Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
Malaysia has some of the best cheap eats in the world. Ok, so I’m biased, being from the place. But still, take my word for it. Once you try the hawker food, you’ll love it too.
Hawkers are vendors who sell their creations from a food truck or stand. Each hawker has his or her own speciality, and usually only serves the one or two dishes that he specializes in. Over time, Malaysians have created hawker centres, where several hawkers gather together around a set of tables under the same roof. Diners can order from whichever hawker catches their fancy.
My favourite hawker meal has got to be curry laksa (both As are A as in Arbour) – a noodle dish with a spicy, coconut-infused curry broth. I love it with “bee hoon” or thin rice noodles because I think they are the best vehicle for the delicious broth. The dish is usually served with lime to cut through the coconut milk in the soup. Other toppings include deep fried tofu puffs (cut in half for maximum soup-soaking action), shredded chicken, and bean sprouts. Often, you can also ask for squid or stingray (yes, it’s good!) instead of the chicken. I’m very picky with my curry laksa – only the best will do. Through trial and error over several years, these two hawker centres are my favourite.
If you can’t handle the spices, try the char koay teow (pronounced char as in cha cha the dance, koay as in k-way, and teow rhymes with yow). In the most authentic (and delicious!) version, flat rice noodles or “koay teow” are stir fried over hot charcoal to give it that distinctive smoky flavour. Toppings include eggs, been sprouts and blood cockles. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get some slices of sweet Chinese sausage or “lap cheong”. Malaysians are generally ever in search of spicy dishes, so if you don’t want yours with chilli, just tell the chef.
Another one of my favourites is prawn noodles, or as the locals call it “prawn mee.” The mildly spicy stock is flavoured with prawn shells, giving it a sweet aroma. Again, my noodle of choice here is bee hoon, although this dish is traditionally served with mee or fresh noodles made of wheat and eggs, which gives noodles its yellow colour. Toppings include a freshly boiled egg, more shrimp, fried onions and morning glory.
At RM 5 or under USD 2 a bowl, these noodle dishes are cheap, delicious and satisfying. No trip to Malaysia will be complete without trying at least one of these dishes.
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