India has a long history with Malaysia, mass migration occurred during the British occupation of Malaysia when Indians emigrated for labour purposes and long before then Indians and Arabs were travelling the trade routes and settling across the South East Asian region.
Indians are the third most represented ethnic group in Malaysia and have a good diplomatic relationship – India and Malaysia have a migrant working visa arrangement similar to the one that takes thousands of young Europeans to Australia and New Zealand every year.
As such Indian food is wonderfully represented in Malaysia and one that would be most familiar to western visitors is a banana leaf curry, a popular south Indian curry dish.
Banana leaf curries are a sort of buffet meal in one, usually you’ll get to choose the main attraction, usually a chicken, fried fish or other meat (sometimes mutton) curry. And then a server will ladle spoons of vegetable sides, rice, pickles and a poppadum onto your big green plate.
It seems fairly standard for everything to be drenched with gravy, but often as westerners we get asked if we like any and a little is poured to the side – it’s worth asking what the sauces are as there’s often a spicy chilli one and a rasam (spicy sour) available.
Banana leaf meals are traditionally eaten with the hand (typically, your right hand only although, many places will have cutlery if you ask) and to show good etiquette you should wash your hands before and after eating.
Often you can ask for more rice and pickles at little or no extra charge, and when you’ve finished eating etiquette dictates you fold your leaf in half, both as a thank you and a symbol to staff you’ve finished eating.
Banana leaf curries can be a great way to sample a lot of different flavours, as well as being disposable (they literally grow on trees, after all… ) I read banana leaves contain an antioxidant which food can take on, and also gives a nice fragrance. They’re also usually pretty good value for money and will really fill you up as well as giving you a big chunk of your 5-a-day.
Malaysian Bahasa isn’t going to be very useful in your average banana leaf restaurant – most staff will speak Hindi/other Indian dialects and some degree of English.
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