Overseas Asian – Authentic Malaysian food in Chinatown
for full post and pics: http://www.lauhound.com/2010/09/overs...
I’ve been to Overseas several years ago, but I don’t really remember it being anything special. However, I walk by there all the time and noticed it’s consistently crowded with a local crowd (i.e. Chinese from Chinatown). I decided that I should give it another try as I’ve been looking for a decent Malaysian restaurant in the city for a while after Happy Joy closed down. I went there last weekend with my gf and another friend. It turned out to be a surprisingly good meal, far better than other Malaysian restaurants I’ve been to in Chinatown lately.
The restaurant is in the far eastern part of Chinatown on Canal almost in the Lower Eastside. It’s nicer than most Chinatown restaurants, its clean and looks new with a wooden interior and wooden tables. In the back of the restaurant, they have a small area where they sell various Malaysian / Chinese goods such as instant noodles, white coffee (a famous type of coffee from Ipoh), mooncakes, some Malaysian pastries, chili sauces etc.
The service is fine and the servers are pretty nice. They do speak English if you don’t have anyone who speaks Chinese (they are Cantonese from Malaysia).
On to the food:
- Roti Canai: Roti canai is a layered pancake that you dip into a spicy curry sauce. It’s very popular in Singapore and Malaysia (used to eat this all the time when I lived there). This was quite good, nice and crispy and tasted freshly cooked, a bit thicker than it should be, but still good. The curry sauce was much better than most of the restaurants I’ve had in the city as it was spicier, had good flavor and the chicken and potatoes in it were quite good. Everyone liked this dish a lot.
Kari Mee (curry mee): Kari mee is a simple spicy coconut curry noodle soup with egg noodles, shrimp, pork, fish cakes, fried tofu, crispy fried tofu skins, bean sprouts and green onions. This version was quite good, much better than the version I had at Taste Good in Elmhurst which was way too coconutty. The broth was very good, spicy, a little bit coconutty, not overly salty and just generally good. All of the ingredients tasted fresh, I particularly liked the crispy fried tofu skins (recommend eating them quickly as they get really mushy quickly). The only real downfall to this dish was the noodles, which were clearly packaged and a bit too mushy. If they had better noodles, this would be a really good dish. Everyone like it.
- Beef Rendang: Beef rendang is a coconut curry dish where you slowly cook beef in a coconut curry broth until it’s very tender. It’s hard to get right and most places tend to mess it up royally. The version here is pretty decent although not amazing, but better than most places I’ve had in NY though. The curry sauce is good, spicy, good flavor and not too salty. The beef while tender was a bit drier than it should be. My friend really liked it though. Overall, it was a pretty decent dish.
Ipoh Bean Sprouts: Ipoh bean sprouts is a dish that I like quite a lot, its blanched bean sprouts with soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions and these really small golden fried onions (you fry them for 45 mins). Sounds very mundane, but when you have it done correctly it’s really good. The version here is just okay though. The bean sprouts were fine as were the other ingredients, but I felt the sauce was lacking and seemed to be a bit bland. It needed a bit more salt and a lot more sesame oil (it barely had any sesame oil).
- Kang Kan Belachan: this dish was the winner of the night. Kang kan is kong xin cai in Chinese or water spinach in English. The dish is cooked in a sauce using belachan, which is a fermented shrimp paste that I really like a lot. I absolutely love kang kan belchan and this version was outstanding. The vegetable were cooked perfectly, so they retained a good texture and their flavor. The sauce was excellent, not being overly salty or using too much belachan. This tastes pretty close to what you would get in Singapore or Malaysia. We were all wow’d by this dish. Highly recommend.
- Bak Kut Teh: Bak kut teh is a soup dish that simmers pork ribs in broth of a whole bunch of herbs and spices like black pepper, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, garlic etc for a very long time. In Chinese it translates to meat bone tea (rou gu cha). The result is a broth with a deep meaty peppery flavor that isn’t too heavy, most people usually eat it for breakfast with a you tiao (fried crueller). It’s really good when done right although fairly difficult to find outside of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia etc. Besides the pork ribs it usually contains mushrooms, fried tofu puffs and sometimes vegetables. The version here is okay, nowhere nearly as good as the real version. It was too sweet (shouldn’t really be sweet) and while it had a decent meaty flavor, it wasn’t as flavorful as it should’ve been. I meant it tasted good, but if you’ve had the real deal this pales in comparison. We weren’t expecting much and it was actually probably better than what I was expecting as my expectations were really low.
- Hainan Chicken: Hainan chicken is a whole chicken boiled in water flavored with garlic and ginger and then dipped in ice water, so the skin separates from the meat. It’s served either room temperature or slightly chilled. This is one of the most famous dishes in Singapore and one of my favorite dishes, I used to eat it everyday for lunch literally (Tian Tian Hai Nan Ji Fan is my favorite place). It’s normally served with a light chili sauce, a very dark thick and sweet soy sauce and this ginger garlic oil. In the US, the places never seem to give you the soy sauce, which is unfortunate b/c it’s really good. They give you the chili sauce here, which tasted reasonably authentic. The chicken however wasn’t that great, the skin was a bit too gelatinous and the meat was sort of difficult to get off the bone. It was also served too cold. I didn’t like it that much, so it was a bit disappointing.
