For many Malaysian students, anything that involves ‘going abroad’ or overseas is a cause for mega celebration! Only the best are given the opportunity to further their studies among the “omputihs” and have the opportunity to frolic in the snow!
However, the excitement can be short-lived. Within the first week of living abroad, you may start getting restless and sleepless; not to mention the high likelihood of experiencing hallucinations involving the smell of your Mum’s nasi lemak and ayam goreng rempah wafting constantly in your nose.
Sure, there’s a Malaysian Hall but, as a starving student, it is unrealistic to satisfy your cravings by shaving a big chunk of your small allowance when you can just act smart and prepare beforehand some of the items that make living away from home bearable. So, let’s line up the staple Malaysian items that EVERY student must stow away in their bags in case of emergency:
a) Kicap, especially the lemak manis and lemak masin ones.
One cannot be truly Malaysian and rely on just one type of generic soy sauce. Being able to bring your favourite(s) is vital. Anytime you miss home, fry an egg and cover it with the delicious black sauce you grew up with and eat to your heart’s content. The best part is, one bottle should be enough to last you for a few months or until you head back home for a short visit (or, your next parcel delivery date) *rub hands gleefully*
b) Sambal kering (either with potatoes, ikan bilis or tempe).
What’s not to like about sambal kering. You can eat it with hot rice, stuff it in bread to make a sandwich or have it over noodles. Store it in an airtight container and you are good to go for many looong weeks, provided you don’t eat it all in one go.
c) Maggi mee or any of your favourite instant noodle brands.
Ramen has become a fave instant meal the world over, but we’re Malaysians; we like to alter the flavour to suite our own tastes. These noodles are quick, comforting and easily personalized with anything from XO sauce to sliced cheese. Yes cheese! Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it, even Fried Chilies says so here.
Here’s a tip, add Lingham‘s chili sauce over the Maggi noodles! Sriracha sauce simply won’t do okay, never mind the food trend.
d) Favorite kuih/biscuit
While doing your assignments, there’s nothing better than munching on something your mum or grandma baked to give you a taste of home. If you don’t have any kuih or home baked goodies, there is always the old school option of pineapple tarts, the biscuits with different coloured swirls on top or the sesame ones. Bring your favourites with you and munch on them when you’re feeling homesick and want both a taste and a memory of home. For Malaysian students who are back home during festivals like Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali or the Harvest Festival (lucky you!), don’t forget to pack those leftover Bangkit cookies, Pineapple Tarts and Samprit cookies into your suitcase. Forget about your clothes and other supplies! You eat to live, right?
And, ooh, if you have extra space, don’t forget to bring love letters too!
e) Brahims, the pioneer and still, the number one Malaysian packaged food brand.
Ah, Brahims, a life-saving kit for Malaysian students to recreate home cooked flavours, especially for dishes that are usually time consuming to make or may have ingredients that are not easily available in that Kampung of America that you’re headed to. With various selections from kuah satay to rendang (yes, you can almost recreate a Hari Raya spread with Brahim’s) to a variety of other curries, there is something flavourful and tasty to satisfy most cravings.
The Big Guns
For those who have a hardcore Malaysian palate, you know it is going to be a survival game once you leave Malaysian soil. There ain’t no mamak stall you can head over to at 2am in the morning when you are hungry. So, here are some food items that will pass through customs and save you the grief of being caught by your roommate chewing on your pillow whilst dreaming of delicious belacan and rice.
Sometimes you buy all the ingredients to make an elaborate dish, cook it to perfection and still feel like something’s missing. Well, this could very well be the missing omph! Belacan! It is delicious with a slight shrimp aroma that tickles the senses.
b) Udang kering
What does it do? It adds a much needed savouriness and depth of flavour especially when you are making sambal tumis. If you like a subtler flavour, you can blend it into a powder and perhaps use it as a garnish.
c) Ikan bilis
Don’t be fooled by people telling you that anchovies can be bought overseas. The anchovies there are definitely as foreign as the people living there. Guess, the anchovies in Malaysia eat spices too.
d) Frozen Roti canai
Get the Seri Melur Jaya or Kawan brand. They offer the best roti canai that tastes almost the same as the roti canai near the alley behind your house. Let’s face it, some of our favourite food items aren’t as easy to make just anywhere.
e) Bawang goreng
Bawang goreng sounds easy but is actually difficult to make (cue weeping sound of Malaysian students). The art of making bawang goreng is technique-driven and relies on patience and consistency; all things that come from doing it often. It’s not easy to make when you’re not used to it. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s just a garnish because once you sprinkle some bawang goreng over your briyani or sup tulang, be prepared to have your eyes widened to the complete change in taste and flavour.
f) Serunding daging or ayam
So what if you’re not going to make nasi impit often let alone lemang to enjoy some serunding goodness. You can make do with some fresh bread. Slather it with butter or mayo, and load it with as much serunding as you like and voila! You have a joyous sandwich.
g) Instant anything tepung goreng
Whether it’s Adabi or any other brand that suits your fancy, it’s the fastest way to make pisang goreng – and boy does it help when you don’t have that right variety of banana. If you don’t like bananas, that’s okay, because there are so many other things that could be made fried with flour and taste just as good.
So, there you go! All the things you need to go abroad and survive until your graduation. This list is not limited to students only. Anyone who loves Malaysian food but also wants to frolic in the snow should take note and start preparing for their trip. Trust us, even a three-day trip overseas can feel like a month if you don’t get your Malaysian food fix.
One very important tip. Check the custom regulations online for the country you are heading to. Every country has different rules. You might find yourself bursting into tears if you have to throw away an unopened package of serunding.
Finally, one last vital word of advice (possibly unrelated to this article) to Malaysian students, if you plan to play in the snow, wash your hands if you see any yellow snow around.