I didn’t plan on going to Malaysia. I thought I’d end my trip in Thailand. But looking at the map it made sense to continue my overland journey to Malaysia, reaching the end of the Eurasian land mass. I had heard little about it from other travellers, but enough to pique my interest. I found the rice farming workaway and was sold - I’d skip the south of Thailand and the crowds that it entailed, trading it in for the less travelled Malaysia. What made Malaysia so interesting to visit was its population; made up of Malays, Indian Malays and Chinese Malays. All Malaysian, all with very different cultures, religions and cuisines. Malay Malaysians are muslim and have their own cuisine, similar to Indonesian I was to find out. Indian Malays are mostly Hindu and most originally come from the south of India, speaking Tamil. Chinese Malays are buddhist or atheist. I really enjoyed seeing how these different ethnicities coexisted, and getting to eat excellent indian, chinese and malay food was also a big bonus.
I’ve spoken about my time on the rice farm in a separate post, but this was my first impression of the country. Wonderful people, wonderful culture, wonderful food. It continued much in this fashion. I travelled by bus and ferry to Penang, staying in the small city of Georgetown (named after King George when Britain took control of it). It’s an arty, foodie hub and it was quite excellent. I’d compare its vibe to that of Bristol, with street art to rival Banksy, but the buildings and culture are superior. Down by the sea there are Chinese jetties, ornate in their curls of clan specific architecture. The Chinese district features British colonial buildings decorated in chinese letterings, advertising the goods sold there. Little India was filled with smells of curry and paan, and shops selling jewellery and saris. Further out the buildings got less beautiful but there were still some cool offerings here. The best thrift shop I’ve ever been into for example. Or a contemporary marketplace filled with cafes and art stalls, or on the Saturday I visited filled with strange pets for sale. I spent my time in Georgetown wandering around the streets, taking way too many photos of building fronts. I stumbled across a free Chinese opera so attended this and found it very strange and of a low quality, maybe why it was free! My main activity was eating. Here’s all I managed to squeeze into my belly whilst I was there:
- Chinese pork dumplings. Not mindblowing, but good.
- Chinese pastries, a salted egg bun and an egg tart. Could’ve eaten several more of the salted egg bun. The egg tart was surprisingly cheesy.
- Bao bun. So much better than the disappointing ones in continental Southeast Asia.
- Charcoal coffee. They love their weird coffees here. It was fine, not very strong.
- Char keoy teow (Malaysian). Much like every other noodle dish I’ve tried.
- Ramly burger (Malaysian). A traditional street Malay burger. Truly insane. The best burger I have ever eaten and will ever eat. It had a distinct taste of chinese 5 spices in the fried chicken batter, super succulent chicken, lots of mayo and a soft chilli sauce, and cheese. It was so good I had to stop walking and eating and sit on the curb to give it my full attention.
- Soursop. The best new fruit I’ve tried, and maybe my favourite fruit ever. Tastes a bit like yogurt. So good!
- Chinese herbal soup. Stomach took a turn so this nice broth helped.
- Dragon fruit and lemon ice cream. Dragon fruit is always disappointingly tasteless, but the lemon was lovely.
- Pasembar salad (Malaysian). Not a fan at all. Way too sticky and sweet and full of strange things. Wouldn’t class it as a salad either.
- Mutton keema and capati (Indian). Just delicious. Suitably full I caught the bus to Kuala Lumpur, the capital, for my last stop in Malaysia. Georgetown is in a close race for my favourite city in Southeast Asia, with Luang Prabang. It wasn’t without its flaws though. For the first time in Southeast Asia I experienced catcalling, and to a surprisingly high degree. I had the pleasure of seeing Ethan in KL, a guy I’d met in Armenia months before who is currently studying at Oxford (small world!). He was in KL for a summer internship and offered the sofa bed in his hotel/apartment to me, which I gladly accepted. I took some chill time here, using the gym and the rooftop infinity pool, appreciating the time to catch my breath before a busy few days ahead. I continued my food delights, eating lots of Malaysian food like assam laksa and curry laksa (a really good noodle soup, the assam being acidic and fishy, the curry being creamy and like a Thai Khao Soi); nasi lemak (not as good as the one I made at the farm); Chinese pork and noodle street food dishes; and nasi kandar. A big part of Malaysian cuisine are these nasi dishes. Nasi simply means rice. In restaurants there will be a buffet of different curries, vegetable sides, chicken, eggs and other stuff. You get the rice and choose what you want on top. I found them quite stressful to visit, never really sure of how it worked, but it would always be cheap and fairly delicious, nothing too crazy though. I visited the national museum and rated it highly. I learnt about the history of Malaysia, the Portuguese then Dutch then British rule. The most interesting part for me was understanding how Islam was introduced to the country, through arab traders. These traders were seen as rich and higher class, so the local people associated their religion, Islam, with this. This led to it being adopted. KL was an insane city, very modern but not huge. Unsurprisingly, not my favourite place (still not a fan of big cities). I’m very glad I stopped by Malaysia. Its mix of ethnicities make it the most interesting country I’ve been to in Southeast Asia. The food is incredible. I could happily alternate between Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisine for my whole life. I only scratched the surface of the country and look forward to going back one day to see more of it.