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Jun 28, 2002 10:41 AM

Malaysian Food in Chicago?

  • d

We just returned from our honeyoon in New Zealand...Among all of the fabulous food there, we fell in love with Malaysian and Indonesian food, but haven't had any luck finding a place here....does anyone have suggestions?


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  1. i just ate at penang last weekend; it's the only malaysian place i can think of off the top of my head. it opened recently in chinatown, on the corner of wentworth and cermak.

    the two things that stand out for me are the fresh coconut drink (served in a whole coconut, it's almost a dessert), and the roti appetizer, which was sweet flatbread with a dipping curry. the roti i ordered was the only malaysian thing i ate. as a main dish i had the sashimi appetizer, which was surprisingly good. the blade work was a little lacking, but the fish was fresh, the assortment was good, and for the price i got a lot of sashimi.

    other people i was with ordered gyoza and a pineapple red curry dish. the gyoza was perfectly pan fried, golden brown and very crispy. i'm not a huge curry fan, but i enjoyed the large chunks of broccoli, eggplant, pineapple and okra in the sizzling dish.

    every time someone sitting near us got their food we ooh'd and ahh'd over the beautiful presentation. our server, however, was not very attentive. it's also worth noting that this is a chain, or so i'm told; i think they have another restaurant in new york? not sure, but i'd go back to try some of their other dishes. the menu was very extensive, seemed to take influence from indian, chinese, and thai.


    1 Reply
    1. re: j3s
      Vital Information

      I too think Penang is the only Malaysian place in town. Penang too is one of those places that seems to draw mixed feelings from chowhounds, possibly because it is now a "chain". I mean even in New York, you will frequently hear that the original branch in Queens is far superior to the the other branches. But I like Penang a real lot. I'll add that it is a bit pricier than other places in Chinatown, and probably a lot pricier than what you paid for in Malaysia.

      Malaysian food is really a fusion mix, stretching easily into Indonesian, Chinese, Thai and even Indian flavors (as evidenced by the great roti described above). Then, there is sushi too, can not everyone find things to order there?

      The roti is perhaps the best dish in the house. Jes called it a flatbread, but do not expect one of those Lettuce Entertain You yuppie type things. This is much more flaky and stretchy than what you might imagine as flatbread. You will mostly likey run out of the pancake before you finish the yummy bowl of curry.

      Another must have is the beef rendang. This may be the closest thing to something you actually had in Malaysia. Maybe for Zim the dish would be mild, but for the rest of us, this heavily coated "dry" curry packs some punch. The vegetable with salted fish or whatever its called sounds wierd but is a perfect foil for what else you order. The chili chicken is another good thing. Gosh, the menu is huge and just order away.

      The only time we struck air is when we got something, I think it was called peas. They even warned us not to order it. I guess if nasty, smelly, gummy and odd are flavors that appeal to you, you might like this, we did not. On the other hand, we have eaten their okra, and it was very good.

      Ms. VI, who is distracting me as we talk with reality, suggests you save room for the desserts, especially the shaved ice creations. She also highly suggests the same pancake above, this time filled with a sweet mixture and topped with peanuts. Me, I just like to finish with the great ice coffee.


    2. It couldn’t be easier to choose a Malaysian or Indonesian restaurant in Chicago. As far as I know there’s only one of each.

      I’ve had some good stuff at Penang as well as some not so good. Wish I could remember what was what. Yeah, it’s a chain (not just NY); I only wish all chain restaurants were this interesting.

      August Moon, an odd little Chinese-Indonesian place, has been around forever. I went ages ago and wasn’t very impressed but I’d love to hear of more recent experiences. 225 W 26th, 312-842-2951.

      1. Dawn,

        As Rene said, it's easy to pick a Malaysian place in Chicago, you have a choice of one. Luckily it is an excellent choice.

        Penang has been extensively reviewed in the past on the newsgroup chi.eats, the first, and best, review was by a poster named Trillium. I will post her review below and also provide a link to a Penang post of mine on chi.eats.

        Trillium’s review was written in 1998, Penang now accepts credit cards and has liquor available.

        On another note, Seth, did you ever make it to August Moon?


        Penang, a new Malaysian restaurant
        Date: 1998/10/05

        I remember someone asking about Malaysian restaurants in Chicago.

        Penang opened October 3, located on Cermack right across from the big Three Happiness. Funnily, they also have a sushi bar and Japanese food on a separate menu, but we all ignored it. They are a small US chain and have restaurants in NY, NJ and GA.

        I went there with 3 Singaporeans and thought I'd briefly report on what we tried. The assam laksa was very good, with plenty of laksa leaf and a nice strong, spicy fish stock. Everyone liked it. If you don't like tamarind (assam) then try the lemak laksa, which is a coconut curry base. We didn't try it, but it's probably comparable. The Hokkien Mee was not in a style familiar to the S'poreans, but was good as well...if you want the pig skin in it you'll have to ask, they don't automatically put it in. I didn't care for the Ha Mee, I thought it was too one-dimensional, but others enjoyed it. I thought the Chaw Kway Teow was pretty good for a restaurant in the US and so did 2 others, but the bf likes mine so much he didn't like this one...try it for yourself and see. The Mee Goreng was not Indian-style and this disappointed the S'poreans. As I've never eaten this dish in S'pore or
        Malaysia, and had no frame of reference, it seemed tasty to me. However, it was quite rich and I wouldn't want to eat the whole dish myself.

        We were very disappointed that they were out of chendol, a very yummy SEAsian dessert with mung bean noodlish things (they look like green worms) scented with pandan and served on top of shaved ice, drizzled with palm sugar and coconut milk. If you go, try some or some ABC for dessert.

        Overall, if we were in the neighborhood, we'd go back. Since we cook a lot of this stuff at home, it's probably not something that we'd go out of our way to go to, since the bf is so particular about these dishes. However, if you aren't a cook, and like Malaysian food or want to try it, I'd recommend it.
        The other two will be making special trips from South Bend and Milwaukee to eat there again.

        As of Saturday, they weren't accepting credit cards, but plan to. They also didn't have any alcohol, although it's on the menu. I'd call ahead and see if you need to byob before you go.



        1 Reply
        1. re: G Wiv

          I'm not sure when folks visited penang but one thing to be aware of during weather like this is that it gets hot in there, really hot.

          My last visit was on a day like we've been having and it was pretty uncomfortable especially as their ice machine was on the fritz. This memory has stayed with me longer than the taste of the food. Hopefully they've turned up the AC, but if it's hot when you walk in, you may wanna turn around