A typical spread of
Nonya food, which is often time consuming to prepare but well worth the
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ethnic society . . . . melting pot of Asian and other international
cuisines . . . where greetings come in four main languages . . . a
straits settlement cuisine known as Nonya food is so unique that it
can only be found in Malaysia . . world's oldest rain forest . .
. . malaysia
CULINARY EXCHANGES AMONGST THE
CHINESE, THE INDIANS AND THE MALAYS HAS MADE THE PENINSULA A TRUE MELTING POT
OVER THE CENTURIES THE
MALAY PENINSULA SAW SHIPS ARRIVING FROM ARABIA, INDIA AND LATER FROM
EUROPEAN COUNTRIES IN THE WEST . . AND FROM THE EAST CAME THE
CHINESE AND SIAMESE VESSELS.
HERE THE DELICACY
OF CHINESE COOKING, PLUS THE EXUBERANCE OF INDIAN SPICES AND THE FRAGRANCE
OF MALAY HERBS CO-EXIST IN PERFECT HARMONY.
Malaysia was formed in 1963 through a merging of the former British colonies of Malaya and Singapore, including the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo. The first several years of the country's history were marred by Indonesian efforts to control Malaysia, Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore's secession in 1965.
Malaysia, a middle income country, transformed itself from 1971 through the late 1990s from a producer of raw materials into an emerging multi-sector economy. Growth is almost exclusively driven by exports - particularly of electronics - and, as a result Malaysia was hard hit by the global economic downturn and the slump in the Information Technology (IT) sector in 2001. GDP in 2001 grew only 0.3% due to an estimated 11% contraction in exports, but a substantial fiscal stimulus package has mitigated the worst of the recession and the economy is expected to grow by 2% to 3% in 2002 as the world economy rebounds. Kuala Lumpur's healthy foreign exchange reserves and relatively small external debt make it unlikely that Malaysia will experience a crisis similar to the crisis of 1997, but the economy remains vulnerable to a more protracted downturn in the US and Japan, top export destinations and key sources of foreign investment.
NONYA - THE FOOD OF LOVE
The so-called Straits-born Chinese,
descendents of early settlers in Penang and Malacca, combine elements of
both Malay and Chinese culture; quite unlike the mass of Chinese migrants
who arrived around the turn of the century. These pioneering Chinese
traders took Malay wives, although as time went on, children of these
early mixed marriages generally married pure Chinese or the children of
other Straits Chinese. The men, known as Babas, and the women,
Nonyas, generally spoke a mixture Chinese and Malay and combine the
best of both cuisines in the kitchen. Distinct differences evolved between
the cuisine of the Penang Nonyas and that of Malacca. Penang, being
geographically closer to Thailand has produced a range of Nonya food that
exhibits a passion for sourness, combined with fiery hot chilies, fragrant
herbs and pungent black shrimp paste. The sour flavor is the result of the
fondness of Nonya cooks in using lots of lime and tamarind juice. The
Malaccan Nonyas, on the other hand, tend to prepare food that is generally
rich in coconut milk and Malay spices such as coriander and cumin. Sugar
is quite liberally featured in the recipes of their southern cousins. One
very unique style of the Nonya cuisine is their imaginative ways of
preparing fruits and vegetables. Sweet potato leaves, tiny sour carambola,
unripe jackfruit and the heart of the banana bud are all transformed in
the kitchen, added to and blended with aromatic leaves such as kaffir,
turmeric, pandan, and polygonum or laksa leaf.
One of the most popular Nonya dishes among
Malaysians and their southern neighbor of any background is the Laksa,
a rice-noodle soup that marries Malay seasonings with Chinese noodles.
THE MALAYSIAN KITCHEN &
Whatever the ethnic community eating is a
communal activity, whether at home or in a restaurant. The assortment of
dishes appear all at once, diners get individual serving of rice and then
help themselves to the dishes using a serving spoon. An exception to this
is during a Chinese banquet, a formal eight or ten course dinner, where
the dishes appear sequentially. In Malaysia, Chinese food is usually eaten
with chopsticks, although at some Chinese food stalls and in many Chinese
homes forks, spoons and plates are used. Sucking or licking the tips of
chopsticks is considered impolite and contact between the mouth and the
tips should be kept to a minimum. Spoons are set out for larger mouthfuls.
Chinese tea is traditionally drunk with Chinese food.
"Don't use your fingers" is not an
admonishment you will hear often in Malaysia. The Indians, Malays and the
Straits Chinese ( the babas and nonyas ) will testify to the ' fact ' that
curry and rice taste best when one can literally feel the food with one's
fingers! Eating with your hands has its own etiquette too. Only the right
hand is used, and just the tip of the fingers, mind you. The palm is kept
perfectly clean. Washing the hands before eating is not only polite but
hygienic. In Indian 'banana leaf' restaurants, there will usually
be adequate water basins and soaps for customers to clean up. Even with
hands, diners should touch only the food on their plate or banana
leaf and the left hand is used to hold the serving spoon to keep it clean.
Most Malaysian kitchen these days are a
wonderful blend of old and new. You can find a top-of-the-range microwave
sitting next to a small stone mortar and pestle or a food processor next
to a well-seasoned wok.
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