Welcome to the page of definitions! I will continuously update this page on days when I can actually pull myself away from the couch and have enough creative words to describe terms that do not exist in the English dictionary. If you have anything to contribute, please feel free to leave a comment below!
Pictures will also come. Soon. Ish.
The words are alphabetically ordered.
When I say kuah, I usually refer to the liquid part of a Malay dish. There is no correct word in English for kuah. Gravy is usually thick and used sparingly. Sauce is more of an accompaniment. Kuah on the other hand is part of the dish. Malay dishes are more or less defined by types of kuah. For instance, curry is a type of kuah. So are rendang, kerutuk, kuzi, gulai lemak etc.
Kuih is a catch all Malay term for bite-sized sweet and/or savoury foods that Malaysians love to eat as snacks or desserts. Some might argue that the term originated from Hokkien or Indonesian, but I really don’t care. The Mat Sallehs might call them finger food but where you people have things like cucumber sandwich, we have seri muka, karipap, keria, tepung pelita and the list goes on.
Mat Saleh / Mat Salleh
Malay term for white Caucasians. It is a neutral term with no positive or negative connotation to it.
Mat is a shortened form of a common Malay name of Muhammad. Mat or Mamat is commonly used by locals to refer to a man. Salleh it seems is an outdated Malay spelling for albino. Therefore Mat Salleh refers to ‘men who lack skin pigmentation’. Please don’t quote me on the albino part because I totally took this from Wikipedia. I don’t even know the proper Malay term for albino.
Nasi lemak is a nationwide favourite, darling food of Malaysians of all backgrounds. If you ever come to Malaysia and can only try one dish, try nasi lemak.
Nasi means rice while lemak literally means fat, because the rice is cooked with a generous amount of coconut milk. For calorie-conscious people, one helping of this heavenly fatty rice is equivalent to three portions of normal white rice. Just putting it out there.
Nasi lemak usually comes with boiled egg, fried anchovies, slices of fresh cucumber and the all important sambal (chilli beaten and ground to death, then fried).
Sometimes Malaysians feel like they are not fat enough, so on top of fat rice and fried anchovies and the oily sambal, they accompany it with different types of dish like chicken rendang, squid swimming in sambal or beef in soy sauce (this list is non-exhaustive).
Nasi minyak (directly translated to ‘oil rice’) is made by cooking white rice with ghee, butter, onions, ginger and a bunch of spices and is typically served at Malay weddings.
If you encounter a Malay person of marriageable age (or way past the socially agreed expiry date), one of the common ways of asking when he/she will get married is, “Bila aku boleh makan nasi minyak ni (When will I get to eat nasi minyak)?” It is a rude question and obviously none of anyone’s business, but we’re Asian, and not getting married is sort of a big deal. Anyone from your relatives to acquaintances to the auntie selling keropok by the steps outside your local bank can ask you why you’re not married and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
Rendang (ren pronounced like the ‘e’ in ‘intern’ and dang pronounced like the ‘u’ in ‘up’)
I will not even attempt to get into the whole debate of whether rendang originated from Malaysia or Indonesia and neither should you. That fight is nasty and makes you lose faith in humanity. Singapore sometimes tries to join the fray but here’s a collective meh from both Malaysians and Indonesians. The only thing you need to know is we both have our own versions of rendang and they are awesome.
Rendang is a meat dish cooked in what feels like a thousand different spices. It can be hot or mild, a bit on the sweet side or more salty, depending on preference, but rendang is all about a balance of everything I mentioned above and more. The meat is usually chicken, beef or mutton and typically eaten with rice or ketupat or lemang.
Some of the ingredients they use in rendang are red onions, garlic, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk, ginger, galangal, turmeric, chillies, kerisik (grated or pan toasted fresh coconut used to thicken dishes) and more. Cooking can take hours because it’s a complex dish. The result is heavenly. If I have to choose a way to get fat, it would probably be through rendang.