State specialties: who does it better?

August 30, 2020

Face it – Malaysians are a scrappy bunch. And the one thing we love to argue about, more than anything else, is…food.

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From Bukit China to Tanjung Piai, Lahad Datu to Gunung Cermai, we all love our home states’ special twists on our favourite dishes. We’re taking you on a whirlwind tour of tastes to get to know all the tasty, tried and true ways we all makan.


curry laksa

(Image credit: Sharon Ang from Pixabay)

When we say laksa, what comes to mind? Most of you in KL might immediately think of curry laksa: rice noodles in a santan-rich curry gravy, served with taufu pok, fish sticks, prawns and cockles, with a spoonful of sambal and some daun kesum on the side. But spreading outward from there, things can get very different!

asam laksa

(Image credit: Melvin Chia from Pixabay)

Penang lang might be thinking of asam laksa instead, with no santan and lots of tamarind, serai, galangal and chilli in a mackerel-based soup, topped with pineapple, mint, onion and torch ginger (bunga kantan). Perlis prefer using catfish or eel. Kedah likes to add sliced boiled eggs to the mix. In Perak, they’re turning the sour up in Ipoh or using wheat flour noodles and a lighter broth in Kuala Kangsar.

johor laksa

(Image credit: MakanSutra)

There’s also the famous Johor laksa, which uses spaghetti noodles. Squeeze some lime on top and dig in – with your hands. But that’s not the only place where you’re expected to go in with your natural cutlery! Terengganu laksa putih’s dense gravy also requires your bare hands. Kelantan also prefers their state laksa with serai and palm sugar. And in Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, you’ll also find laksam, with a thick white gravy made of fish or eels poured over rolls of flat rice noodles.

sarawak laksa

(Image credit: FreeMalaysiaToday)

Sarawak laksa is in a class of its own, blending sambal belacan, santan, tamarind, garlic and galangal into a fiery red broth, served with our faithful rice noodles and a heap of omelette strips, chicken, prawns and chopped coriander leaves.

Nasi dagang

If we ask you what colour nasi dagang is, your answer might differ based on where you’re from. It starts with rice steamed with santan, shallots, lemongrass and fenugreek seeds (halba) to give it that trademark aroma, traditionally accompanied by gulai darat, a kind of fish curry. Things start to branch out from here!

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nasi dagang kel

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Terengganu uses normal white rice, or a mix or white rice and glutinous rice/pulut. The finished product is served with just the gulai darat (sometimes with belimbing buluh added) and pickles. In Kelantan, they use a specific kind of rice that is tinted red or purple and is a litte stickier. They also serve it with a wider variety of dishes including telur pindang, sambal, and gulai lemak ikan salai.


How much do you know about this fishy delicacy?

otak nyonya
otak muar

Image credit: RasaMalaysia and Mohamed Yosri Mohamed Yong on Wikipedia

In Penang/Melaka, nyonya otak-otak uses different spices and steams the otak-otak in individual parcels with daun kaduk, while you’re more likely to see it grilled flat in attap leaves in Johor.

otak terengganu

Image credit: Cari Destinasi

If you like a meatier texture, try Penang, where whole chunks are mixed into the mixture, or Terengganu, where whole pieces of fish go onto the grill – no fish paste in sight.

Prawn mee (and Hokkien mee)

Fun tip as any Penangite or KLite will tell you – ordering ‘prawn mee’ in either area will get you an entirely different dish!

prawn mee

Image credit: OpenRice

Prawn mee in KL/Hokkien mee in Penang is beehoon or yellow noodles in a soup made out of prawns (abuden) and is served with kangkung, pork slices, egg and sambal. It’s also known as mee yoke or har meen.

tai lok mee

Image credit: Ajinomoto

Hokkien mee in KL/prawn mee in Penang is fat noodles stir-fried in a dark soy sauce (plus maybe some prawn stock), served with cabbage, pork bits, and prawns. Cantonese speakers may also recognise it as tai lok mee.

So…who wins?

The nice thing about being a Malaysian is that in this case, we all win. Whether you like your laksa spicy or sour, or your otak-otak flat or tall, there’s a variety of styles and flavours to choose from and liking one doesn’t mean all the others suck. We all do it better together-gether as a nation with a variety of delicious choices!

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P.S. – There’s also…one other thing that unites us as Malaysians…and we reckon you should check it out fast-fast.