Vegan Food from Land of Multiple Spices
BY： Ng Ling Yi
《About Ling Yi》
Ling Yi was born in Penang, Malaysia. She has studied and lived in Taiwan for more than 13 years and now lives in Canada. She was a happy veg placenta with a vegetarian family for religious reason. She believed that being a vegetarian is good for health and despite of religious factors.
She insists on not killing or taking any meat even though she is hungry. She loves music, specializing in piano, guitar, erhu and gaohu. Now she is a pharmacist working in the Pharmacy department in hospital after graduating with a master's degree.
For those of us who relish great food experiences, the prospect of vegan food is all too often associated with thoughts like less than filling, tasteless, boring and uninteresting - which are just not true when good choices and proper preparation and presentation are in play. Just as people have unlimited potential, along with hidden and unexpected depths of character to be revealed, the cooking journey is no different. To achieve the future we want depends largely on how much effort we put in to hone our own individual personality and character. The wonderful and constructive powers of creativity and being receptive to trying new ideas and methods can be applied to cooking whereby we cut and chop and slice and dice and mix and mash to transform available ingredients into our culinary aspirations.
Malaysia has a multi-racial and multi-cultural society with many immigrants from neighbouring countries. There are three major ethnic groups, which are Malay, Chinese and Indian. The cultural diversity necessitates communication in multiple languages and makes the country an exceptional food paradise destination with numerous unique fusion cuisine choices, including vegan dishes that seriously impress and remain engraved in the memories of locals and visitors alike.
The multiculturalism influence that allows for amazing cuisine variety also means many rich crops and spices can be sourced locally, the use of various spices has over time become more pervasive, and there is always room for more imaginative tweaks and adjustments to food dishes. Fortunately, a vegan version with similar taste characteristics of almost any type of cuisine is possible. I am a vegetarian and cannot personally confirm but some anecdotal comments from others I know claim they can be even better in terms of taste and value than meat containing counterparts. Nowadays, with the extensive variety of vegetarian and vegan choices available, many vegan offerings are quite palatable for even the most discriminating taste buds on their own merits and do not need to have a suitable “meat taste” component to succeed in the marketplace.
I would like to take you on a tour to discover the local Malaysian vegan cuisine scene, which is sure to cause you to rethink and maybe even revise your views on veganism.
Southeast Asia has a hot climate and the population there prefers more spices and seasoning. Cooking methods vary noticeably between North, Central and South Malaysia. Let’s start with the most basic traditional special sauce, － sambal sauce.
Sambal chili sauce is Malaysia’s all-purpose sauce, whether it is boiled, fried, stewed, roasted or marinated. Malaysians add the sauce to dishes such as stir fried noodles, fried rice and soup. It will liven up your dishes and can also be used as a dipping sauce on grilled food, deep fried food or even sandwiches. Sambal is made of a blend of ginger, galangal, lemongrass, dried chilli, wet chilli sauce (chilli boh), candle nut and vegan belacan. The main soul is the belacan paste, which is made by fermenting small shrimp for two to three months; the vegan version is made by fermenting beans, and the aroma is very similar to the original. We can see, the process to create sambal sauce is fairly impressive.
The following are the dishes made with sambal sauce:
1. Classic Sambal Tofish - Wrapped with fresh bean curd sheet and seaweed, fried and then drizzled with sambal sauce. It spices up the crispy Tofish to make it become a really savoury dish! Usually cucumber is added to reduce the spiciness.
2. Malaysian Sambal Kangkong (water spinach) - In the past, rural land was fertile, kangkong could be found easily. The texture is crispy and tasty so it is a very common household dish. Fried kangkong with sambal, is a dish that inspires people. Simple is beautiful - simple food can be delicious.
3. Sambal Petai (stinky bean) - One of the must-try dishes in Malaysia. Stinky is one of the local specialty crops. Some people dislike its strong smell but most Malaysians don’t mind it because the stinky beans and the sambal complement each other very well. Its distinctive flavour explodes in the mouth and stimulates the taste buds.
4. Penang Asam Laksa - An ultimate must-eat traditional food in Malaysia, also one of the top 10 foods recommended by CNN TV in the United States. Each state in Malaysia has a different way of making laksa. Penang Asam Laksa is the most popular style. It is spicy, tangy and flavourful combination of local ingredients. The noodle infused with spices exotic soup is definitely mouthwatering and irresistible. Penang Asam Laksa is very well known. It can be found on the menu in even the chain restaurants and fast food stores in western countries.
I will further discuss with you the details of each dish in future editions and further explore the differences in cuisine preferences throughout Malaysia, so stay tuned!