I often think that Malay food (as opposed to Malaysian food) is poorly represented and appreciated in Australia. Even if Melbourne actually does have quite a lot of Malaysian food from the Indian and Chinese sections, there’s only a couple of stalls in Darwin that focuses on Malay food and I’ve heard that there’s a couple of shops in Melbourne that specialise in nasi kandar but that’s about it. As far as I know, it hasnt hit the gourmet circles, it hasnt been “discovered” yet.
Malay cuisine seems to be a blend of Thai and Indian cuisines. Coconut milk is used quite extensively as are the fresh Thai ingredients such as lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal etc (all with different names) but there’s also a lot more indian spices and other roots and nuts that can only be obtained in Malaysia. The dishes are centred around rice as a staple (traditional Malay food doesnt seem to have much bread).
I cant really do justice to the dishes that they make – the seafood is great, the meat dishes are incredible (I had the best beef rendang I’ve ever had last night at the night market) and they are also very good at vegetarian dishes – many of which focus around native vegetables that are very difficult to obtain outside of Malaysia.
Malay cuisine isnt static either by any means. At the night market in Little India last night, I noticed that new stalls have opened that have taken chinese dishes and changed them into malay variations. There are malay versions of chinese rice flour buns (pau), malaysian chinese rice paper rolls (popiah) and chinese fish paste variants (yong tau foo). I think that partly this is because of Islamic dietary restrictions (most chinese stalls selling delicious foods are not halal) but I’d like to think it is mostly due to a natural process of adoption and adaptation that has brought Malay food to the level it is now.
For those interested, check out my flickr account for lots of photos. Also, look up “nasi kandar”, “nasi padang” and “nasi lemak”. These are sets of dishes from different regions.