6 Quintessential Malaysian Foods That Need More Branding!
By Julia Koh
Our country is blessed with an abundance of invaluable cultural heritage. But perhaps the most indispensable of all is food. We Malaysians take our food very seriously. When we’re told rendang has to be ‘crispy’, we lose our collective minds. We fight over who has the best laksa and whose Hokkien Mee is better (Melaka’s Nyonya Laksa & KL’s Hokkien Mee, lah!).
Yet, as serious as we are championing our cultural foods, we still haven’t brought them up to their highest potential. Many of our F&B products, both traditional and new, are still kept in the dark. By comparison, in many Western countries, food products are highly branded, commercialised and even regulated.
Take the Belgians, who made a lucrative industry out of chocolate. They have laws regulating the use of the word ‘Belgian chocolate’, even though there isn’t any special blend or ingredient that makes their chocolate uniquely Belgian. It is just widely accepted that Belgian chocolates are those produced in the small European country. This has helped spur more than 2,000 chocolate brands in that country.
In Italy, their government monitors pasta production and made it law to label all Italian pasta exports so consumers worldwide can differentiate between authentic Italian pasta from pasta produced in other countries.
So why can’t we brand our Malaysian food and beverages on a higher level so that the world can recognise?
Here are some under-rated Malaysian food products we think could use better branding:
- Our Exotic Condiments
Belacan, cencalok, budu, tempoyak, and many more local condiments native to our country are still practically unknown. They might be an acquired taste but with the right branding and exposure, we might be able to address the demand for exotic condiments in the global market.How come we know about Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce more than our own Malaysian sauces and condiments?!
- Our Coconuts
In Western countries, shaved coconuts are high-priced items found only in health and speciality stores. They’re a trendy ingredient to be added to yoghurts, smoothie bowls and vegan cakes. Moreover, coconut oil is valued for its health benefits and seen as an alternative to conventional butter.But in Malaysia, these would be your everyday cooking ingredients found in sundry shops and pasar malam!
- Our Durian
Sure, our durian exports are very popular in international markets like China. But we could do so much more with the King of Fruits (perhaps addressing non-durian eaters?). For instance, we can make and properly brand them as ice-cream, cakes, crepes, chocolate, anything to maximise the durian’s true potential. It could also be made as a flavour essence like chocolate or strawberry.
- Our Paddy Rice
Malaysian paddy rice like those from Kedah and Sarawak have a unique strain. They are rice varieties that we can promote and brand as speciality rice to the world. If Siamese rice is known to be fragrant, our rice can be known for its compact size and smaller water retention, which would be perfect for fried rice!
Another example is Bario rice of Sarawak, which is known for being GMO-free, small but packed with nutrients. There’s already a small niche demand for Bario rice in local and overseas markets, but we seriously think it could use better branding and packaging to look good and presentable!
- Our Cocoa
Malaysia’s climate is ideal for mass cocoa production. We already have several small plantations in Selangor, Pahang and East Malaysia. But aside from producing raw cocoa as a commodity, we could do so much more with our chocolate. We can brand them as the Belgians did, or make our own patented blend of Malaysian chocolate, with spices or something exotic like durian or curry.
- Our Colourful Dishes
Aside from these ‘exotic’ ingredients, we have so many more dishes to offer to the world. Aside from common ones such as nasi lemak, laksa, chee cheong fun, we also need more people to try delicacies from Sabah & Sarawak such as latok, hinava and ambuyat.