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Published: Saturday April 26, 2014 MYT 8:40:00 AM
Updated: Sunday April 27, 2014 MYT 7:02:35 AM

Try the durian, Mr President... and nasi lemak

Filepic shows U.S. President Barack Obama carries takeout Chinese food from the Great Eastern Chinese restaurant in San Francisco.

Filepic shows U.S. President Barack Obama carries takeout Chinese food from the Great Eastern Chinese restaurant in San Francisco.

PETALING JAYA: "What do you feel like eating today? Come, let's go makan."

For many Malaysians, that question is a way of life and often, the very foundation of a good time.

Thanks to a multicultural wealth of influences ranging from spicy Indian notes to rich Malay fare, Malaysia is a culinary wonderland like no other.

And when guests from foreign lands stop by our shores, we are all too excited to share the many delicious food that the nation has to offer.

On Saturday, the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, will be the first sitting US president to visit Malaysia in 48 years, the last being President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966.

We asked readers on The Star Online's official Facebook page to suggest "must-try" Malaysian culinary experiences for the US President.

Happily, the overwhelming response from our makan buddies ensured that Obama has quite the eat-list to hit… if he has the time!

Durian Musang King

With its creamy texture and accompanying olfactory assault, even the most adventurous of gourmets can find the durian to be a stumbling block of a delicacy.

Of course, this is precisely why most Malaysians love to inflict it upon visiting friends!

Netizen Zizi Laloq cheekily dared Obama to try the thorny fruit while James Yong said it was a test worth passing: "If the Leader of the Free World finishes one segment of the King of the Fruits, then he is a notch up in my books."

And in a reminder of the durian-eating ritual we all know and love, AndyMia Amal said the US president should drink water from the durian shell, which would help him cool down from fruit's heaty properties.

Either way, it is an experience that Obama simply cannot miss.

Anyone who enjoys the durian's smooth and luscious flesh is given a culinary badge of honour by delighted locals. Those who don't will at least have a culinary experience like no other to share, usually involving exaggerated depictions of the fruit's pungent smell.

Obama's early years in Indonesia could put him firmly in the former category!

Penang food

There truly is no keeping the local foodies away from their favourite culinary destination.

That is why many Malaysians think nothing of making the trek up to Penang to get their assam laksa fix - which CNN ranked as the world's seventh best dish, no less - or tuck into plates of curry-drenched nasi kandar.

Penang Assam Laksa

Netizens such as Noor Aini also urged Obama to try Penang rojak, a spicy-sweet fruit salad, and Penang ais kacang, as the icy treat is prepared differently from state to state.

Lest we forget, the list also includes firm favourites such as char kuey teowHokkien mee and prawn mee.

If the culinary world is our oyster, then Penang food is truly our Pearl of the Orient!

Nasi Lemak

Nasi lemak is our national pride and joy, and one that is even capable of igniting social media furores if found to be not up to par.

Everyone has a favourite place to go for his fix, as the best thing about nasi lemak is just how customisable it is.

What it cannot lack is one necessary ingredient: the fiery sambal, which incorporates the use of belacan or shrimp paste, which netizen Liyana Bakri Al-Habshee dubbed as "Malaysian cheese".

Now, a single nasi lemak serving can vary greatly from from stall to stall.

It can be as simple as the bare necessities - a perfect pairing of coconut rice with a side of sambal, groundnuts, ikan bilis (anchovies) and a quarter of hard-boiled egg.

Or you can go to town with your order and add on everything from crispy fried chicken to lashings of sambal sotong (squid sambal).

No two sambal taste the same, and the humble condiment is truly a sauce for all seasons.

It is used in many other delicious dishes, and can even be enjoyed on its own with a side of chilled cucumbers.

Cendol

The hot Malaysian weather just lends itself to the enjoyment of many icy treats, and what better way to beat the heat than a cool bowl of cendol?

