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Mensday Wednesday: New Malaysia

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Roti canai is something special. Roti, a member of the illustrious flat bread fraternity (i’m looking at you pita and naan), is special in and of itself.  But when you add a glistening bowl of yellow-orange curry to the equation, it’s elevated to an entirely different level. And New Malaysia’s roti canai is some of the best food that I’ve ever eaten at a restaurant.

Roti canai, a product of Indian influence, is found in many incarnations and has a wide geographic reach–from northern India, where it is commonly served with dhal, to Indonesia where it’s mutton curry’s chief co-conspirator, to Malaysia where, as in this restaurant’s case, you’ll often find it with a vegetarian potato curry. This small and cheap appetizer, as were many of the other dishes we ordered, is emblematic of Malaysia’s location as a crossroads. Lying smack dab in the middle of the most heavily trafficked blue-water trade route in the world, outside influence was bound to furrow, take-hold, grow, and sprout into not only a unique and cosmopolitan culture and people, but into a cuisine that embraces some of the best techniques and dishes that India, China, and many other regions in Asia have to offer.

Pataya fried chicken, squeezed with generous amounts of lime and surreptitiously dipped in our bowls of spud-stuffed curry (previously the exclusive domain of the now entirely devoured first order of roti) turned out to be winner of best dish in a supporting role. Really just a plate of fried chicken–the pieces are broken down one or two steps further than your average bucket at KFC–it’s akin to latino chicharron de pollo or Brazil’s frango do passarinho.

The remaining standouts amongst a bevy of dishes (we really did go crazy, and New Malaysia is the exception to the rule that restaurants with huge menus are invariably mediocre) were chow kueh teow and kang-kung belacan. The chow kueh teow is a flat rice noodle stir fry that speaks to the Chinese influence on Malaysian cuisine (home to a huge Chinese diaspora) and is quite similar to the chow fun you see on almost every Chinese restaurant’s menu; this version was exemplary. The kang-kung belacan was a vegetable side dish that broke out of the boring shackles so associated with a ‘vegetable side.’ Kang-kung refers to water spinach–a vegetable ubiquitous throughout east asian cookery and belacan refers to the dry shrimp paste of the same name, a powerful ingredient best used in moderation, but when employed correctly packs an umami filled punch. These two ingredients, sauteed together with garlic and chilies, helped the kang-kung belcan bully it’s way to the forefront of our table where it was, to everyone’s astonishment, immediately consumed.

There are more details I could go into, such as a good natured argument on the difference between hash browns and home fries that threatened to turn ugly and our confusion as to where exactly the restaurant is located (you’ll see what I mean if you ever make it down there), but an indulgence in ardent spirits at the time of eating clouds my memory, and anyway, I should save a few new things to say for the next time we go.

46-48 Bowery #2, New York, NY  (212) 964-0284

(About Mensday Wednesday: Being located in New York City gives us the opportunity to sample a wide array of food. After all, there are over 20,000 restaurants here and in a huge city, built on the contributions of immigrants, which continues to draw people from every corner of the world, it is statistically probable that there exists a commercial enterprise operating to meet everyone’s taste, as disparate as those tastes may be. There are no set requirements as to where we dine, but a sort of tacit set of rules have emerged: price is important–the final bill should never cause us to wince, ‘international’ cuisine is preferred, and in the event of a debate, byob is the trump card.)

Calder Quinn is a fearless gastronome exploring New York City one restaurant at a time and the eldest son of Lucinda Scala Quinn, Living’s Executive Editorial Director of Food.

Follow Mensday Wednesdays on Twitter @mensdae

 


Comments (7)

  • Finally a blog with some merit! I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mensday Wednesday. It sounds like tons of fun (and looks like it!!) and I’m so jealous that you have NYC to explore your tastebuds. Being on the left coast offers its own dining delights as we are under different influences than you are (we love to debate the best carnitas, grss fed burgers,californis style pizzas,and seafood).
    Looking forward to hump day now and your dining excursions :)

  • great writer WOW felt like I was there…nice pic too!

  • Like Chris, I too am envious of all the dining opportunities you have in NYC. Great descriptive review and this comes from someone who knows little (and by little I mean nothing at all) about Indian/Indonesion/Malaysian cuisine. Sure makes me want to try it. Looking forward to your next dining adventure.

  • Liked lthis & looking forward to reading more of your Wednesday adventures. (Loved when you were on Mad Hungry!)

  • Wow what a mouth watering description! Hot Roti canai on a rainy day would be awesome..I enjoyed reading it and I will be looking forward for more articles.

  • Calder,

    We loved your description of this New York eatery and its delicious menu. Having lived in the city, we always loved exploring all the good eats that NYC had to offer. Now that we’re in Texas, the menus have changed, and although the cuisine here is still yummy, we admittedly miss the awesome variety we had in New York. Keep writing these blogs, because you have a real gift of language and we felt like we were there. Also, now this restaurant is on our must visit list the next time we go to New York!

    Cheers!
    Jathan & Heather

  • Calder,

    I find you to be not only smart and witty, but handsome and bold. Would you ever consider meeting me out for a blind date sometime?

    Love your biggest fan,

    Eyitz :)

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