Variety is the spice in Malay food. The traditional culinary style has been greatly influenced by the long-ago traders from neighboring countries, such as Indonesia, India, the Middle East, and China. Malay food is often described as spicy and flavorful as it utilizes a melting pot of spices and herbs.
Malay cooking incorporates ingredients such as lemon grass, pandan (screwpine) leaves, and kaffir lime leaves. Fresh herbs, such as daun kemangi (a type of basil), daun kesum (polygonum or laksa leaf), nutmeg, kunyit (turmeric) and bunga kantan (wild ginger buds) are often used. Traditional spices such as cumin and coriander are used in conjunction with Indian and Chinese spices such as pepper, cardamom, star anise and fenugreek. Seasonings play an important role in Malay cooking as they often enhance the food taste and flavors. Many of the seasonings are not dried spices but are fresh ingredients such as fresh turmeric, galangal, fresh chili paste, onions, and garlic. A combination of fresh seasonings and dried spices are normally pounded together to make a fine paste and cooked in oil. Fresh coconut milk is often added.
Rice is the staple diet in any Malay meal. It is often served for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper too. Most meals are eaten by using your fingers, and eating utensils are kept to a minimum. All dishes are served at the same time, accompanied by a refreshing drink. Fish is popular in Malay cooking, as with other seafood such as shrimps and cuttlefish. Beef and mutton are very popular choices but never pork as it is against their religious beliefs to eat pork. The other popular white meat is chicken.
One of the most unique Malay dishes is the "roti jala" (lacy pancakes), which sometimes replaces the staple rice. Roti jala is an ideal accompaniment to any dish with lots of rich gravy and is often served during special occasions. It is made from a mixture of plain flour and eggs, with a pinch of turmeric powder and butter. Desserts are a must for any Malay meal. Easily available at most local restaurants and roadside stalls, Malay desserts are invariably very sweet and include ingredients such as coconut milk, palm sugar, and flour.