It’s quite a disappointment that my beloved country Malaysia has not made its mark on the world map of dream destinations. But if there’s one thing we’re inherently proud of, and should be famous for, it is our food.
For the uninitiated, Malaysian cuisine is an interesting fusion of Malay, Indian, and Chinese flavors. Here’s a little introduction to what we have to offer:
- 10 Types of Rice Dishes that You Must Try in Malaysia
- 10 Types of Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) that You Must Try in Malaysia
- 10 Types of Noodle Dishes that You Must Try in Malaysia
- 10 Best Malaysian Desserts
And to accompany all these delectable dishes, we also have a variety of thirst-quenchers, from a drink that is named after a prehistoric creature to a black-colored liquid with thick globs of grass jelly. The best thing is most of these drinks are sold at less than MYR4 (approx. USD1) each, except the last one on this list.
Do note, however, that Malaysians love their drinks super sweet (hence the diabetes rate in the country), so if you’re cutting down on the sweet stuff, remember to tell them to put less sugar when you order your drinks.
1. Teh Tarik
Many Malaysians consider this their national drink. Teh tarik (which literally means ‘pulled tea’) is made of strong, locally-sourced black tea combined with either condensed or evaporated milk (usually condensed, because it’s sweeter), and maybe some sugar if it’s not sweet enough.
But that sounds like normal milk tea — what’s so special about it?
Well, what makes it special is the way it is prepared. Once all the ingredients have been mixed together, the tea is then repeatedly poured from one cup/jug to another — from a height — to release heat so that it is drinkable, and most importantly, to create a thick, frothy top. As the tea is poured with increasing height, it gives the illusion of a long stream of tea being ‘pulled’ in mid-air, thus giving it its name.
The art of tea-pulling has developed into a sport and there’s even a national tea-pulling championship being held yearly.
A good cup of teh tarik should have just the right amount of sweetness and about one inch of froth. You can find this drink in practically any restaurant selling local food, but the ones sold in mamak (Indian Muslim) restaurants are arguably the best.
2. Milo Ais
Milo, a product of Nestle, is chocolate-and-malt drink that is well-known in many countries across Asia, South America, Africa, and the Pacific. In Malaysia, we like to drink it cold, and of course with extra sugar and condensed milk. One of my fondest memories of school is when the Milo truck paid us a visit and everybody got a tiny cup of ice-cold Milo.
A popular variation is ‘Milo Dinosaur’ (pictured above). Don’t ask me how it got its name. It’s basically iced Milo with an added topping of Milo powder — which also invokes childhood memories of sneaking into the kitchen and stealing mouthfuls of Milo powder.
3. Sirap Bandung
This fun-colored drink (if you love pink, that is) might be mistaken for strawberry-flavored milk. Although I personally think it doesn’t taste as great, sirap bandung still has a unique flavor that is worth trying.
This drink has nothing to do with the Indonesian city of Bandung. The word ‘bandung’ here means ‘mixed’, and in this case, it is the mixture of rose syrup and condensed/evaporated milk.
It is the usual drink of choice at Malay weddings and festivals, but is also available in most local restaurants. Some places have the fizzy version, where soda water is used for mixing instead of normal water.
4. Sirap Selasih
This is rose syrup (which either comes ready-made in cordial form, or prepared by mixing rose essence, sugar syrup, boiled pandan leaves, and food coloring), topped with basil seeds (selasih). Not only does this drink taste sweet, it also smells sweet — like a garden of roses.
The basil seeds don’t contribute to the flavor. They’re only there for texture. It’s probably an Asian thing, but we like to have some chewy bits in our drinks. A great example is the little taro balls in boba tea, that originates in Taiwan but has taken the world by storm.
Cincau or grass jelly is a sweet dessert made of a type of plant called Mesona Chinensis, which belongs to the mint family. The leafs and stalks of this plant are dried and boiled with a small amount of starch or rice flour. After cooling down, the liquid will firm into a jelly-like consistency.
Grass jelly — which was originally from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southern China — is often used as a topping for Malaysian desserts, or added to other beverages such as soy milk, iced teh tarik (pictured above), and sirap bandung.
Alternatively, it can be served on its own with some sugar syrup, as ‘iced cincau’ (the black drink in the picture on the left). Cincau drink is also sold in cans.
6. Air Mata Kucing
The main ingredient of this drink is a type of fruit that belongs to the same family as the longan fruit. It is called ‘mata kucing’, which literally means ‘cat’s eye’. Please do not conjure up images of cat eyes floating in the brown liquid. It would be a shame to let that deter you from trying this drink, because air mata kucing had been ranked #6 out of the “50 Most Delicious Drinks from Around the World” by CNN.
Researchers claim that the fruit can help relieve depression, prevent cell damage, and act as an anti-ageing agent. Another key ingredient in this drink is the monk fruit, which is a natural sweetener and is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine.
This refreshing drink is usually sold by street peddlers at Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur and at any night market.
7. Apple Juice with Salted Dried Plum
Salted dried plum (asam boi in Malay) is a snack typically imported from China and is very popular in Malaysia. It is made by drying plum with powdered sugar and salt, and flavored with herbs like liquorice.
The salted dried plum is commonly eaten to cleanse the palate after a savory meal, or to ease nausea, especially from motion sickness. Many people also use it to flavor their drinks, adding a little saltiness to an otherwise sweet/sour drink. The salted dried plum goes well with apple or lime juice. If you think salty and sweet don’t mix, you probably haven’t tried salted caramel.
8. Barley Juice
Who would have thought that barley could be served as a juice? Well, if you could make stout out of it, why not make a juice too? This barley drink, however, doesn’t taste anything like its alcoholic counterpart. It is sweet (because we add sugar syrup, of course), slightly thick, and comes with soft barley pearls. We really love beverages that we can drink and eat at the same time.
Barley juice can be served warm or cold, plain of with lime. It is said to have a cooling effect on the body and is often used as a home remedy for fever. Drinking barley water on a regular basis can help promote weight loss, and lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
9. White Coffee
White coffee originates from Ipoh, a town 200km north of Kuala Lumpur, which is popular for its food and white coffee. In fact, it ranked as the top three coffee towns in Asia by Lonely Planet.
The word ‘white’ in white coffee means unadulterated or pure. This refers to the brewing process, in which the coffee beans are brewed without any added substance or ingredient. While other types of coffees are normally roasted with sugars, margarine, and wheat, white coffee is only roasted with margarine — without the sugar (pretty bizarre for a sugar-worshiping nation) — giving the coffee a lighter color.
The best place to try the coffee is in its place of origin Ipoh, but there’s a restaurant chain called Old Town White Coffee that is devoted to serving this coffee all over the country. They also sell instant 3-in-1 coffee sachets if you want to bring some home.
If you’ve been traveling in Malaysia for a while or have done enough research about it, you would know that Malaysia is not really the best place to drink till you drop. Alcohol is super expensive here compared to neighboring countries (other than Singapore), and it’s also more expensive than Europe.
Being a predominantly Muslim country, we don’t even have a national beer, but what we do have is a rice wine called ‘tuak’ — originally produced by some of the native tribes in Sarawak on the island of Borneo. Tuak is made of four basic ingredients: cooked glutinous rice, ragi (a traditional starter base containing bacterial enzymes and yeast), water, and sugar (optional). Some tuak producers may include honey to give it a mead-like flavor.
Have you tried any of these beverages? Which one was your favorite? Comment below.