Indian influence in Malaysian cuisine started in the 19th century when large arrivals of Indian migrants were brought into the country as contract laborers to work in rubber estates and on the railways. Some did take the opportunity to set up trade in the textile and food industry. Indian cuisine can be divided into two mainstreams, Northern and Southern Indian cuisine.
North Indian cuisine boasts of a diet rich in meat and uses spices and ingredients such as yogurt and ghee in dishes that are elaborate without being overly spicy. Here, bread and chapati (wheat-flour pancakes) replaces rice, which is the center of most South Indian meals. Coconut milk, mustard seeds, and chilies are also widely used in the Southern province.
Spices are the heart and soul of Indian cooking. But the quantity and proportions vary with the geographical boundaries. Curry powder is almost never used. Spices are freshly grounded and added in many different combinations. Spices commonly used are coriander, turmeric, cumin, chilies, fennel, and fenugreek. Other fragrant spices added are cardamom, clove, cinnamon and star aniseed.
In Malaysia, there is an abundant of Indian restaurants and food stalls to whet your appetite. They are traditionally served on a thali, a circular metal tray on which a number of small bowls called katori, also made from metal, are placed. Eaten with fingers, rice or bread are placed directly on the thali while curries and other dishes are served in the bowls. For South Indian cuisine, banana leaves are often used as plates where rice is served in the center, followed by various curries and accompaniments around it. These include dried fish, pappadams (lentil wafers), fresh chutneys made from herbs, coconut, and acid fruits among others.
Local Indian hawkers have created unique versions of local dishes, which are not found in India. For example, "mee goreng" is a combination of fresh Chinese yellow noodles, tofu, bean-sprouts, and dried shrimp paste. Malaysia also abounds with shops offering "Nasi Kandar", which is basically a combination of Malay and Indian cuisine - hence very Malaysian - although the taste is more robust. This concept came about when "nasi" (rice) hawkers would previously "kandar" (balance a pole on the shoulder with two huge containers on both ends) their wares.
Bread is the main item in most meals in North Indian cuisine. Therefore, a wide variety of bread is offered at these restaurants. Nann (leavened bread with poppy seeds) is a popular choice. The bread dough is rolled out and then slapped on the inside of the tandoori, near the top where it cooks very quickly in the fierce heat. It is then flavored with onion or garlic. Paratha, meanwhile, is rich, flaky, and flavored with ghee. It can be eaten as an accompaniment or by itself, filled with potatoes and peas. Chapati is another leavened bread. It resembles flat discs and has a delightful flavor and chewy texture.
Tandoori dishes are the most popular main courses in North Indian restaurants. Tandoori chicken is always a favorite, where a whole baby chicken or chicken quarters are roasted in the clay oven for several hours in advance and then finished off on the barbecue.
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