Growing up, I was one of those kids who simply had to wash down every meal with a dessert or beverage of some kind. If I had something to eat and it didn’t hit each and every nook of my taste buds just right, I’d still be hungry or crave something else shortly after.
I blame this on my grandmother, who insisted I have yogurt with every spoonful of curry, and rewarded finished meals with a helping of kesari. These are fine and pretty unexceptional, but the habit led to stranger pairings of food in the long run…
What I’m saying is, if you’re put off by the list of my favourite Malaysian food blends below, then you have a bone to pick with my Amama, not me.
Let’s get to it!
1. Nasi Lemak with Fried Mantou Buns
Don’t get me wrong – nasi lemak is a great meal in itself, but if you’re having a biasa meal without the usual rendang or fried chicken on the side, it may feel like something’s missing…
Personally, I think plain nasi lemak lacks pure crispiness. Sure, you get it from the ikan bilis or cucumber on the side, but it still feels like the meal is lacking an actual hero.
That’s where the versatile mantou bun comes in. Crispy outside, but not overpowering due to the fluffy interior, and sweet with a tinge of savoury.
Make it two mantou buns, and you won’t even notice the lack of meat. Of course, if you’re feeling adventurous (or hungry), you could also have it with your choice of meat on the inside. Maybe even slice the bun open and pack some meat into it. Yum.
2. Rendang with Vanilla Ice Cream
Relax, it’s just a tiny spoonful.
I love rendang, especially when it’s all spicy and coconut-y and at least a day old, but sometimes a hot, dense meal with aggravated spice can be a little much.
You could always have dessert or a nice cold drink after, but if you’re like me and don’t enjoy making that whole hsshfhshshfh gesture with your mouth when something’s hot and spicy, embellish your rendang with a humble wodge of vanilla ice cream.
I feel this gives off a similar sensation to that of yogurt with curry, but with a sweeter aftertaste. I’ve only ever tried this with chicken rendang, but I’m pretty sure it’d be even more spectacular with beef if you’re looking to offset the gaminess.
Another quick hack is to add some ice cream to your sirap, and let it melt into what will be the bastard cousin of the classic sirap bandung.
3. Satay with Pineapple Jam
This one might just be the best on my list. Don’t condemn it if you haven’t tried it!
I live for pineapple jam, and there’s nothing better to pair it with than the savouriness, smokiness and heat of the meat on a satay stick. It’s good with anything on a skewer, really – I’d go so far as to bring a jar to the lok lok stall when the spicy peanut sauces just don’t do it for me anymore.
I also feel like the particular pairing of satay with a sweet jam balances adulthood with the nostalgia of being a kid, walking around, wielding a little skewer of meat with some sugary tanginess enveloping your mouth with each bite.
My go-to comfort meal, for sure.
4. Teh Tarik with Milo
You know those days when you want to have a nice, piping teh tarik... but you also crave the comfort of Milo? I’ve had a few of those days, and there’s a simple solution to that.
This was also one of my grandmother’s odd concoctions, which she claims was pretty popular back in her day – a delicious way to substitute sugar or to whip up a drink for the kids when there wasn’t enough Milo powder left.
She said we wouldn’t even notice the difference between a plain Milo and one mixed with teh tarik, but I did, and loved it!
Where else can you find frothiness and sweetness with a dash malty chocolate and tasteful bitterness in one beverage?
5. Sambal Belacan with Watermelon
OK, let me just say it. Watermelon is great, but sometimes there’s a bit too much water and not enough melon. It’s too airy, you feel?
Reiterating the whole hshfhfhsh thing though, watermelon is the perfect way to combat the intense flavour of the belacan, while in turn, the belacan makes up for what the fruit is lacking in density. It’s surprisingly refreshing and especially enjoyable when the watermelon is fresh out the refrigerator.
It works even better with those sweeter, high-quality watermelons; that way you get a dual, simultaneous burst of flavour between two polar opposites that somehow complement each other.
Just like me and my ex… [Editor’s note: Don’t go back to your ex after reading this article]
6. Mango Sticky Rice with Gula Melaka
Can’t choose between a Thai dessert and a local staple? Why not have both?
There’s not much justification I can put out there for this sweet-on-sweet fusion, but dessert lovers will know that these are two very distinct types of sweet. One is fresher, creamier and tangy while the other is earthier and nutty, forming an interesting union of caramel-like, overall enhanced goodness.
The sticky rice is the hero of this couple, supplementing each dessert flawlessly while also acting as a base for the satisfying (and very filling) sweet dish.
Well, that’s it from me. If none of these combos really stood out to you, then it’s probably just a matter of time, trial and error. Trust me, there’s an odd Malaysian food pairing for everyone.
If you’re still not convinced, though, at least consider saving this for an instance where pregnancy cravings are involved…
Do you have a preferred unusual food combo of your own? Let us know in the comments!