It’s a common misconception that Malaysian food is spicy and those who are new to the experience always begin a sentence with ‘I’m not really good with spice’. In fact they are almost apologetic in their tone which always makes me giggle as it conjures visions of a confessional booth to which I swiftly respond ‘it’s ok I’m not the spice police’!
In their defence when you first cast eyes on a Malaysian menu, it’s screaming out with curry here, curry there, chilli this, chilli that and appears more like a playground for chilli monsters.
The truth of the matter is that whilst there are a host of hot offerings for the brave, equally there exists a plethora of dishes that are mild to medium which reinforces my relentless declaration that Malaysian cuisine is for every palate.
On the other side of the coin, I’ve also had customers who burst with pride that their spice tolerance stretches to the hottest Indian curry in the restaurant (usually a Phal) and have devoured it eagerly without so much as breaking out in a sweat. I can only deduce that they’ve omitted the crucial part where the Phal was washed down with 10 pints of a very cold drink!
I’m flattered though that they want to impress me with their heat tolerance and somehow feel that by divulging this information they would be awarded with a badge of honour bless them. All said and done, I welcome everyone with open arms regardless of their spice preference and pride myself at the ability to provide them with a thoroughly enjoyable meal.
In all honesty I myself don’t enjoy anything that makes me end up perspiring like Mr. Blobby in a triathlon but I do enjoy a little ‘kick’ of heat, and it’s no secret that chilli can become addictive.
My husband is testament to that and I’ve watched his spice tolerance rise from medium to what I can now only describe as eye crossingly hot! He’s even adopted the Malaysian habit of having sliced chilli in soy as an accompaniment to noodles or fried rice as it’s not uncommon to find glass jars of sliced chilli in vinegar, chilli oil, or a hot condiment of sorts dotted on tables in Malaysian food stalls and restaurants.
Similarly over here little pots of chilli sauce and oil are ever present in Chinese buffets or main meals.
I know I’ve banged on about chilli, but really today’s focus is on mild dishes. It would be nigh impossible to list them all without ending up with a blog the size of a book, so I’m just going to chat about some that are available on my menu here.
When browsing the menu it would be natural to avoid any mention of curry if you’re not a chilli lover but I would urge you to have a closer look. If you fancy something that isn’t soy sauce based, then the Masak Lemak (coconut curry), Masak Merah (tomato sauce) and Rendang is an excellent start. All have intense flavour and aromatics courtesy of lemon grass and galangal minus the heat. Admittedly back home bird’s eye chilli makes up part of the paste in the Masak Lemak and dried chilli in the Masak Merah and Rendang but it isn’t terribly evident and more like a miniscule hint. Hence it’s no surprise that they are the most requested on my menu.
Starters such as prawn fritters, five spice chicken wings, fishcakes, curry puffs and baked buns are all mild options as is the Street Food section that has noodle dishes (and fried rice) which are cooked to your specifications.
I know I’m supposed to be chatting about mild dishes but the mention of noodles made me recall a lovely Nigerian lady who insisted that the noodles she ordered had to be mind blowingly hot.
Ever the person to do as I’m told (well not all the time!), I added so much chilli to the point of sneezing uncontrollably during the cooking process which made me concerned that perhaps I’d gone overboard and this lady would never ever return to Dapur Mariae! On the contrary, she was extremely pleased and has since come back for more.
Another popular mild choice is my ‘Braised Pork Belly’ in dark soy. The long slow cooking process in a mix of garlic, ginger and whole spices (cloves, cinnamon and star anise) wafts of Christmas which is exactly when it’s served in Eurasian homes back in Malaysia. The addition of dark soy and sugar which eventually becomes a thick caramelised sauce enveloping the tender pork belly is truly a taste sensation. Even those who are not pork belly fans have surprised themselves by wanting more.
All the vegetable dishes apart from the ‘Rempah Sayur’ are heat free too. The Rempah Sayur contains fresh red and green chilli and can possess a bit of a kick but I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s fast becoming a firm favourite even amongst the ‘I can’t do spice’ category!
I hope that I’ve managed to convince anyone who is still toying with the idea of giving Malaysian food a go to make that first step. I have a feeling that once you’ve tried it, you might be tempted to take it to the next level and opt to introduce your tastebuds to some heat.
As always, take care and keep safe.
All my love, Mariae xxx
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