Food For Thought — December 18, 2015 at 11:25 am

Trying to Diversify Your Holiday? Spice Things Up Malaysia-Style


malaysia spices

While geographically Malaysia is an Asian country, it is widely known as being a true melting pot of civilization.  Throughout history, people from far and wide have traveled to this successful city on the sea, inviting a truly open exchange of cultural and culinary ideas and traditions. This welcoming land was a convenient and prosperous place to dock after long journeys, and sailors and merchants would stay for extended periods of time, delving into the rich tapestry that comprised the many influences of this warm and diverse country.

Meat dishes play a central role in Malaysian cuisine, and are often enjoyed in both traditional and “street food” form. Beef, lamb, and poultry are some of the cornerstones of Malaysian cooking, and living off the fat of the land is a tradition as old as Malaysia itself. Given its geographical location as a port city, it is also no surprise that seafood is another primary source of protein for both natives and tourists alike, all living fruitfully off of the natural bounty of the sea. Seafood dishes are served any which way you could imagine: steamed, fried, sweet and sour, spicy, baked, or even raw.

banana leaf

The variances in Malaysia’s tropical climate has allowed residents to truly benefit from the vast variety of vegetables that play a supporting role in Malaysian cuisine, often stir fried with condiments and spices. More than anywhere else in Southeast Asia, Malaysian cuisine effortlessly combines the influences of the thousands of years of travelers.  Visitors will find the amount of options overwhelming, but also simple to navigate and ultimately rewarded by a delectable, one plate meal.

I had the opportunity to attend an event that was meant not only to encourage Malaysian tourism, but was meant as an expository look at how to incorporate Malaysian flavors and spices into a (specifically Christmas) menu. Led by Gina Keatley, a well known nutritionist, TV host, and self pronounced newbie to Malaysian cuisine, she walks the audience through a few techniques on adjusting your typical American Christmas menu. Keatley explains how much of Malaysia’s melting pot of cultures and cuisines directly appeals to the sensitivity of a New Yorker. Who better to appreciate the myriad of influences on Malaysian culture than someone from another city that prides itself on cultural and culinary diversity?


Let’s talk turkey. If you’re tired of the same old Thanksgiving or Christmas kind of bird that you make every year, trying spicing things up (literally) with an off the beaten path blend of spices to crust the turkey with. Ginger, five spice, garlic, soy sauce, Hoisin sauce, honey, and brown sugar whisk together to coat the turkey, giving it a golden glaze. The turkey is then stuffed with lemons or oranges and gives it an additional bright, vivacious flavor. Stuffing evolves to sticky-rice accented with dried shrimp, sesame oil, cloves, sherry, soy sauce, Chinese mushroom caps and oyster sauce – just enough to give it a little funk, and a whole lot of flavor.

Regardless of whether or not you are fully ready to plunge head first into a new Christmas tradition, it is worthwhile to consider Malaysian cuisine as something to add to your dietary rotation – whether at home or out exploring new restaurants.

Twisted Talk: Have you ever tried Malaysian cuisine before? What do you think of spicing up your Christmas turkey? Discuss below!

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