles. Give it a little gravy and some salted anchovies, it’s called ‘Pan Mee’; fry it over a flaming wok with some soy sauce and it becomes ‘Char Keow Teow’; marinate the noodles in rich oil with prawns and it’s called ‘Hokkien Mee’; the list goes on.
While Chinese food is generally mild in taste, the Malaysian Chinese have innovated and produced dishes with a touch of Indian and Malay cooking, creating food that can be equally as spicy. Chopsticks are the preferred method to eat and should be used correctly; not crossed in the centre and used in an ‘X’ motion.
Chicken and pork is extremely popular but exotic meats such as venison, frogs, shark fins, snails and even the occasional lizard are used. Chinese food is probably the most varied in Malaysia and best of all, it’s everywhere – from hawker stalls to ‘kopitiams’ (shop lot restaurants decked with the barest furnishings) and fancy restaurants to the humble Chinese home.
Here are some dishes to sample:
Bah Kut Teh
A truly Malaysian-Chinese dish, Bah Kut Teh originated from Klang a few decades ago from Klang in Selangor state. It was prepared by a stall owner under a bridge for coolies in the area who smoked opium. As their taste buds were affected by the drug, they lacked their sense of taste. What the stall owner did was boil pork ribs and intestines in strong Chinese medical herbs, creating a stew that was ripe with aroma. From there, Bah Kut Teh caught on and became a nation-wide phenomenon.
Today, there is even Chik Kut Teh, a chicken-based version of the stew but it is considered a pale simulacrum of the original. Bah Kut Teh is usually eaten with a bowl of rice and drunk with tea as the dish is quite oily. Bah Kut Teh is so good, that Chinese will drive from one state to the other to find a stall that serves it well. It is widely available in most states but the best still comes from its birthplace – Klang.
A popular breakfast, Dim Sum refers to a collection of meats and savoury items put on small saucers, kept hot in bamboo baskets and served ala carte via a push-cart tray. Patrons of restaurant then choose which kinds of dishes they want and pick the baskets from the tray.
Some of the popular dishes include ‘Siew Mai’, roasted pork balls, ‘Wu Kok’, crispy yam dumplings and ‘Har Gau’, whole shrimps wrapped in a floury package.
The perennial Chinese favourite, Kai Fan or ‘Chicken Rice’ is cooked and enjoyed by Chinese all over the world, originating first from Hainan province in China. Although there are many variations of the meat from steamed white chicken to barbequed pork, roasted chicken remains the most popular.
First, the chicken is meticulously marinated (whole) and then roasted in an oven until crispy brown. The rice, on the other hand, is cooked with the leftover stock in a pot, sometimes with a touch of butter. Finally, cucumber slices are placed together with the chicken and rice to make Kai Fan. Over the years, the Chinese have innovated to serve other things instead of chicken such as roasted duck and curried boar
Tai Chow isn’t a dish but merely a reference to a wide range of food cooked on-the-fly. Patrons make their choices from a menu and the chef then cooks it on a flaming wok to serve it fresh and hot.
From fried rice to glass noodles and steamed fish with ginger to sweet-and-sour pork ribs, Tai Chow is the easiest way to sample Chinese cuisine at one go.