As smaller nations of this region, it is a common assumption that the cuisine of Southeast Asia mostly originates from two powerhouse countries – China and India. Though most of the delicious dishes we’ve come to know and love have local adaptations, you can only find the best ones in Muslim-friendly Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Even though the “ownership” of our selected dishes may be debatable, there is no doubt that these delectable favourites will leave you wanting more. Here are six mouth-watering dishes that you can only find in Southeast Asia — brace yourselves!
1. Roti Prata
Crispy on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside, roti prata is a dish you can enjoy anytime of the day. It is derived from the Hindi word and dish, Paratha, meaning ‘flat’. Roti Prata or Roti Canai (as it is known in Malaysia) is a tweaked version of the original pancake version from Punjab, India.
There are many variations of this dish as some prata connoisseurs would add egg, onions, cheese, chocolate and even durian! It is best eaten with fish or mutton curry on the side.
2. Nasi Goreng Pattaya
Despite its name, Nasi Pattaya is believed to have originated from Malaysia. It is essentially fried rice enveloped in a thin omelette and topped with a light drizzle of chili or tomato sauce, and a side of cucumber. In Indonesia, it is called nasi goreng amplop, which translates to envelope fried rice.
There are many variations of the fried rice used in this delicious dish. A combination of skill and precision is involved in the preparation of Nasi Pattaya, especially with how the fried rice is ‘enveloped’ by a thin layer of egg.
You might not know what to expect when this local dish is presented but Rojak is more than just a local favourite in Singapore and Malaysia. It is often used as a symbol of the diverse society that makes up these countries. The name translates to “mixture” in colloquial Malay.
There are two variations of the Rojak, which are unique but can be commonly found in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Chinese twist to the Rojak is a salad of mixed fruits, such as pineapples and unripe apples, vegetables like cucumber and radish, dough fritters with sticky black sauce and chopped peanuts.
The other variation is more commonly found in Singapore and Malaysia, with a strong Indian influence. Indian rojak contains fried dough and prawn fritters, boiled potatoes, chopped cucumber and a variety of seafood, such as cuttlefish. Everything is topped off with a tangy-sweet sauce made from prawn paste. Some folks in Malaysia eat this rojak dish with yellow noodles!
4. Fish Head Curry
This dish was believed to be created by an Indian chef named M.J. Gomez from Kerala, India. It was modified to suit the taste buds of Singaporeans and Malaysians as it was common for them to cook the head of a fish in local dishes. Red Snappers are usually the fish of choice while tamarind paste is mixed into the curry for a more distinct flavour.
Despite being ubiquitous to Indian cuisine, fish head curry seems to be beloved amongst the local Chinese in Singapore and Malaysia!
5. Nasi Lemak
This dish may seem like it’s only loved by the Malays, but Nasi Lemak is for everyone. Nasi Lemak literally translates to “fat rice”. This is due to the rich fat content in the dish all thanks to the use of coconut milk.
Although there are many unique variations of this meal, it is commonly eaten with sambal (chilli paste), deep fried ikan bilis (anchovies), fried egg and sliced cucumbers. Singaporeans enjoy their Nasi Lemak with fried chicken or grilled fish paste called otah, while Malaysians prefer to savour this dish with rendang, a spicy beef dish.
6. Chili crab
This uniquely Singaporean dish consists of mud crabs that are stir-fried in a sweet and savoury sauce, made from tomatoes and chillies. The semi-thick sauce is made more scrumptious with a beaten egg mixed into it and is best eaten with mantou, a type of fried Chinese bun. Be ready to get your hands dirty to full savour this gastronomic dish.
When it comes to food, trust us when we say that the list can go on and on! Let’s hope that these six dishes can inspire your food hunt around Southeast Asia. Perhaps you’ll stumble upon something even more intriguing and delicious.