Malaysian Pantry Ingredients

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First off, thanks to my Malaysian friends Nirmala, Marinna, Hazel and Muna for their contributions – before I draw up the list, I wish to point out that their input reflect the following –

–          Some do a lot of cooking; others, as with most busy, working women nowadays, either don’t, or they use commercial, prepared pastes/sauces/seasonings to simplify their task.

–          Malaysia’s ethnic diversity (Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasion etc.) means that depending on your racial heritage, there is almost certainly going to be some differences in what is considered indispensable or widely used or never used.

–          The influence of Thai cuisine (north of Malaysia) seems to have made an impact judging from some of the items listed by one of my friends; this was not that common back in my day (I left Malaysia in 1984).

–          Malaysians do eat out a lot since it’s so affordable to do so.  What we eat at home is distinctly different to the street food that Malaysian cuisine is known for.   Eg. The average Malaysian housewife doesn’t make popiah or char kway teow or satay or laksa for dinner – it’s cheaper  and easier (and probably tastier) just to get those at their local eatery.

–          We do use a lot of modern conveniences in our cooking eg. commercial curry powders, blenders, food processors; some Westerners view Asian cuisine through exotic, soft-focused filters and imagine women in sarongs and flowers in their hair, grinding their own spices with mortar and pestle and cooking with charcoal or wood fire.

That may have happened once upon a time or in certain rural kampungs (villages) but it certainly wasn’t reality even back when I was a kid (and I was born in a small-ish town back in 1967 ie. a loooong time ago).

So here we go (highlighted items are what I personally think are the important ones) –

SEASONINGS/BOTTLED SAUCES/DRIED FOODSTUFFS SPICES FRESH INGREDIENTS
 Kicap Pekat (Thick Soy)  Curry powder for fish Small onions 
Oyster sauce  Curry powder for meat  Garlic 
Kicap Cair(Light Soy Sauce)  Turmeric powder  Ginger 
Kicap Manis (sweet soy sauce)  Chilli powder  Large onions 
Chilli Paste Fenugreek  Lemongrass (I use a minced, frozen variety) 
Tamarind (I use tamarind extract) Cumin  Pandan leaves (freezeable) 
Coconut milk/coconut cream (in a box)  Star anise  
Tomato ketchup  Cinnamon  
Belacan (shrimp paste – i use the granulated form) Black and white pepper  
Petis Udang (prawn paste – hei ko brand)  Mustard seeds  
Rice (usually jasmine) Fennel  
Glutinous rice  Asafoetida  
Rice flour Dhal  
Palm sugar (Diff. from Thai version; we use a darker type that comes in logs) Cardamoms  
Chilli sauce  Galangal powder  
Thai sauce (Thai Sweet Chilli)  
Chicken stock cube (or granules)  
Ikan bilis stock cube (dried anchovy stock cube)   
Tom Yam cube  
Ikan bilis (dried anchovy)  
Udang kering (dried shrimp)  
Tapioca Flour  
Glutinous Rice Flour  
Ground bean paste  
Hoisin sauce  
Fish Sauce (my own addition)  

I shall update this list as more items come to mind.  Having lived overseas the best part of my life, here are some pointers re: shopping for these –

–          I don’t think I’ve ever come across a ‘Malaysian’ grocery store.  In its absence, I try to aim for its closest neighbours ie. South-East Asian stores -. Vietnamese, Indonesian, Laotian etc.  for the widest range.

–          Indian stores are your best bet for the spices – eg. cardamoms, asafoetida etc.

–          Chinese grocery stores are fine for stuff like Thick or Thin Soy, rice, hoisin sauce etc.

–          If you can’t find Malaysian-made ingredients, again, aim for those coming in from other South-East Asian countries.  Eg. Indonesia is great for palm sugar; Thailand for durian etc.

–          For the Chinese ingredients, where possible, I go for Hong Kong, Singaporean or Taiwanese products

–          Brands I trust quality-wise – Anything from Malaysia, Ayam, Cheong Chan, Lee Kum Kee, RasaKu, Kara, Chang’s, Pun Chun

Finally, here are some pics of some of the ingredients I use in my kitchen – apologies for the overlaps but before you complain about the crappy quality and lack of editing, please read my About page for my take on this.

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