Discover Penang with Bee of Rasa Malaysia

Bee Yinn Low photo at grocery store
From Portugal to Malaysia - two countries that were closely linked on the ancient Spice Route when Portugal was the first European power to reach the Malay Peninsula, conquering Malacca in the early 16th century.

To the north of Malacca, a small island called Penang was nothing more than jungle and a few small fishing villages at the time. It wasn’t until the British developed the island in the late 18th century – declaring it a free port and inviting traders from around Asia and Europe to settle there - did Penang become an important entrepot on the spice trade linking Asia to the world. This multicultural legacy is still clearly seen today in the diversity of languages, architecture, religions, and to the joy of locals and visitors alike, street food.

Bee from Rasa Malaysia epitomizes this amazing variety of food on her site with the hundreds of recipes she has shared. From Chinese to Indian, Malay to Nyonya, she truly represents her home of Penang on the New Spice Route.

Hi Bee, thanks for joining us on Season with Spice, and congratulations on your five year anniversary of Rasa Malaysia. Your site has become much more than just a food blog. With its success, you are in a tremendous position to put Penang on the map.

I love my little island. It has lots of potential and so many tourism assets, especially now that George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It really is the best thing that has happened to Penang. It makes everything so much more convincing when I share my home to all the travellers, foodies, and media, and especially those from the US where I'm based.

What do Americans think of Penang?

Actually, not many Americans know about Penang, or even Malaysia. When they think of travelling to Southeast Asia, they think of Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore. When I tell them that they should visit Malaysia, they are always skeptical, even to those most-seasoned travellers. They don’t know what Malaysia has to offer. And that’s what I have been doing on Rasa Malaysia – sharing our culture, scrumptious cuisines, and diversity.

Collage of images from Capturing Penang

Speaking of Americans you mention on Rasa Malaysia that you want to introduce Anthony Bourdain to Penang?

Yes, he went to Malaysia during the first season of ‘No Reservations’, but went to Kuala Lumpur and Borneo, instead of Penang. He said that Vietnam and Singapore offer some of the most exciting foods in the world, but I don’t think it’s fair for him to say that before setting foot in Penang, which has won many accolades as “the best street food in Asia.” (just last week, CNN voted Penang's Assam Laksa as #7 on the World's 50 most delicious foods)

#7 worlds best food on CNN Penang Assam Laksa
Maybe more attention will be on Malaysian food once Chipotle Mexican Grill launches their new venture called ‘Shophouse Southeast Asian Cuisine’, which will feature some Malaysian flavors. Being based in the US, do you sense that shift in interest toward Southeast Asia, and particularly Malaysian cuisine?

Definitely.  Malaysian cuisine is the next “hot” cuisine and certainly up-and-coming in the United States.  There has been a lot of press about Malaysian cuisine, and the fact that Chipotle is including it as part of their Shophouse business says a lot. Southeast Asian food has been around in the United States - Thai and Vietnamese are very popular - but Malaysian cuisine is in a class of its own because of the diverse offerings of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and more.  It’s about time that Malaysian food gets its much deserved recognition in America.

And you are also getting your deserved recognition with Easy Chinese Recipes. Congratulations on your first cookbook! When does it hit the shelves?

Thank you, the cookbook is available now in Malaysia and Singapore at all major bookstores.  The US release date is September 10th, but you can pre-order the book at Amazon.

Easy Chinese Recipes cookbook by Bee Yinn Low of Rasa Malaysia

It must be very exciting to hold the final product in your hands.  It's called Easy Chinese Recipes, but I'm sure it was anything but easy to make happen. 

I worked on the cookbook while I was pregnant with my son, starting from my second trimester and finished everything two weeks before my due date.  It was a lot of hard work as I had to develop recipes, cook, style, photograph, and write the cookbook, in a little less than six months.  The cooking part and food styling/photography were quite challenging, mostly because of my pregnancy.  It was hard to stoop down to take the photos at a certain angle with a pregnant belly, but I did it and am very proud of the results. 

That will be a fun story to share with your son someday.  I'm looking forward to reading, and trying out a few recipes, from the book, as I'm sure many of your faithful readers are on Rasa Malaysia.  Do you have any cooking advice for them?  

Practice makes perfect. I used to be a terrible cook and you can read all about it in the introduction chapter of my book. Other than practice, you need a little love, some patience, a great appetite if you wish to learn how to cook—be it Chinese, Malaysian, or any cuisine. Of course, a huge passion in the particular cuisine helps, too. 

rasa malaysia's easy chinese recipes coverWith all the Malaysian cooking you do for Rasa Malaysia, you must have a wide variety of spices in your kitchen?

Yes, mostly from Asian food stores in the US. I also bring some of the exotic spices from Malaysia, for example: Penang five-spice powder that is simply the best.

Is there a spice you can't live without?

Chili. I can’t even imagine not having chili in my diet.

Definitely the spice that links together all the diverse dishes of Malaysia, as well as the world. Thank you Bee for stopping by, but before we go, what’s next? Where does Rasa Malaysia go from here?

I hope to take it from online to offline one day.  I am interested to explore TV in Malaysia if there is the right opportunity.  I think the idea of having a food + eating + travel show can be a lot of fun.  I am hopeful.

That would be great to see you on TV introducing your home, like you have done so well on Rasa Malaysia. We wish you all the best, especially with your new cookbook!

All photos and videos in this article are courtesy of Rasa Malaysia and Capturing Penang