Noel Wong @ FMT Lifestyle -July 27, 2020 8:00 AM
Chinese culture is highly diverse, and this also applies to culinary traditions. The Malaysian Chinese community can be divided into several cultural subgroups; the largest being the Hokkien, Hakka, Cantonese, Teochew and Hainanese.
Each of these subgroups has its own cuisine and unique style of cooking and delicacies.
Here are the cuisines of the five biggest Malaysian Chinese subgroups:
By the time Hainanese migrants arrived in Malaya, the tin mines and rubber plantations were dominated by bigger Chinese subgroups.
Hence, many chose to work as chefs in British colonial households, creating their own unique style of cooking, combining Western preferences with Hainanese traditional cuisine.
From this was born Hainanese chicken chops, Hainanese bread and Hainanese chicken rice – all uniquely Malaysian delights.
More than one-fifth of the Malaysian Chinese population are Hakka, and their cuisine can largely be described as simple but tasty.
Hakka meat dishes must have three principle flavours – salty, fatty and fragrant. Meat dishes are often stewed, fried or braised and the dishes are often described as aromatic with a delicious taste.
Staples of the Hakka cuisine include rice, pork, bean curd and soy sauce while favoured preservatives and flavourings include rice wine, ginger, garlic and salt.
Steamed meats are often served alongside preserved vegetables, which further enhances the variety of flavours one can get in a single meal.
The Cantonese form the third largest subgroup and mainly live in the Klang Valley and Ipoh, Perak.
Generally, Cantonese cuisine refers to food not only from Guangzhou (formerly Canton), but also Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong and Macau.
Steaming and stir-frying are the favoured cooking methods and a dish must have balanced flavours.
Roast meats are also a Cantonese speciality, as evidenced by roast duck and roast pork being must-haves at banquets.
Due to their geographical proximity to Hokkien and Cantonese-dominated regions, the Teochew people of the Chaoshan region have a cuisine that is influenced by their neighbours.
Teochew love seafood and vegetarian dishes, using the freshest and high-quality ingredients to get the most flavour out of them.
Steaming, stir-frying and braising are the favoured methods of cooking, and porridge is particularly prominent in Teochew cuisine.
The Hokkiens are the largest Chinese subgroup in the country and their cuisine is a prominent part of local cuisine. Typically, Hokkien cuisine favours lighter flavours with a strong fondness for soups and stews.
There is even a traditional saying that goes, “It is unacceptable for a meal to not have soup.”
This fondness can be seen in one of the highlights of Malaysian Hokkien food, Bak Kut Teh, a non-halal herbal soup of pork ribs.
Another favourite soup, with the extraordinary name of Buddha Jumps over the Wall, also has Hokkien origins.