After a long day of meetings, Obama would find the dessert of shaved ice, brown sugar syrup, coconut milk, and green pandan-flavoured strips of rice flour a sheer delight. And if he's feeling adventurous, other variations include an accompanying dollop of red beans and pulut (glutinous rice).

Satay

Not just any satay, but Kajang satay. The Selangor town is famous for its delicious skewers of grilled meat, best cooked over a flaming, sparking charcoal fire.

Satay is best enjoyed when dipped into a sweet and spicy peanut sauce and topped off with a cube of ketupat (compressed rice), as well as a sliver of onion and cucumber.

These days, satay choices have expanded to include rabbit, venison and fish versions.

However, we think Obama would be just as satisfied with the tried and true varieties of chicken and beef satay.

Teh Tarik

Our lovely, frothy pulled milk tea truly goes with any Malaysian delicacy you can think of. Seriously. Think about it. Anything you eat here can be improved with a glass of teh tarik.

The only question now, Mr President, is if you'll have yours kurang manis (less sweet) or biasa (standard).

Bak Kut Teh

This classic Chinese soup was another popular suggestion. Many netizens love this classic dish of pork ribs in a tasty broth, which can be of the peppery or herbal variety.

In some parts of town, you can find a deliciously dry version of bak kut teh, though many point to the soup version at Ban Lee Bak Kut Teh on Jalan Ipoh as a firm favourite.

Popular accompaniments include a bowl of piping hot white rice, stir fried cabbage or sawi in garlic oyster sauce, and yau char kwai (fried crullers) to dunk in the delicious soup.

The adventurous can also order many kinds of innards, which come bubbling in the same broth.

It's comfort food at its best, and with the rainy weather we've been enjoying recently, this might just hit the spot for our esteemed guest!

Roti Canai

Our famous flatbread is a breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea and supper staple here.

Whether you have it drenched in curry, sprinkled with sugar, or stuffed with anything from eggs (roti telur) to onions (roti bawang), there’s a roti to tickle your fancy.

And with the sheer volume of choice available at most mamak stalls today, it'd be great fun to see Obama curiously asking for the meaning of Roti Tisu (a large, thin and crispy variety) or Roti Bom (a thicker version with condensed milk and sugar).

Petai

Netizens do seem to love suggesting the most bold-smelling dishes to our visitors.

Petai is a bitter stink bean that does very well in savoury stir fry dishes, or when cooked in the ubiquitous sambal sauce. Like most dishes here, it is best enjoyed with a generous serving of white rice.

Other "fragrant" fare suggested include nangka (jackfruit) and smelly tofu, which is said to be so pungent that the stall offering it at the famous Cheras night market is set well apart from the rest!

Rendang

The mighty rendang was once dubbed the best dish in the world in an online poll by CNN. But do we really need 35,000 votes to know this truth?

The spicy meat dish, which needs beef to be simmered in coconut milk and a rich assortment of spices for hours upon hours, is a much-loved mainstay at Malaysian functions and celebrations.

Its preparation is a painstaking labour of love, and should result in a tender, melt-in-your-mouth quality. After all, a good rendang is the kind of stuff that people write home about. Namely, to ask that it be prepared for their enjoyment the next time they're in town.

Properly stored, it can keep for days, and generous portions kept for loved ones far, far away are said to last up for a good few months in the freezer.

Other yummy ideas from netizens included phoenix claw or braised chicken feet, courtesy of Mohd Luqman Abdullah. Lai Leong Lan suggested a Terengganu favourite in the form of fresh, crispy keropok lekor (fish paste snack) from Terengganu, while Fidelis George encouraged a diversion to Kuching to sample traditional favourites such as mi kolok and ayam pansuh.

However, one netizen, Ortian Campanale, truly took the cake with his idea.

According to him, a combination of roti banjir (roti canai drenched in dhal or a curry of your choice) for breakfast, a banana leaf rice lunch and hearty Nyonya food for dinner would be a surefire way to entice Obama into joining the Malaysian My Second Home programme!

Tags / Keywords: Malaysian food, Barack Obama, US President, United States, Malaysia, Asia Pacific

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