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Aug 29, 2007 10:28 AM

Seeking Malaysian Sensation

Hounds, I am going to Malaysia in October and want to acquaint my palate with Malaysian food beforehand. Tonight is the night!!

I have already been to New Malaysia in Chinatown's Elizabeth St. arcade, and want to try more places. I have heard mostly *eh* reports about the various Penangs and Nonya. Has anyone been to any of the places in Brooklyn's Chinatown? Can anyone recommend anything other than New Malaysia? Any borough is fine.

Thank you!

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  1. Sentosa on Prince Street (Flushing) has dynamite roti canai, beef rendang, thai fried rice, etc.

    1. I dont think any of the Brooklyn chinatown entrants are worth a visit from outside the area.

      We were back at the little hole-in-the-wall at the bottom of Doyers Street (between the post office and Bowery) a couple weeks back and had some good food. half a Hainan chicken (not the rice), water spinach belachan, nasi lemak and a noodle dish (maybe mee siam). This place has been generally reliable (under different names) for years for its limited range of dishes, but dont expect Roti Canai, lombak, otok-otak, rendang or such if you go there - they dont make them.

      11 Replies
      1. re: jen kalb

        Thank you, John and Jen. I won't expect any of those things you mention, Jen, because sadly, I do not know what they are. This cuisine is pretty much all new to me. I will look them up now, though!

        1. re: jen kalb

          Hey Jen, just to let you know the variously-named ('Sanur' now?) Doyers street basement Malaysian restaurant DOES make (an amazing) Roti-Canai that I've had dozens of times. It's possible it's not on the regular menu, but on the special menu that's on the tables--not sure, because I order the same thing pretty much every time and haven't referred to the menu for a long time: Roti Canai, Gado Gado, and one thing I know that definitely is NOT on the menu--but definitely worth getting: a 'bowl of Vegetable Curry' (just ask for it like that). Comes piping hot in a huge bowl with potato cubes, noodles, sprouts, and tofu.

          1. re: JRogan

            Its good to get a recommendation of some good dishes there. Weve visited that place for many years through a whole series of incarnations,and it really seemed to have dipped when we were in there this fall. These cooks tend to be good a a few dishes but not all the dishes in the Malaysian street food repetoire (and its hard to know which). So I really appreciate hearing that they are indeed producing some meals worth ordering still.

            1. re: jen kalb

              I gave Sanur and the same restaurant with its previous name several tries, and in the last x-number of years, they always managed to disappoint me at least every other visit. With the caveat that my last time there was not very recent: Unless it's under totally different ownership or/and management now, I wouldn't think it would be a reliable place to go to.

            2. re: JRogan

              had that roti canai; thought it was alright; not a lot of chicken in the quite greasy curry bowl, I think both bowls (we got two orders) had a hunk of potato between the two of them. not spectacular tho, I thought.

              the steamed fish in banana leaves was good; most of the dried noodles are not super amazing; the stuffed vegetable curry noodle was pretty good as well.

              but ultimately, just haven't been satisfied whenever I try and go for malaysian, even though this place used to be my go-to.

              1. re: bigjeff

                Something was really wrong the last time we were there, a fried beancurd dish which was tough and dry and the oil tasted bad - and the watercress in belacan sauce was subpar - char kway teow was still ok.

                Which places do you like for malaysian these days?

                1. re: jen kalb

                  ya, skyway disappointed just because it has such a good rep, nyonya really disappointed, singapore cafe was kinda good but then, not super special; sanur I like just cuz its the underdog but ultimately disappointing, the elizabeth/bowery malaysian place (the place mentioned by the OP) was actually pretty good the last time I ate there and its pretty humble too.

                  haven't tried the elmhurst places or sentosa in flushing in a long time although I used to eat at the curry leaf on 40th ave. ya, its tough! I sort of think I got bored of the entire cuisine in general, although I used to eat it a lot. if there were some new places or some restaurant doing something really special, e.g. fatty crab but still keepin' it real somehow, then that would be best. and that is prob. what everyone is looking for!

