I like to joke with tourists to bring an extra bag or suitcase when they are preparing for their trip to Malaysia. Why?
Many of our guests are foodies and don’t want to go home with the cheesy refrigerator magnet or snow globe that says Malaysia (when does it snow in Malaysia?), instead, they want something different to really express their Malaysian adventure.
So I went ahead and compiled a list of 10 unique foodie souvenirs to remember your vacation.
Roti jala dispenser/mould- brass
Once you have tried roti jala, you are going to want to make it at home. I know this because even just last week a tourist asked me how she can make her own when she returns to the UK.
Roti jala, also called net bread because of its criss-cross appearance, is a specialty here in Malaysia and a favorite among so many tourists. It’s usually eaten with chicken curry or with durian gravy/sauce and is a simple tea-time snack to prepare.
To make roti jala at home you will need flour, eggs, milk and the special moulder available here as a take home souvenir (if you are not in Malaysia you could order a simple version from Amazon just like this one). Traditionally, it’s a cup made out of brass with holes in the bottom to ensure proper distribution of the batter. This is how the consistent net appearance is made.
Nowadays, you can find them made out of plastic and a few different styles. The brass one’s can be hard to come by. You can find a moulder in any bakery shop or market.
Moon cake mould
Another one many foodie tourists want to rush home and replicate after the festival is the Chinese mooncake.
The mooncake is an offering only available during the mooncake festival in mid-autumn. Again, this delicacy can’t be made properly without the proper equipment.
As a souvenir, there are a few types to consider:
The classic wooden moulder – The wooden moulds look like a long paddle and it will have 2 or 3 intricately carved designs. This would also make a great decoration for the kitchen.
Plastic egg or rice moulder – These are the fun ones for the kids. They come in adorable shapes like fish, car, bunny, hearts, etc.
Silicon moulds – These are good as alternatives if you can’t find traditional or stamp mooncake molds.
Stamp moon cake moulds – These molds are made of plastic and have three main parts: a barrell for the cake, a disc for the design, and a plunger to press the design onto the cake.
This is a great way to get your friends back home excited to hear about your Malaysian vacation. Just serve them some homemade mooncakes and tell them all about the festival and the different types of mooncakes you sampled.
Airtight tea container
When you think Malaysia, think tea. Tourists are amazed at how fresh tasting the tea here is. Drinking tea is a large part of Malaysian culture since the Chinese immigrants introduced it and not only is there great tea grown locally but it’s also imported from China, Sri Lanka and India.
In order to keep the tea fresh it has to be kept away from heat, light, air, and moisture and should be stored at room temperature in an airtight container. Plastic is not the best material as it will absorb the flavors of whatever is put in it, even if it’s tea and that will permeate to the current batch.
A good stainless steel or aluminum tea container with a well-fitting lid is just what the doctor ordered. And they look great on the kitchen counter. They may be a little pricey, but the craftsmanship is worth it. As well as having fresh tea all the time.
Royal Selangor Pewter is the perfect place to pick up one of these.
Clay water container (Labu Sayong)
Sayong is a village in Perak, Malaysia that is famous for making “labu sayong”, or clay water containers. Labu means “pumpkin” since the local clay is first shaped then a pumpkin glaze is added before baking.
These beautiful clay pots are very decorative, have several health benefits and keep water naturally cool even in the summer. Since it is made from clay and not plastic, there are no harmful chemicals that can harm your body.
These can be found in beautiful colors and designs. Best place to find these pots are Central Market in Kuala Lumpur, Sayong Village in Perak, Pasar Payang in Terengganu and also Pasar Khadijah in Kelantan.
Bowls, spoons, lamps even a coinbox all made from coconut shells are an amazing way to brighten up your home. Here in Malaysia, we call the coconut tree the “tree of 1000 uses”. I’m not sure if there are exactly 1000 uses, but I’m here to tell you, there are many.
After the meat and juice are extracted from the coconut, Malaysian creativity goes to work. They craft these items artistically to make useful household items and the benefits are astounding. Since they are wood they are naturally anti-bacterial, don’t conduct heat (no more burned hands from grabbing a hot spoon to stir) and don’t stick to food.
Tourists and locals flock to these eco-friendly utensils. Even I use some at home. You can buy them as a set in the Central market in Kuala Lumpur where you’ll find a large selection, but they can be found at markets all throughout Malaysia.
Baba and Nyonya food container
This is a stackable food or “tiffen” carrier, normally with three tiers and more elaborate ones have five. The bottom tier is traditionally larger and is the one reserved for rice. The tiers sit on top of each other and are held together by the handle, which makes it easy to carry. It can then be opened by unlocking a small catch on either side of the handle.
Also known locally as Mangkuk Sia, these were popular from colonial times in the late 18th century up until the 1960s, however, some still use it today. They are easy to use, clean and store and make a great replacement for plastic bags or other harmful food packages.
They are made of brass or stainless steel and can be found either plain or ornately painted with different Asian-inspired designs. These are great for decoration or even to use daily to take food to school or the office.
So now you know what I carry my lunch in to work every day.
Dried chili paste
Nowhere in the world are you going to find a dried chili paste like you will in Malaysia. There are so many different ethnic blends and places that add their own special touch, sometimes you can tell culture by its chili paste.
Malaysian chili paste is normally super hot with added anchovies, whereas Chinese chili paste is simmered longer for a more mellow taste. Indian chili paste has a blend of sweet, spicy and sour.Some places may add other ingredients such as soybeans, salt, vinegar, lime juice or garlic.
If you’re a fan of spicy, then this is the perfect foodie souvenir. It can be added to the recipe or used as a condiment, your choice.
If you are in Melaka you will find Chinese or Peranakan dried chili paste. To find Malay go to Pasar Siti Khadijah in Kelantan or Pasar Payang in Terengganu. And if you are in Penang, hop over to Chowrasta to find our famous Penang-style chili paste.
Traditional food basket with cover
These food baskets are a great souvenir and will really liven up any kitchen. They are woven from the tall, thorny leaves of the pandanus or mengkuang which are collected, boiled and dyed.
They were once used in the days before people had refrigerators to hold leftover cooked foods. The netting cover keeps the pests out, yet lets the air to circulate so the cooked food could cool properly and not spoil. It also allows someone to look in and see what’s for dinner without having to lift the lid. They are still very popular in a Peranakan households.
Curry powder is a great take away from your Malaysian vacation. It can be used to make, of course, curry dishes but can also be used as a rub in grilling or frying.
Curry powder is a mixture of many spices like ground ginger, coriander, cumin, pepper and turmeric. The turmeric is what gives it its pungent aroma and yellow color.
There are different types to choose from besides the “normal” curry powders depending on your tastes:
Madras Curry Powder
This one’s a bit spicy and has more of a red color than yellow since it’s made from dried chilis.
Vindaloo Curry powder
This one is even spicier and has many more chilis added
Maharaja Curry Powder
This curry powder is milder with a hint of sweetness.
If you read my article on Durian, then you’ll already know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t read it, then stop what you’re doing now and go read it. It’s a good one.
Durian chocolate is a great way to introduce your friends and family back home to durian. Or if you were like me, you can keep it all to yourself.
There are so many more items to take home for great souvenirs. The above list is just what I’ve seen as most popular among tourists. Some other items to consider are : Honey, My Kuali Penang White Curry Instant Noodles, Instant White Coffee (you’ll fall in love with this), Nutmeg Oil and Boh tea.
What’s one foodie souvenir you would want to get your hands on?