Malaysia 2012

3/07/2012 01:12:00 PM

The Petronas Twin Towers - Kuala Lumpur

As those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook will know, I recently came back from a fabulous holiday in Malaysia! It was my first trip back in over 8 years – way too long between visits! We spent 3 nights in Kuala Lumpur, 6 in Penang (my home town!), and another back in KL before flying home.

My family used to go to Malaysia almost every year when I was a kid, but this trip was the first time I’ve been as a grown-up, and it gave me a chance to discover lots of new sights and tastes. Super fun!

Having now finally sorted through the thousands of pictures we took, I’m so excited to be sharing our food and travel experiences here on my blog. I reckon it’ll take me a good month to get through them all!

Malaysia is a very exciting food destination, thanks in part to its racial and ethnic diversity. I feel like I should expand on this a little here, as I’ve found that Aussies seem to be a bit confused when I say I'm Malaysian Chinese.  I’ve lost count of the number of times people here have asked me if that means that one parent is from China and the other is from Malaysia; or if I'm Malay; or if I speak Malay (AKA Bahasa Melayu) at home. The answer to all of those questions is NO! I’m very proudly fully Malaysian, but it would be totally inaccurate to call me Malay.

Anyway, let me explain – here’s my very basic, potted description of Malaysia’s ethnic diversity!

Malaysia’s main ethnic / racial groups are Malays (i.e. Muslims), Chinese and Indians, due to previous waves of immigration and settlement. There is also a lasting British influence due to the history of British colonialism. This means Malaysia is a big mix of different cultures, religions and languages – hence the awesome food scene!

Super-cute Malaysian kids! (Indian, Chinese, Malay).  I love this pic!
Photograph published with kind permission of Jennifer Gan

This also means that there are lots of public holidays, and explains why the start of the year is pretty much a write-off for anyone wanting to do business. (E.g. Chinese New Year, Thaipusam, Prophet Muhammad’s birthday – just to name the ones we encountered whilst there!)

I am a Malaysian of Chinese descent, from Penang – emphatically not Malay! You can’t use the words “Malay” and “Malaysian” interchangeably. Whilst “Malaysian” describes a person of any race who comes from Malaysia, the word “Malay” refers to a specific race of people linked by customs, language and the Muslim religion. There are also Malay populations outside of Malaysia - for example in Brunei, Singapore, Southern Thailand and even South Africa. (You’ve heard of South Africa’s “Cape Malay” population?) They would be all "Malay", but not "Malaysian".

My parents' ancestors migrated from China to Malaysia many generations ago, making up part of the Chinese-Malaysian population – A.K.A. Nyonyas/Peranakans/Straits Chinese.  I daresay that after centuries of being in Malaysia, and having established unique Malaysian Chinese customs, most Malaysian Chinese these days feel very little, if any, direct cultural connection to mainland China – I know I don’t! To confuse things even more, there’s diversity within Malaysia’s Chinese community itself – e.g. the Chinese in Penang speak Hokkien, whereas the Chinese in KL seem to speak Cantonese. (Which is even more foreign to me than Malay / Bahasa Melayu!) Others still speak Teowchew, Hakka, and other Chinese dialects.

Most Malaysians will speak their own language (Malay, Hokkien, Tamil, English, etc.) and some of the other languages to varying levels of skill, depending on their upbringing and education. For example, my parents were educated at English schools, and speak both Hokkien and English at home. However, they can speak decent Malay, having taken Malay as a school subject, and will do so when ordering at a Malay restaurant, or when doing government business (renewing passports etc.), as it’s the country's official language.  (Although not everyone speaks it fluently or as a first language).

And – ta-dah! – that’s my very simplified explanation of Malaysia’s ethnic composition. I didn’t want to go into too much detail, and I hope the way I explained it all made sense – I’ve linked to some Wiki entries above if anyone is interested in discovering more. I absolutely love my country and find the history and culture so fascinating.

And here's your reward for reading through all that text: some pictures!!

Fruit and Veg at the Pasar Malam (Night Market), Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur

Cempedak at Pasar Malam (Night Market), Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur

One of the Petronas Twin Towers


Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur

Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur

View of Kuala Lumpur City

Handbags galore at Petaling Street night market, Kuala Lumpur

Fried bee-hoon, Pulau Tikus Market, Penang

Curry Puffs and more, Pulau Tikus Market, Penang

Teluk Bahang Beach, Penang

Teh Peng, Kopi Jua, Fettes Park Market, Penang

Toast, Fettes Park Market, Penang

Interior of the Peranakan Mansion, Penang
Streets of Little India, Penang

Streets of Little India, Penang

Nagore Dargha Sheriff, Indian Muslim Shrine, Georgetown, Penang

Kuan Yin Temple, Georgetown, Penang

Streets of Georgetown, Penang

Streets of Georgetown, Penang

Viper in the trees, Snake Temple, Bayan Lepas, Penang

Sunset at Batu Ferringhi, Penang

So for the next few weeks, my little blog is gonna be all about Malaysia! I’m gonna start with the KL food posts!

You Might Also Like


  1. Yay!! I've wanted to go to Malaysia (particularly Penang) for aaaages but haven't gotten around to it, so I look forward to your upcoming posts!

  2. Thanks Jackie! I've got heaps of Penang posts coming up too, lol. :)

    xox Sarah

  3. It's been a few years since my last visit home, this post makes me think I should schedule another one!

  4. Thanks Leaf! Absolutely do it! :)

  5. Very interesting! And your pictures make me want aTapetenwechsel!

    Looking forward to your food posts :)

  6. Eeeek! I can't wait for the rest of your posts. I have been to Malaysia 3 times now and absolutely adore the mix of ethnicities and foods. It's hands down my favourite travel destination in South East Asia. Looking forward to reading more! :)

  7. Thank you Julie! I don't think you can get a bigger change of scenery than Luxembourg-Malaysia! :)

  8. Georgia-thanks!! I have sooo many posts to come, really excited about them. Yay!!

  9. Yay to being a grown up! LOL! It is very different going on a holiday with family and when you go on your own.

    Great explanation of Malaysian vs Malay and beautiful photos! Can't wait to see/read more!

  10. The pictures are great and I recognise pretty much all the Penang spots :) Looks like a great trip and can't wait to read more.

    PS. Those curry puffs at PT wet markets are so good. I find it very hard to resist having one whenever I shop there. I hope you had one!

  11. Thanks April! :)

  12. you captured Malaysian food in a perfect 1st

  13. Jane - Thank-you! Unfortunately I missed out on those curry puffs because I was so full of prawn mee, bah chang kway, kopi and mua chee! Hehe.

    KKpills - Waaah so kind one!! :)



My email address is sarahcooks [at] hotmail [dot] com.