The Moluccas (Maluka Islands) once known as the Spice Islands stand out for defining the course of world trade during the Age of Discovery. But centuries before the scramble for the rich islands of Malay, they were a hot destination for traders from the Arab world who gloried in the cloves, nutmeg and mace to be found here.
Like any wealth which tends to be trumped up where it is in short supply, spice is played down at home. That’s not to say food doesn’t get spicy – one only need to look at the food of the Peranakan, a Chinese community that settled and flourished in the Malay region. Cultural influences have played a huge role in defining the cuisine of the Malay archipelago. Noodles, spiced curry formulations, kebabs came with successive waves of Chinese, Indian and Arab interests. Noodles were quickly adapted into unique mei dishes, curry into a range of gulai (remarkably one of the few Indonesian dish classes that calls upon clove and nutmeg) and kebabs into satay.Chilli, the most popular of all New World things to drop in from Old World boats, caught on like wild fire in the region and is today indispensible to most dishes. It is the core ingredientin the sauce staple known as sambal.
ICONIC DISHES: Laksa, sambal