Malaysia can do it, right? That is essentially what Malaysia Boleh means in Malay — Malaysia can do it!
The phrase originally came to be in the 1980s and was coined by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad during a time when Malaysia was entering a large economic boom. Over the years, the phrase has developed a new connotation. Well, basically Malaysia can do it (but fail in the process).
The reason is why I am mentioning this is that was my first experience with Malaysia. I was just entering the country after an extremely short flight from Singapore, but once I arrived at passport control, I waited in a line longer than the entire flight from Singapore. Now I normally wouldn’t complain about things like this (oh hell, I hate lines with a passion), but this line can speak to things in Malaysia — they go at their own pace and will resolve itself eventually.
During this wonderful 2 hours in line, I was texting my friend in Singapore who was explaining this whole concept of Malaysia Boleh to me. 1 hour traffic to drive 2km? Malaysia Boleh. Power goes out? Malaysia Boleh. Mamak stall out of Nasi Lemak? Malaysia Boleh. Before I even got my passport stamped, I already had this perception that I would not enjoy my time in Malaysia. Not one bit.
Oh, was this perception wrong. Very wrong indeed. So after I got in my GrabCar (SE Asia version of Uber) and travelled the 50 or so kilometers to Kuala Lumpur (KL), I was dropped in the center of the bustling capital city of Malaysia. After freshening up and dropping everything off, I begin exploring the city, naturally. I stumble upon a road in Bukit Bintang, the entertainment and shopping district in KL, and it is food food food galore. And just like neighboring Singapore, Malaysians consider eating a national pastime.
This road I am referring to is Jalan Alor. You will basically find anything typical Malaysian: Durian (and other fresh fruit), Hokkien Chinese food stalls, Mamak stalls, Indian food and that one lonely Thai and Vietnamese place that no one really visits (if you want Vietnamese or Thai food, go to Vietnam or Thailand). My traveling companion really wanted some more Chili Crab, one of popular dishes to try in Singapore and Malaysia (we already had it in Singapore), but when Malaysia is much cheaper than Singapore, we had to go again. I opted for something smaller (because I was stuffed from spending the afternoon eating).
The following day when I met up with my friends who live in Malaysia, they took us back to Jalan Alor, but to try more of the dishes that have your internal foodie salivating: BBQ Chicken Wings, Rojak (Malaysian fruit salad), clams in a light broth, Hokkien Mee (Hokkien Chinese style noodles) and may other things. My friends accidentally ordered twice the amount of chicken wings, but these little guys are so good, you will try and eat another one. And of course, slather it with sambal (spicy pepper sauce).
Makan (Malay verb “To Eat”) is endless in Malaysia. It is one of the things that made me fall in love with the country, and most of the food I was trying I knew about beforehand, thanks to a wonderful Malaysian restaurant in Seattle that I would frequent often and one of my closest friends happens to have been born and raised in Singapore.
Malaysia is a mixture of cultures and ethnicities and is made up mainly of: Malay, Straits Chinese, and Indians. The food in Malaysia has developed over the years pulling unique elements from each ethnicity’s food culture. As a result, it has often created many yummy and interesting dishes. Most of my favorite food comes from Mamak stalls. Mamaks are Tamil Malaysian origin, so they have roots in both India and the Malaysian Peninsula. You can find popular dishes like Ayam Goreng (fried chicken), Chili Pan Mee (Noodles with meat — generally pork, chili sauce, poached egg and vegetables), Roti Canai (flatbread, served with curry) , and my personal favorite: Nasi Lemak (Rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan, served with hard boiled egg, cucumber slices, sambal, toasted peanuts, crunchy anchovies and sometimes a meat dish like Beef Rendang or Ayam Goreng). Nasi Lemak is considered the national dish of Malaysia and can be found everywhere. A “to go” version is often found with the rice, egg, sambal and anchovies, wrapped in a leaf.
After stuffing ourselves silly with BBQ Chicken wings, my friends continued to take us around Kuala Lumpur, showing us the nightlife in different lights. The first was Marini’s, a bar on the 57th floor of Petronas Tower 3, so it has a perfect view of the Petronas Twin Towers. After a few drinks, we continued to Omakase&Appreciate, a speakeasy near Masjid Jamek, one of the oldest Mosques in Malaysia. But after a wonderful night consuming cheap (by American standards) cocktails, we started to get hungry.
We went to Petaling Jaya, in the neighboring state of Selangor (Note: Kuala Lumpur is it’s own “state” in Malaysia, similar to District of Columbia in the United States) to what is considered one of the best Nasi Lemak stalls in all of Malaysia — Nasi Lemak Panas.
Malaysia was a place that blew my mind — and I only went to Kuala Lumpur. There are so many amazing other places in Malaysia, rich in yummy food and beauty: Melacca, Penang, Cameron Highlands — to name a few places. I returned to Malaysia only a few months after this trip when I went to Laos and Vietnam. It is slightly funny that I’ve been to Malaysia more times than I have Singapore (based on my initial perception).
I know I’ll return to Malaysia, ready to devour more and more of the country’s amazing food and culture.