Help me plan my (diet-restricted) dining on a trip to Malaysia
June 13, 2014 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Fructose filter: I’ll be in peninsular Malaysia. I hear the food is incredible and diverse, but I have a dietary restriction. Can you suggest some dishes that might be suitable?

The main issue is that I’m extremely fructose intolerant. Fructose naturally occurs in troublesome amounts in all fruits and in the sweeter vegetables. Some examples of foods I can't eat include lime, ginger, pineapple, corn, peas, sweet potatoes, & eggplant. It’s also found in products derived from those fruits and vegetables (e.g. wine, fruit-based vinegars). Many sweeteners are also fructose-rich, including honey, molasses, and coconut milk.

I’m also lactose intolerant, but that’s a lesser issue since my symptoms aren't as severe, and I can just take lactaids, so long as the milk product isn’t one of the major components of the meal.

I'll be traveling around peninsular Malaysia, spending just a day in Kuala Lumpur. Suggestions for dishes or styles of cuisine I could investigate as possibilities would be appreciated!
posted by scrambles to Food & Drink (10 answers total)
Chicken rice. I could eat it 3x a day easily. But maybe consult a Malaysian cookbook for ingredients because I'm looking at one now and chicken rice has some ginger.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:23 AM on June 13, 2014

Your best bet would probably be to go to those places where you can pick your own side dishes with rice, but I feel like the lime,& ginger will screw you over. Even in the meat-heavy dishes ginger is a major component.

Fast food?
posted by divabat at 10:52 AM on June 13, 2014

Nasi lemak gets its name from being cooked in coconut milk so avoid that.

What sort of dishes can you eat? That can help us find analogues.
posted by divabat at 10:55 AM on June 13, 2014

I have some friends who are very strictly kosher, and backpacked around SE Asia. They took a camping frying pan with them, and paid restaurants along the way to let them cook their own food in a corner of the kitchen.

My understanding is that ginger is super-common in Malaysian cuisine. Probably you'll be able to get plain rice, boiled eggs and tofu in most places, but getting comfortable with the words: "I know this is crazy but I'd like to pay you to use this frying pan in a corner of your kitchen. I'll pay you super-well" might be a good fallback for you.

If you look up "aluminum mess kit" on Amazon or a camping goods store, you'll see the kind of lightweight gear I'm talking about.
posted by acalthla at 11:50 AM on June 13, 2014

You may want to stick more closely to Malaysian Chinese food then. Noodles in clear broth should be fairly safe, like kway teow soup or pan mee. Teochew porridge restaurants will let you to pick your own side dishes to go with a bowl of plain rice congee, and while the braised dishes may contain ginger, there will always be sauteed vegetables, fried fish, egg omelettes. Some of the recipes call for wine, but rice wine, not fruit wine, is used.

You should stay away from rojak, laksa and curries. Not all curries are made with coconut milk, but ginger is a common ingredient in curry paste. Most local desserts are probably off limits to you as well.

At a mamak stall, you can just eat the flatbreads (roti canai, thosai, murtabak etc) without curry. Satay ought to be quite safe, though the accompanying sauces tend to be sweetened, so you may want to play it safe and eat it plain.
posted by peripathetic at 12:37 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

The satay mention reminded me that most things in the "bakar" (grilled) or snacks that are "goreng" (fried) should be fine.

I'm not sure how the let-me-cook idea is going to fly.
posted by divabat at 12:48 PM on June 13, 2014

Thanks everyone, the suggestions of what to look for, AND what to avoid are great. As are the suggestions of general types of eateries I should look for, like Malaysian Chinese food, or mamak stall.

I like learning languages, too, so clues like "lemak" means "cooked in coconut milk" and "bakar" means "grilled" are both fun and helpful.

To answer your question, divabat, over the past couple of weeks I've eaten Thai pad see ew; Chinese lo mein; stir fry with tofu, carrots, bok choy and waterchestnuts; collards and mustard greens stewed with sausage; Russian buckwheat grechka with pork and carrots; potato salad, deviled eggs, and grilled sausage; cheeseless lasagna with tofu, spinach and sausage; baked potatoes with broccoli, tomato, and cheddar cheese (aged cheeses often have no lactose!); Uzbek somsa (like samosa, filled with meat or spinach); Russian rassolnik; spaghetti carbonara (again with the aged cheese!); chorizo lentil soup; Uzbek moshhorda; roast split chicken with mustard; Vietnamese pho.

One generalization about all these dishes is that they are not sweet at all. Another generalization is that a combination of starch/grain+meat/tofu/appropriate vegetable+minimal saucing (since that often contains wine or fruit or sweeteners or other dangerous substances) is a good bet.
posted by scrambles at 2:44 PM on June 13, 2014

"lemak" means "fat", literally, but generally it hints at the fat in question being coconut milk.

You mention a lot of stirfries - if you end up at a Chinese restaurant you could try to ask them to cook it without ginger. I was raised on Chinese restaurants in Malaysia and usually they'll be open to accommodating some requests.

I was hesitant to recommend things like mi goreng (fried noodles) or keuy teow (different sort of fried noodles) because I thought they might have ginger in them, but you can always ask.

There is a lot of vegetarian food - Indian food, especially - that isn't sweet.
posted by divabat at 2:50 PM on June 13, 2014

Here's some foods to look into that might work ...

Fishball soup(chinese) is pretty safe, and you can point at the ingredients as they put them in. Usually at hawker stalls. Most noodle soups(but not laksa) at hawker stalls will be similar. Mee Goreng stalls may also be good once you check on their sauce because you can specify the ingredients you want in it.

Bak kut teh(chinese) might also be safe, although you should double check on the ginger.

Roti Canai(indian, malay), without that accompanying curry sauce, although you can get it with egg(Roti Telur) to make it not feel like you're just eating plain flatbread.

Rice congee(chinese), especially if you eat it at a hotel breakfast buffet bar where you can just avoid the toppings you can't eat.

Kari pap(curry puffs)(malay) should be generally okay

Hainanese Chicken Rice, with the sauce used sparingly and if the rice is cooked in the chicken broth and fat, without adding coconut milk.

Chee chong fun(chinese), if you think sweeter soy sauces are okay.

Wantan mee. (chinese) the soup version should be fine. the soy sauce variant may have some sweeteners.

Teh Tarik - it's just a milk tea, but it very good and you should try it. It uses condensed milk, so look into how that is sweetened, though.

Just about everyone will speak English, so you won't have too many issues communicating your dietary preferences, but obviously "is there ginger in this?" will be easier than "please tell me all of your ingredients."
posted by sawdustbear at 3:41 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Teh tarik is suuuuuuuper sweet (condensed milk has sugar). Any drink with "o" (kopi o, teh o, etc) will mean that it has no milk/cream or sugar.

You can get chicken rice with roast chicken, that should take care of the ginger problem.
posted by divabat at 4:03 PM on June 13, 2014

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