- Hainan Chicken Rice: this is rice cooked in a chicken stock, looks just like light yellow rice and while it sounds bland, its very flavorful and really good when you put the chili sauce and dark soy sauce on it. It’s unfortunately a difficult dish to get correct, in Singapore it’s usually only specialists who make it. The version here is okay, although far better than most versions in Chinatown which usually range from bad to awful. It’s got a decent flavor although it doesn’t has the great deep flavor you’d get at a good place and isn’t as fluffy as it should be. Decent and will do if you really want Hainan chicken rice.
- Sambal Sting Ray: The waitress recommended this dish. In Singapore, I used to get this dish at this one hawker center all the time and it was another one of my favorite dishes. If you’ve never had sting ray it is similar to skate. The meat is very light tasting white meat that isn’t fishy, it should be very tender if done correctly. The sting rays they use in the US are quite a bit bigger than the ones they use in Singapore, which I think have a better tasting meat, but they are still pretty decent. This was another surprise dish that turned out to be quite good. The meat was very tender and cooked nicely, much better than the version I had at Nyonya and better than the version I had at Taste Good in Elmhurst. The sambal sauce was pretty good, a bit sweet, spicy and had a good flavor from the belachan that was in it. Sambal is a chili paste used in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia etc. Overall, I’d definitely recommend this dish.
- White Coffee: this type of coffee is from Ipoh in Malaysia, I’ve had it before in Singapore, but I wasn’t actually sure what the difference was aside from flavor until I looked it up on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipoh_whi...). It’s got a much lighter flavor than regular coffee, its smoother and much less bitter. It’s mixed with condensed milk. This is the instant version, you simply pour boiling water over the ground mixture of coffee and dried condensed milk. It’s not quite as good as the real version, but tasty nonetheless and I was pretty excited to find them selling it in the back part of the store. I’d recommend buying a pack.
- Foh San Mooncakes: It happens to be mid-autumn festival right now when you eat mooncakes. Foh San is a famous dim sum / mooncake bakery in Ipoh, Malaysia. Ipoh is a mainly Chinese city in Malaysia that is known for having very good food. Several Malaysian places in NY are selling the Foh San brand. They have several different flavors, I tried the Imperial Jade and Durian flavored versions. They are quite good, the lotus paste is also mixed with some coconut milk and pandan leave that I really liked and I liked the flavor better than the traditional version. They both have one egg yolk, which I prefer. The durian version tastes like durian, but you obviously have to like Durian, which a lot of people do not. I’d recommend this brand and this is where I’ve been getting my mooncakes this year.
Overall, an authentic and surprisingly good meal here, much better than other Malaysian restaurants I’ve been to in the Chinatown including my former go to Skyway, which I’ve been pretty disappointed in the last few times I went there. I’ve read some pretty bad reviews on yelp.com about this place, but from what the reviewers said I have a feeling people ordered the wrong dishes b/c they don’t know much about Malaysian food (one person talked about ordering Mapo Tofu). Definitely recommend trying.
49 Canal St, New York, NY 10002
Thanks a lot for this report. I, too, was kind of underwhelmed with this place a few years ago. I will make it my business to go fairly soon and try it again.
A truly authentic Malay Beef Rendang is actually very dry with a very thick sauce paste. From your picture on your website, that's not a real Beef Rendang. It's more a Beef Brisket Curry. There's a difference. The closest I've ever seen is the version at Taste Good (which has just changed ownership in the last month) but even they haven't got it 100% right. If you've ever been to a Malay restaurant or hawker stall in Singapore or Malaysia that serves this, you'll know what I mean.
And Hainan Chicken Rice is trivial to make. Just two parts chicken broth and one part rice with ginger thrown in and that's it. It's the Hainan Chicken itself that's difficult because it's all about timing and temperature: Take it out of the boiling water too soon and it's undercooked. Too late and it tastes like rolled up sandpaper.
Bak Kut Teh *NEVER* has any vegetables (outside of Tofu) in it besides the jujube beads for flavor and maybe cilantro as a garnish if they want to have something green for colour. Anybody serving you a Bak Kut Teh with vegetables boiled into it doesn't know what they're doing.
BTW, it's "Kang Kong/Kung Belachan" and *NOT* "Kang Kan Belachan". And your picture of the dish shows that it has insufficient Belachan in it for authenticity and the kang kong is undercooked. You may like it that way but it's not what it should be.
FYI. (I'm an expatriate Singaporean living in New York and was born and bred in the Malaysia/Singapore region. I lived there for over 20 years before coming to the United States.)
I just looked at the photos. I agree that the "Rendang" is clearly too watery and the Kangkung Belacan clearly doesn't have enough belacan.