                  1. re: bigjeff

                    im coming around to thinking that maybe New Malaysia might be the best in manhattan...i'm going there on sunday specifically to decide...i need to try there and skyway back to back

                    my last meal at Skyway was underwhelming (this was pretty recently)...maybe i ordered the wrong dishes...i never liked asam laksa as a dish and i know people really like it there, so that doesn't do it for me; their roti canai is whatever and the nasi lemak was so ok (that is one of my favorite dishes)

                    Does anyone ever go to Overseas Asian? I only went there once a long time ago

                    1. re: Lau

                      I haven't been to Oversea Asian for a long time. When I used to go there, I found their non-seafood items pretty good, but anything from the sea was likely to be of questionable freshness.

                      For the record, I also had an "off" meal at Skyway yesterday night. Very unusually for them, the shrimps and perhaps also the fishcakes in their Java Mee were a little old-tasting and the shrimps were also tough and overcooked. My previous meal there, of Curry Mee with Young Taufu and Achat, was better, though. I liked the Curry Mee; the Achat was more sour and salty than previously, and a bit salty for my taste.

                    2. re: bigjeff

                      yes - I think there was a surge of enthusiasm what 10 yrs ago when the first penangs opened and there was a good chef. The restaurants have proliferated but there just dont seem to be that many exciting chefs and it has become a diversification option for the chinese cooking community, like thai and mexican. I dont think its simply that the eaters have become jaded. New Malaysia hasnt impressed me. I still have hope there is something worth eating in Flushing.

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        well when i say "best" i should qualify since normally i only talk about things on an absolute basis, in this case i was talking about on a relative basis as most malay food ive had in the city is very underwhelming

                        i think singapore / malay food is generally pretty weak for the same reason the vietnamese in ny is terrible...there simply arent enough of the given ethnicity....although i love both cuisines so i eat them anyhow to get my fix

            3. I think the original Penang in Flushing is good. (On the side street where Joyce Leslie is on Main Street)

              1. Haven't been yet, but this place is on my list ...

                Banana Leaf
                13360 41st Ave, Queens, NY 11355

                4 Replies
                1. re: squid kun

                  In two visits to Banana Leaf, I've had decent meals. The Assam Laksa has just enough balance of pure heat and flavor. The roasted duck salad, though not cohesive as a whole, sports some of the most tender gobs of duck I've tasted in many a moon. Not bad at all.

                  Had an excellent meal, though, at Taste Good in Elmhurst recently. The Hainan Chicken Rice, served pretty much in appetizer size, is silky smooth with a subtle flavor. I also recommend the Tahu Emas, fried blocks of tofu with just a hint of shrimp scattered on top. The tofu remains extra soft, which plays off of the fried exterior. This place, shaped like a shoe box and decorated in xmas lights year round, gives off a good, friendly vibe as well. Hadn't been there in years prior to my recent visit - but I look forward to returning (Bear in mind: this place is closed on Thursdays).

                  Nearby Penang has been around a while too. In just one visit, I had the Capitan Noodles. Not bad, not great either. I'd like to give it another shot, though; Noodles, though an admitted weakness of mine, barely scrapes the surface at SE asian restaurants.

                  By far, though, the best Malaysian dish I've tried in NYC is the gargantuan spicy Fish Head Casserole at Skyway, in Manhattan's Chinatown. I can't remember the last time I had a dish that had such balance of spice, flavor, fresh-tasting ingredients and downright fullfilment as this. Highly recommended.

                  I'm envious. Enjoy your trip.

                  Taste Good
                  82-18 45th Ave, Queens, NY 11373

                  11 Allen St, New York, NY 10002

                  1. re: Polecat

                    second the rec for skyway (new malaysia is not bad), but skyway has some wonderful dishes (house special pork with pickled veg, the aforementioned casseroles, a lot of the vegetables are good, the noodle soups are good).

                    seeing as you're leaving in a few months, try to order one of the makansutra books, they have a malaysian edition, which should be awesome!


                    1. re: bigjeff

                      Holy crap Jeff, THANK YOU for introducing me to

                      It is exactly what I need for this trip -- I'm going to Singapore, KL and Penang, and I want to eat the most awesome street food while there. This site is the greatest thing I've ever seen. You rock.

