Malaysians are all about being in the ‘scene’ when it comes to trying out new restaurants and food trends — nobody wants to be missing out on the latest buzz in town. Remember when the salted egg yolk lava was all the rage at one point that everything from sweet to savoury had the golden cream in it?
In the last three years, the food truck trend is also gaining momentum with foodies looking for quick, fuss-free accessible food. Healthy guilt-free meals are also picking up with more restaurants focusing on poké bowls, salads, juices and other meal replacements. More recently in 2018, modern Malaysian cuisine is taking precedence in the local dining scene with chefs and new dining places heroing local produce and traditional recipes on their menus. Even bars around KL are upping their ante with Malaysian-inspired novelty cocktails, with some playing on the idea of reigniting nostalgia.
We ask some of the top and upcoming chefs in Malaysia on their thoughts over food trends that will be big in 2019. Here’s what they have to say.
In 2019, there will be a wave of traditional (almost forgotten) ingredients and techniques making a comeback in the dining scene. With the rising popularity in modern Malaysian cuisine, the demand for local indigenous ingredients is slowly increasing. Newcomer, Chef Tyson Gee of Atas Modern Malaysian Eatery at The RuMa echoes: “You’ll see a focus on utilising fantastic homegrown produce such as native herbs and ulams like selom, daun kesom, selasih, tarum siam and pucuk gajus throughout all menus. You’re able to create unique flavour profiles to pique the palate of diners who are constantly looking for something new.” He also feels that the use of cooking over charcoal and hardwood will be making its return in 2019. “This style of cooking adds an amazing depth of flavour into all food that is cooked this way. Cooking with fire and coal is also much more challenging and requires the chef to be more intuitive – pretty much going back to basics,” he elaborates.
There will always be space for comfort food in 2019. These are flavours that we are way too familiar with – food that hits all the right spots. Nadodi KL’s head chef Sricharan Venkatesh believes that it is the chef’s responsibility to showcase his or her roots through cooking. “It has to showcase one’s culinary identity. That is how it has been for years and I feel the trend will continue – serving comfort food with a purpose,” he shares.
With Singapore already digging the locavore movement the last few years, it is time for this trend to make its way in Malaysia. “Malaysians are becoming increasingly sophisticated and well-travelled, and this will fuel in an increase in demand for locally produced as well as sustainable ingredients,” explains Chef Richard Millar, Director of Culinary at W Hotel KL. “Local companies like Weeds & More, Milky Whey Cheese and Chocolate Concierge are becoming more popular for their artisanal approach to farming and producing locally-made food.” He believes that people are thinking more about their health and where food comes from these days. This will drive restaurants and hotels to source responsibly from purveyors in Malaysia.
There are many restaurants in Malaysia having their own interpretation of Asian cuisine and the very few that highlights traditional family recipes. Furthermore, Modern Malaysian cuisine has only started to take off within the last two to three years. So what sets these restaurants apart? Chef Christian Recomio of Sitka strongly believes that chefs and restaurateurs will be putting more focus on creating its own identity. “It took three years for customers to finally notice that we (Sitka) have been big supporters of locally sourced ingredients. Hopefully this year, restaurants will give more time to focus on artisanal products and dedicate themselves to the craft – giving us truly original and creative restaurants,” he says.
Brace yourself for more plant-based offerings that will change the way you look at meatless dishes. Chef Yenni Law of Meatology Restaurant and Bar believes that there will be more chefs creating alternative meat-free renditions that are as good, if not better. “Expect umami flavours, fermentation, kombucha and pickling methods being introduced into these dishes to entice a meatless diet market,” she says.
We will see steady growth in Chinese cuisine throughout Malaysia as more people are getting to know and enjoy these lesser-known flavours of China. “I believe Asian influences will reign supreme in Malaysia with the Chinese cuisine bring at the forefront. Sichuan and Guangdong flavours and techniques will be featured widely in the upcoming year. There’s so much more to taste and experience from China’s many regions and I am looking forward to it,” opines Chef Beh Weng Chia of Indigo at Penang’s Blue Mansion.
The recent ban on plastic straws and food packaging is a testament to us trying to make a difference in taking care of the environment. Chefs and restaurateurs too will be playing a bigger part – one way or another – by introducing a sustainable cooking approach in their respective restaurants. Chef Raymond Tham of Beta KL responds: “Think along the lines of the nose-to-tail or leaf-to-root concepts and zero-waste cooking. We have the power to educate our customers through our food. Showcase techniques with a purpose, proving that every part of the vegetable (the skin, leaves and roots) or even a prawn (its head, shell and flesh) can be made into delicious dishes. We need to create more awareness through sustainable cooking.”