In my experience, the best rendang is cooked by Indonesians, not Malaysians. The Indonesian rendang tends to be cooked longer. But regardless, any version of rendang needs to be cooked a long time. Here are Google image results for "rendang":
Not all these dishes will be equally good renditions, but they do give the viewer a sense of just how dry, concentrated, and rich the sauce is.
Edit: And for good measure, here are Google image searches for kangkung belacan:
I like the looks of the last one on the first line.
Actually, there's a couple of different Indonesian rendangs based on region within Indonesia. As such, I count the Malaysian version as just another regional variation. But what they have in common is the dry nature of the dish. I've tried versions that have been almost as dry as beef jerky (which I didn't particularly go for) and a sauce to match. In general, if you stick a spoon in the "sauce" and remove it and the sauce sticks to the spoon like paste, that's a typical rendang. If the sauce slides off, it's too watery. That said, there *ARE* authentic Malay curries (e.g., Opor Daging, Curry Kapitan, etc.) that are supposed to have sauces which are watery--they're just not called "rendang" ("rendang" being the term for a very specific dry style of curry--it's not a generic term for curry, just like the Eskimos have different words for different grades of snow).
Yeah, I agree with you: That shot that's the last on the first line looks very authentic.
Hi Gastronomicon - i lived in Singapore for 6 months and have visited quite a bit, but you obviously have alot more experience than i do.
- beef rendang: I'm actually not that big a fan of beef rendang, so while i ate it a decent amount of times there, it's not something i've ever gone out of my way to eat alot; i actually ordered it b/c my friend really likes it... ive had it in singapore where it was drier and moister, i prefer moister, i'm usually not a huge fan of dry meat
- hainan chicken rice: disagree with you, i personally think the dish is more about the rice than the chicken (although that is my opinion) and if you go around to different top vendors in singapore then you will find noticeable difference between vendors (my personal favorite is tian tian as their rice is so fluffy and light)
- Bak Kut Teh: i have seen it with vegetable a couple of times, but as you said it is not the norm. I like Ng Ah Sio in singapore
- Kang kong belachan: i rarely say it in malay, i always say it in chinese in which case it would be kong xin cai. You are correct in that they do not have nearly as much belachan as they would put in singapore / malaysia, but that in an of itself does not kill the dish. As far as it being undercooked, i would disagree although that although it is a matter of opinion. I have been eating kong xin cai since i was born and their version is cooked well.
While there are minor variations of Hainan Chicken Rice, Tian Tian is a johnny-come-lately. The original master of it was/is the "Original" Swee Kee, now at 25 Seah Street in Singapore after moving from Middle Road (not the "New" one at 36 Seah Street; both just across the street from the Raffles Hotel underground garage entrance). I ate there last in 2007 and they were still good. The rice in the dish is crucial, I agree, but it is still trivial to make compared to the chicken itself. Just because it's easy to make doesn't make it any less important (and I never said it was less important in my post above).
I'm sorry but authentic "Kang Kong Belachan" has to be cooked down until everything wilts and have sufficient belachan in it to give it taste. You may have had kang kong cooked in a different style but that's not "Kang Kong Belachan." After all, there are many ways to cook the same ingredient (e.g., one can cook chicken with cream sauce; with breading; by roasting it; by baking it; by grilling it; etc.; but one can't present, say, Chicken Kiev and say it's "another" way to make Opor Ayam; maybe another way to make chicken but not "Opor Ayam") . I've had people try to "brighten" up the dish by adding trips of red bell peppers so as not to blow away wimpy tastebuds but this is ludicrous as it takes away from basically what is the heart of the dish.
From just one brief trip to Singapore, but trying the different places in Chinatown, Overseas is probably the best, but minimally among the best Malaysian available in NYC (boroughs included). Including the recommended above, try the various noodles dishes (and individual rice dishes). I think that's where they especially excel vs the family style arrangement. There much more of a hawker style/pride in their approach.
Lots of go to dishes, but aforementioned mixed curry noodle soup (you can actually choose the various toppings - I think there's an eggplant thing, a dough puff thing, and more), the roast pork noodle (no soup), and even the common curry chicken rice. There's usually little surprises or touches that aren't found in other places, like the pickled hot peppers that go with the roast pork noodle.
I used to remember Brooklyn Chinatown having good Malaysian places, but that was over 5 years ago, and I think most of those places have been pushed out, different immigrant mix now.
Interesting comment about the immigrant mix in Brooklyn Chinatown - I noticed the same changes in San Francisco and even London Chinatowns. In the 1970s, you walk into a NY, SF or London Chinatown restaurant or shop, and people are speaking Taishanese as most early Chinese immigrants to US (and elsewhere) are from the Toishan county in Guandong. However, in recent years, there seems to be this wave of new migrants from other parts of Mainland China - these days, you'll hear Mandarin, mostly spoken with a Northern lilt as many come from North and North-East China, spoken in Chinatowns. More Northern Chinese food available in the Chinatowns now.