                      1. re: Puppimus

                        there are two places u must try in singapore (i lived there for 6 months):

                        1) Eng Seng Restaurant (on the corner of joo chiat place and still road), get there early (like 5-530) b/c they run out of crabs, get the chili crab and black pepper crab (dont forget to get white bread after to soak up the sauce) + they have this you tiao with a fish cake running through the middle and they put a dab of mayo on it, its awesome although i forgot what its called (you tiao is a fried chinese crueller fyi)...dont listen to other people who will tell u east coast village or no sign board are the best, but they're wrong as Eng Seng destroys those places (Eng Seng will be all locals, little to no tourists); also its not a requisite, but better if u have some who can speak chinese with u. Btw, i google'd it and its closed on weds, if you google ull find alot of blogs etc on it

                        2) Newton Circus - its a famous and touristy hawker center, however there is one lady called "crazy lady" (literally I used to call her crazy lady when i talked to her), you'll see her b/c she runs a seafood stall at night (i used to go there late nights) and she is this skinny lady with a crazy bee hive hair with like pens and stuff in it (you cant miss her if u walk around at night). They have the best stingray ive ever had, they also have great baby kai lon (a leafy green vegetable) and this spicy calamari dish...people will tell u newton circus is touristy and thats true, but this specific stall is one of the best (trust me I ate all over the place when i was there)

                        some other places:
                        - Imperial Herbal: upscale chinese restaurant specializing in using chinese herbs in their dishes, but a top notch restaurant (helps to have someone who speaks chinese) of the best chinese restaurants i ate at in singapore
                        - Tian Tian Hainan Chicken Rice: great hainanese chicken rice, its at Maxwell Centre

                2. Thank you all so much for your replies. I wound up in Nyonya in Sunset Park -- it was decided that was the neighborhood to go to (closest to us, and we were tired last night), and Nyonya seemed like a safe choice. Yes, kind of a wuss-out. I enjoyed the food, but had nothing I would consider wonderful. I have about 4 days worth of leftovers, though, so I can mull that over a bit further.

                  Here's what I got:
                  *Roti Canai -- tasty, but I told the server I do not eat chicken, and could I have a different dipping sauce than the curry chicken sauce that comes with this? He totally understood, and offered a potato sauce -- fine. Out comes the chicken sauce. I say "hey, is this chicken?" and he whisks it away. I see him by the kitchen removing the chunks of chicken, and he brings it back. All better!! This doesn't really bother me too much, as I know I cannot be so sensitive to this stuff when I travel. So lesson learned -- no substitutions!
                  *Indian Rojak -- Bean sprouts, cucumber, hard boiled egg, and fried tofu and shrimp pancake smothered in "Chef's special sauce," which is definitely sweetened ketchup. Not so tasty, but not inedible, either. Would not get this again.
                  *Nyonya Lobak -- like a little appetizer plate of tasty fried things, cucumber and a black egg (did not like the plastic-y texture of this, and not sure if that's normal or if this one had been sitting out). Tasty, harmless. Random pile of pickled ginger seemed, well, random.
                  *Kang Kung Belacan -- This is water spinach cooked with preserved shrimp paste. Very good. I love this stuff.
                  *Asam Laksa -- Pretty good. I thought the tamarind flavor was overpowering, but my SO loved it and ate the whole thing. This is the one dish I plan to try at every Malaysian place I visit.
                  *Mango Shrimp -- Very pretty presentation in the mango shell. Sweet, serviceable, but nothing special. Could have come from any Chinese takeout. I was too full to eat this, but I bet it will be good for lunch today over rice.
                  *Beef Rendang -- Very Indian-tasting dish, quite good. Very tender beef, but I liked the sauce/gravy the best; it would be delicious poured over rice or potatoes.

                  I am looking forward to trying Skyway and Sanur next time. As far as Queens, I might have to go Indonesian instead, as I have been informed that there are avocado shakes to be had at Indonesian restaurants!

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: Puppimus

                    I've never been to the Brooklyn branch, but I've always liked the Manhattan Nyonya. Note that as far as I know, all the restaurants in NYC serve Perinakan food. So there are a lot of surprises awaiting you in Malaysia. You should check out this excellent blog by a frequent Chowhound poster:
                    Oh here's a paragraph I wrote on Malayan food:

                    1. re: Brian S


                      Those avocado drinks are pretty easy to make. Its just sugar, ripe avocado, and ice. I remember having my first one when I use to hangout with this Burmese family when I was a kid.

