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Trying our new local Malaysian joint.... advice?

linguafood Dec 16, 2010 11:19 AM

I've only had Malaysian once - at Nyonya in NYC, and that was years ago. The dish I remember most vividly was squid with plum sauce, which was pretty damn tasty.

I doubt Penang - which advertises itself as "Pan-Asian" - will be on par with big city eats (even tho we have a fantastic Sichuan place in town on par with any Sichuan food I've had elsewhere if not better), but I'd like to hear from youz Malaysian experts what are some of the 'typical' dishes by which to judge the place.

Is Malaysian food spicy (I hope so)?

They apparently have about 260 dishes - some of them are Thai, sushi, and other pan-BS, and I am worried that by the time I've read thru the menu, the rest of my party will likely have finished eating '-)

Merci, as always.

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  1. y
    yfunk3 Dec 16, 2010 12:01 PM

    These are always the stand-bys whenever I or my family eats at a Malaysian/Nonya place (we're Singaporean):

    Nasi lemak
    roti canai/curry chicken
    chicken rice (of course)
    char kway teow (not spicy, though)
    mamek mee goreng (can me made spicier)
    curry laska (should be spicy!)
    satay (of course)

    Those are pretty much the go-to dishes in any Malaysian/Nonya restaurant. If they can get those right, they know how to do it. :o)

    Penang, if it's part of the actual NY/NJ chain chain, is actually fairly good. Nyonya was slightly better, but Penang is definitely not shabby. The service might be horrible, but the food is always good to me and the family.

    11 Replies
    1. re: yfunk3
      linguafood Dec 16, 2010 12:10 PM

      Oh, thanks! I've heard of chicken rice - hope they have it on the menu!!

      Char kway teow reminds me of a similar named Thai noodle dish I like a lot, so that may be an option as well.

      I doubt it's part of a chain, as it is owned by the same (Chinese) family that owns a number of other Asian restos in town (it's almost like they're trying to take over the entire restaurant scene here...).

      I'm psyched and hope it will be good

      1. re: linguafood
        y
        yfunk3 Dec 16, 2010 12:17 PM

        Any Malaysian/Nonya joint has chicken rice. It usually comes with a sweet, dark soy sauce and a chili sauce, so you can make it however spicy you want. Looks like a simple dish, but Singaporeans are obsessed with it. :o)

        Char kway teow is actually almost the same as the Thai noodle dish you're thinking of (dang, can't think of the name this late in the afternoon!). Just one of those simple-but-delicious comfort foods. In fact, a lot of Thai restaurants sell chicken rice as well, with some slight differences, of course.

        If the Penang you're going to makes their own roti canai, definitely get that. Nothing beats fresh, slightly-greasy, hot roti canai/prata dipped into a good curry chicken. Makes me mourn the lack of it in the DC area!

        Oh, and Penang restaurants are weird...there is a NY/NJ chain (which are the reliable ones I've been to), but some Penangs (with the exact same logo) are independently owned or part of ANOTHER Penang chain and can be super disappointing (like the one in DC). I don't fully understand it myself, but the whole thing seems like a weird, legal compromise/nightmare.

        1. re: yfunk3
          linguafood Dec 16, 2010 12:33 PM

          I read a long report about the quest for the perfect chicken rice (it may have been in an old Gourmet issue, or a Bourdain episode, tho.... did he ever 'do' Singapore???), so I am quite aware of the SIngaporean obsession with it! That's why I'd love to try it!!

          I'm thinking of something that's spelled phonetically to sound similar (kwa tieow or such), but Wiki insists the similar Thai dish is pad se ew.

          I'll take some pics and will report back :-D

      2. re: yfunk3
        Perilagu Khan Dec 16, 2010 01:02 PM

        Is fish sauce used in Malaysian cuisine to the extent it is in Thai and Vietnamese?

        1. re: Perilagu Khan
          d
          doctorandchef Dec 16, 2010 01:28 PM

          No, but they use a lot of shrimp paste.

          Are you referring to the Penang in Boston? Their dishes are hit and miss. Nasi Lemak is great, chicken rice ok lah.... of course one should not be comparing it to ones in Singapore.... satay was overcooked with an anemic peanut sauce.... prawn mee was pretty damn good, kwei tiao not so good.

          1. re: Perilagu Khan
            y
            yfunk3 Dec 16, 2010 01:38 PM

            No, not nearly as much as in Thai/Vietnamese cooking. And when it is used, it's sparingly so you can't taste it so much. It's more likely that shrimp paste or tiny dried shrimp/fish are used more than fish sauce whenever a "fishy" component is needed.

            Lingua, Pad see ew is the Thai dish that's very similar to char kway teow, yes! But I think pad see ew is slightly more "saucy" than char kway teow, maybe one or two more ingredients. Damn this swiss cheese memory of mine.

            And Bourdain did go to Singapore, twice I think. The Singapore episode was pretty good, but even "No Reservations" couldn't accurately depict the love of food most (if not all) Singaporeans possess. There is also, I believe, about one or two articles in the mainstream media about chicken rice and Singapore(ans) every year, it seems! :o)

            Definitely post and let us know what you ordered and what you thought of it! It's making me a bit homesick, so thank goodness Xmas is almost here and I go visit the family next week. Over Thanksgiving break, my father went overboard and brought back all this chicken rice, curry laksa and satay chicken and beef with peanut sauce from this restaurant in Atlantic City. The ultimate comfort food!

            1. re: yfunk3
              MGZ Dec 17, 2010 08:28 AM

              yfunk3 - The place in AC, it is good??? Share the name with a hungry food geek?

              1. re: MGZ
                y
                yfunk3 Dec 17, 2010 09:24 AM

                Damn, again, I can't remember the name. Consulting with my family and will get back to you on that. It's got "Malaysia" in the name, I think...

