Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Manhattan >
May 4, 2007 06:06 PM

Skyway Malaysian Review with Photos

"National Foodmonk Week of Malaysian Restaurants" continues ...

I visited New Malaysia in the Chinatown Arcade on Sunday:
And on Monday, I went to Nyonya on Grand St., also in Chinatown:

In addition, I went to Udom's Thai and Indonesia Grocery, on Bayard St., where you can also buy some Malaysian food ingredients and condiments:

On Wednesday, I visited Oversea Asian Restaurant at 49 Canal St., between Orchard and Ludlow, for a quick bite to eat after work:

Tonight, I made the final stop on my tour, going this time to Skyway Malaysian Restaurant at 11 Allen St., on the block south of Canal on the Lower East Side.

All of the places that I visited seemed to be run by Chinese Malaysians -- that is, members of Malaysia's Chinese ethnic group. All of them had similar menus featuring what appeared to me to be a mixture of Malay, Chinese-influenced and Indian-influenced food. I'm pretty sure that none of these were Halal, nor aspired to be.

Let's get this party started.

Skyway definitely had the most lively and festive ambience of any of the restaurants I visited. The decor exceeded the threshold of cheerful, verging maybe on "gleeful," but that might have just been the red Christmas lights and dancing Chinese mini-lanterns talking. The walls are painted aqua green, there is a mural against one side of the dining room displaying waterfalls behind a white picket fence and behind the cash register is a pink vinyl hanging Hello Kitty ornament of some kind. I thought it was kind of fun and really not as garish as it sounds. Maybe "uplifting."

The dining area seemed clean and comfortable.

Music playing was energetic. Sounded like some sort of contemporary Chinese electronica/dance music. I didn't really mind ... It seemed to go with the ambience.

Staff was cheerful. My waitress, however, spoke limited English ... Notes on this below, because when I needed help with the menu, I did not really get it. There were plenty of people working in the dining room and I never wanted otherwise for anything I needed.

I was the only non-Asian person in the restaurant, as with my visits to New Malaysia and Oversea Asian. Interestingly, however, I was also by some years the oldest person dining at Skyway. The four or five other occupied tables had college-aged kids parked at them, maybe late teens. At least at 6:00 pm. on a Friday, this appeared to be a young person's hangout. I'm thirty-six. This being said, I did not feel at all out of place.

Here is what I ordered:

* Baby oyster omelette
* Ikan kepala casserole
* Rice

I ordered the rice because I thought I might need something starchy to go with the casserole. Once again, however, this was just way too much food. This could have easily fed two people, if not three or four. Seriously.

I expected the omelette to be the appetizer, but in fact the ikan kepala casserole arrived first. This was okay, but I would not have minded nibbling on the omelette while I waited for the main part of the meal to arrive.

The menu has two fish head casseroles. One is the "assam ikan kepala" and the other is just an "ikan kepala." I asked the waitress what the difference between the two were and she had a hard time telling me. With the help of the gentleman overseeing the establishment, she was able to tell me that the "assam" version was "sour," which I guess probably means that it had tamarind sauce/pulp in it. The funny thing was that the "non-assam" version also seemed a bit tamarind-y to me. Maybe it's just a difference in amounts.


The ikan kepala casserole was ...

The happiest single thing that I have ever been served in a restaurant in Manhattan. Seriously.

It arrived in a large ceramic pot, a huge steaming portion of vegetables, tofu and fish in a spicy broth enhanced with coconut. The flavor of the broth was very "bright" and "lively." The vegetables -- green beans, okra, tomatoes, dried mushrooms -- were fresh and delicious. Although this was called a "fish head" casserole, it was more of a "fish scraps" dish and the fish that clung to the bones was succulent and sweet, not really all that fishy at all.

And it was plenty hot.

Tragically, however, I couldn't finish it. The bowl was just way too big. I contemplated taking the rest of it home with me -- I ate about half -- but I decided that I didn't want to punish Friday afternoon commuters all the way back to New Jersey. Too bad.

Midway though my consumption of the fish head casserole, the baby oyster omelette arrived. This was a large, thin, savory omelette containing scallions and oysters wrapped around some cabbage. I thought it was pretty good. It would have been good nibbling food had it arrived before the casserole, but I really didn't think it was all that special. And it was seven bucks, which seemed pretty steep for what it was. I could make this at home without any trouble and the total cost would have run around $1.25.