                      1. re: Brian S

                        Actually, *NO* Malaysian restaurants in NYC serve PERANAKAN food. The fusion that you see isn't classically Peranakan although there are bits and pieces of Peranakan in their offerings. There is a separate Peranakan cuisine that is distinctively different: Usually pork-based curries and other types of spicy dishes that the native Malays (being Muslim) are forbidden to eat but which the Buddhist Peranakans can. The term "Peranakan" is applied to the Chinese who emigrated to the Straits Settlements of British Malaya (predating modern-day Malaysia and Singapore) who had forgone their pure Chinese heritage and melded it with native Malay language, customs, cuisine and dress (some don't even speak a word of Chinese). As such, you would not refer to any Malaysian non-Chinese as "Peranakan" (and some Malaysian Chinese are not "Peranakan" either for they have not gone that route of complete melding that the Peranakans have). As for "Spanish influence" in the Straits Settlements that Brian S. claims, there is none. The Spanish only colonized the Philippines and the Dutch, Indonesia. The dominant early Western influences in the Straits Settlements were Portuguese (in Malacca) and, later, the British (which took over and dominated the whole Malaysian peninsula down to Singapore as well as the north-western tip of the island of Borneo which holds Brunei and Sarawak).

                        1. re: Gastronomicon

                          I've always understood the history to be that the Peranakan are mainly descendants of marriages between the Chinese men from Huang He's voyage to Malacca during the Malaccan Empire - that is, BEFORE European colonization of the Malay Peninsula from any quarter - and local Malay women. That's always the story I've read and been told. And the order of the European colonization of Malacca was Portuguese, Dutch, British. But I'd be truly astonished if a restaurant opened in any of the Five Boroughs specializing in Peranakan food, anyway.

                          Malaysian food that I've eaten in New York has essentially all been West Coast food, mostly from Penang and Ipoh (I'm not convinced that Kuala Lumpur has its own style as such, though it's a great eating city). I haven't ever found a restaurant in New York that serves distinctively East Coast (e.g., Kelantan) dishes, for example.

                          1. re: Pan

                            It's debatable if the Peranakans went that far back even though Admiral Zheng He (not "Huang He" which means "Yellow River") supposedly did leave diplomatic and trade representation from the Ming Dynasty during his visits. But the population of the Peranakans do indeed increase immensely when the British started importing Chinese labor in the 1800's when they took over. It was no different from Americans importing similar labor for the railroads in the 1800's.

                            Actually, there are some who would claim that there is some difference between northern Peranakan food coming ouf the likes of Penang and southern Peranakan food from KL and Ipoh but over the years, it's been so blended in that it takes someone very nitpicky to tell the differences. The general idea being that northern Peranakan cuisine is more influenced by the sweet and sour flavors of the Thai while southern Pernakan cuisine is more influenced by coconut milk a.k.a. "santan."

                            And scratch what I said about Peranakan food. Taste Good's chef actually can make it on special request. It's just that he doesn't offer it because, from his experience, nobody understands it and thinks it "too weird to order". So he doesn't do it. He made a couple of classical Peranakan dishes for me and I was in HEAVEN: Pork Belly and Hard Boiled Eggs in Thick Black Soy; Pigs Ears (the cartiliginious bits) and other bits in soy. Oh boy, I'm back home again!

                            1. re: Gastronomicon

                              Thanks, that was interesting, and I see where I misspelled Zheng He's name in a kind of funny way. I speak much more Malay than Chinese. :-)

                              1. re: Gastronomicon

                                thanks; any other good recs or ways to get Taste Good's chef to cook up some of this stuff?

                                1. re: bigjeff

                                  Ask him. Sometimes, if you've been there a couple of times so they recognize you and you'll commit to coming back on a certain day, he'll entertain special requests. It helps if you know what you're asking for (otherwise what he'll come up with, while a delicacy to those of us used to Peranakan food, will freak you out--Once he served me a delicious Pig Intestines and Ears Stewed in Soy Sauce which made the next table of Caucasians look distinctly queasy at us snarfing it all down. Then there was the Pig Trotters in Soy Vinegar another time. Yet another time, there was the Otak-Otak. Yummo.) He did a Singapore-style Chilli Crab for another diner whom I know and she loved it. I'm not a crab fan (especially not if it's still in the shell as my teeth can't handle it any more--I think I'm getting old not to mention lazy). He's nice like that.