                Edit: Incoming text from my sister - New Melaka.

                It's good, but their curry chicken could use a lot of improvement, therefore their nasi lemak was sort of weird and not as good. Have only ever had their chicken rice (good, not great), satay (great) and curry laksa noodles (delicious, but not the healthiest thing around!). I'm going to have to try their mamek mee goreng over Xmas break.

                1. re: yfunk3
                  MGZ Dec 17, 2010 09:38 AM

                  Thanks. My wife really wants to try Malaysian in the coming year, so I'm looking for knowledge, as well as the best spots in NJ.

                  1. re: MGZ
                    y
                    yfunk3 Dec 17, 2010 09:51 AM

                    Penang in Edison is good. Right by the Kam Man. There's also one in East Hanover that's part of the same chain and it's good, too. If they weren't so far away, that's where I'd choose to go every time I want Malaysian.

          2. re: yfunk3
            alanbarnes Dec 16, 2010 02:55 PM

            +1 on all. And when good fruit is available, rojak. Recipes vary, but AFAIK it's always a salad of fruit and sliced youtiao, with a dressing that includes chiles and shrimp paste. Mmmmm...

            Maybe nasi goreng, too. It's just fried rice, but hey - who doesn't like fried rice?

          3. linguafood Dec 17, 2010 07:42 AM

            Well, I didn't take any pictures, as we were 9 people in the end, and the little bowls and plates (or rather, their content) disappeared way too fast....

            We got chicken satay with a very nice peanut sauce;
            achat which seems to be the Malaysian version of kim chi - very nice;
            our order of roti canai was forgotten and we didn't realize it till the end;
            we got Hainanese chicken w/rice which was just rice with a poached chicken breast on the side - a bit underwhelming;

            the char kway teow was very good, as was the "Penang-special squid" which had a nice chili kick to it. We also of course got the nasi lemak - not a great dish to share what with all the condiments and stuff... they were also not very flexible in making dishes vegetarian, insisting that you couldn't possibly leave the chicken curry off of the nasi lemak plate (???).

            Green mango salad was excellent, Chinese broccoli, some eggplant dish, and some other mixed vegetables that were kinda chop suey-ish.

            Overall definitely a place to go back to, given that there are so many things we didn't have a chance to try...

            7 Replies
            1. re: linguafood
              huiray Dec 17, 2010 08:13 AM

              "we got Hainanese chicken w/rice which was just rice with a poached chicken breast on the side - a bit underwhelming; "
              ----------
              .....which I would take to mean that they do not do this properly, especially if it was just plain boiled rice you got. Was the chicken cool/room temp, with a little gelatin, skin separating easily from the flesh - or not? What chili sauce or scallion/ginger sauce did you get with it?

              1. re: huiray
                linguafood Dec 17, 2010 08:42 AM

                It may have been coconut rice, too - I couldn't tell you right now. The chicken was room temp, I think, and had a bit of skin on it that did come off easily. It was served with a chili-ginger-scallion sauce which I really dug.

                It was a nice dish, just not .... I don't know. Not as interesting (to me personally) as the kimchi-ish veggies or the squid. But I like strong flavors.

                1. re: linguafood
                  y
                  yfunk3 Dec 17, 2010 09:15 AM

                  Chicken rice is all about the chicken and the rice, literally. The dipping sauces and soup are there to enhance the chicken. The chicken should always be room temp or chilled slightly, never hot. The rice should be slightly yellowish because it should've been cooked in chicken stock and maybe some other flavorings (like coconut milk, pandan leaves, it can vary according to the cook). It's subtle, not in-your-face flavor like a lot of other Malaysian dishes. It looks super simple, but it's so much more complex than that (when done well!). Technique, both in cooking and eating, is a huge deal and highly personal. Oh, and you're supposed to eat the skin! :o)

                  Nasi Lemak really isn't nasi lemak without the curry chicken. That's usually the main and biggest part of it when it's served as lunch or dinner, aside from the serving of rice that comes with it. If you want vegetarian options, I really wouldn't go to a Malaysian/Nonya joint...and I really wouldn't order nasi lemak because there's supposed to be other non-veggie components in it if ordered as a main dish (usually one chicken, one with the dried fish, one with beef/pork). Also didn't realize you had wanted to share the dish with so many people. Okay for sharing with one other person, but yeah, the main thing about nasi lemak is that it's got a sampling of many things.

                  1. re: yfunk3
                    linguafood Dec 17, 2010 09:38 AM

                    I know they offered a "meatless" side of rice cooked in chicken broth. Their concept of vegetarian or meatless food certainly made for some amusement in our group.

                    I will have to have the nasi lemak again, and NOT share '-D.

                    Overall, I really liked the food and I'll definitely be back. It's been hugely popular and was packed to the rafters yesterday.

                    1. re: linguafood
                      y
                      yfunk3 Dec 17, 2010 10:56 AM

                      Yeah, it sort of throws people (myself included) off, that nasi lemak isn't made to share family style like a lot of other SE Asian/Chinese dishes. I think because it started out and is primarily associated with breakfast or a quick lunch.

                      I am getting very hungry and making a list for when I go home next week. Heh.

                  2. re: linguafood
                    Miss Needle Dec 17, 2010 11:24 AM

                    Personally I love chicken rice but realize it's not for everybody, particularly if you like strong flavors. The texture of the chicken is really important to me -- I love it when it's smooth and silky like the white of a soft-boiled egg.

                    1. re: Miss Needle
                      y
                      yfunk3 Dec 17, 2010 01:15 PM

                      Yes! Nothing makes me sadder than dry, stringy chicken with chicken rice. :sigh:

                      But also, nothing makes me angrier than chicken that's all bones and skin and no meat!

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