My happiness with the ikan kepala casserole far overshadowed any "meh" feelings I might have had about the omelette, however.

I do have a question for those who might know:

Exactly how am I supposed to go about eating these Malaysian casserole "stews?" I ended up alternately picking the good stuff out of the pot with a fork -- I don't use chopsticks -- and slurping the broth with the serving spoon that came with it. I also dunked some of the rice into the broth and ate that as well. This earned me no shocked glances from the staff, but I was very aware that I didn't have a clue as to how people generally eat such a thing and I always feel impolite just diving into the serving dish like that.

Does anybody know?

I really liked Skyway a lot and I think I probably had the single most satisfying dish of my entire Malaysian restaurant tour there -- the fish head casserole. I would recommend this restaurant for that dish alone. Very nice.

Photos below. Click to enlarge.

Note that I'll be posting on "National Foodmonk Week of Couscous Restaurants" starting May 13. I need a break for a week, but will be back.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Gorgeous pictures, and great report, thanks. If those are fish bones poking out the left side of your soup bowl, I understand your logistical challenges. The vegetables look fantastic. I need to get out there.

    My question for you--whether this place has vegetarian options, was answered in this helpful thread:

    Some other juicy old Skyway threads:

    4 Replies
    1. re: rose water

      Thanks for the comment! I don't think you'll have a problem finding something on the menu that does not contain fish or meat as an ingredient ... But I would caution that some of the stuff there probably contains shrimp paste, even if it otherwise seems to be vegetarian-friendly.

      1. re: foodmonk

        "But I would caution that some of the stuff there probably contains shrimp paste, even if it otherwise seems to be vegetarian-friendly."

        Shrimp paste or even ground pork, which I believe is in the Kangkung Belacan (which is in any case made with belacan - shrimp paste).

        I'm glad you enjoyed the fish head casserole!

        Yes, as(s)am means what Malaysians call tamarind, or in Malay, asam gelugor, which is actually a fruit and not at all closely related to Indian tamarind.

        I've seen plenty of middle-aged couples at Skyway, so the crowd is different at different times.

        By the way, not only doesn't the staff speak English much (well, maybe one of the waitresses does, but she's not there all the time), but they don't speak Malay, either. They're Cantonese, if I'm not mistaken. I'm sure the kitchen contains Malaysians, though. I believe they're from Ipoh.

        Oh, how to eat the casseroles. Well, Malaysians don't have really formal etiquette about these kinds of things, in my experience. Just dig in. You can put some of it in your rice bowl or just eat it like a soup or whatever. No worries!

          1. re: foodmonk

            You're welcome. I'm glad you enjoyed the place.

    2. glad you enjoyed, though i'm sorry the omelette wasn't really your thing. i'm really overdue for a visit, and considering the comments that you and pan have made the fish head casserole will be at the top of the must-order list.
      re: the age of your fellow diners, from what i've seen i agree that the crowd tends to be younger. mainly teens when i've been, with a smattering of older women dining together.

      1 Reply
      1. re: wleatherette

        I do definitely recommend the fish head casserole that I had. Delicious.

      2. The original comment has been removed
        1. I've never seen a Malaysian restaurant in NY that was run by Bumiputras (ethnic Malay). They're all run by Chinese, mostly from Ipoh. Malaysian restaurants in the states combine dishes that are rarely found together in restaurants in Malaysia. Roti canai would be served by Indian Muslims, rendang, nasi lemak and (I think) fish head casserole by Malays, and Hainan chicken rice, chow kuey teow, and many other dishes by Chinese. Somehow, though, South Indian food (dosas, thalis, etc.), which is common in Malaysia, is never served in Malaysian restaurants.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Peter Cherches

            Fish head casserole is served in Chinese as well as Malay restaurants in Malaysia. And Hainan chicken rice is served all over the country, in restaurants run by and for Malays as well as Chinese restaurants. Just drive on the coastal highway through Terengganu and Kelantan and count the number of restaurants in kampung (Malay villages) advertising "Nasi ayam Hainan."

          2. I'm surprised you didn't order the house special pork, which in most malaysian places is braised pork belly over mustard greens or some other pickled veg, and sometimes served with taro slices intermingled, sometimes not. its usually fatty, delicious, a bit sweet, rich in flavor and great for sopping up rice. it's excellent at skyway and at nyonya, it should exist at most malaysian places.

            might have to make another loop!

            oh by the way, excellent thread(s)