Almost every dish offers fresh insight into the history and culture of Borneo. Like much of Asia, rice (nasa) and noodles (mee) are ubiquitous. Rice is either steamed or fried, while noodles are made from wheat, wheat and egg, rice or mung beans, and are used in a large number of dishes being fried or boiled.
Malays generally prefer their fish fried (ikan), whole and stuffed with spices, or chopped into chunks or steaks and served with a spicy (tamarind) sauce. In Malaysian Borneo, hinava (raw fish marinated with lime juice and herbs) is widely popular. Etnic Chinese locals prefer to cook large fish either steamed (when the fish is extremely fresh), fried, or braised. Fish is also served in a variety of other ways, such as the dish otak (rectangles of fish wrapped in banana leaf and grilled over charcoal), or with noodles in a spicy soup. Karang (shellfish) and unam (crustaceans) are also highly popular.
After fish, chicken (ayam) is the most popular meat in dishes yet beef (daging lembu) and mutton (daging kambing) are also common in Malay dishes such as beef rendang (beef in a delicious thick coconut-milk curry sauce), daging masak kicap (beef in soy sauce), and gulai daging (beef curry). A traditional dish in Malaysia, beef rendang traces its origins from the Minangkabau ethnic group of the highlands of Western Sumatra and is many a traveler's favorite (right).
While pork (babi) is considered haram (forbidden) amongst Muslims locals, the Chinese and lesser extent, Indians enjoy it in dishes.
Protein-rich soya bean (dao, also called tau) is present in many dishes, whether in the form of bean curd tofu, fermented beans or soy sauce. Pulses, dried beans, peas and lentils – form the basis of many an Indian vegetarian dish, including dhal (lentil, pea or bean, also called daal) curry and dosa, paper-thin rice-and-lentil crepes served with coconut chutney and curry.
In the jungle areas, aago palm is the main starch component of some tribal meals. Sago-based boar and deer are Sarawak favourites, and vegetable dishes made with jungle ferns and paku (fern shoots) are not to be missed.
It is impossible to conceive of a Malaysian dish without chilli. Blended and ground with other spices, it adds depth to a curry. Chillies blended on their own form the base for many a sambal (relish) and chilli sauce.
Considered the heart and soul of Malay curries and sauces, rempah is a mix of spices created by pounding a combination of wet (including shallots, lemongrass, garlic, chilli and ginger) and dry (items such as candlenuts, cinnamon, coriander, seeds, cumin, cloves and peppercorns) ingredients to form a paste. These pastes are then used to form the basis of many Malay dishes.
Fruits are served ripe and sliced on a large mixed fruit platter. They are sometimes used in salads, such as rojak (salad with shrimp-paste based dressing), or kerabu tau geh (bean-sprout salad). The red, leathery and hairy skin of rambutans conceals a sweet, succulent, semi-translucent white flesh. Also not so attractive on the outside is jackfruit, but its bright yellow flesh is sugary sweet and very fragrant.
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