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Restaurant Malaysia (Flushing)


Pan
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Just a quick note:

I had possibly the tastiest curry noodle soup I've had in the 5 Boroughs tonight at this place:

Restorant Malaysia Inc.

135-17 40th Road

Flushing, NY 11354

(718) 353-2901

ditto       -2903

It was seafood curry noodle soup, for those keeping score at home, and it was very coconutty, nice and spicy, and filled with sliced fish cakes, fish balls, shrimps, little pieces of cuttlefish, bay scallops, bean sprouts, and of course, noodles. High-fat advisory on curry noodle soups, just so you know. High salt, too, but let's not talk about that too much. :sad:

The restaurant has a huge map of Malaysia on the wall, detailing the names of all the states and showing the Malaysian flag and the flags of all the states and special districts except Labuan. (I looked at the flag of Terengganu and couldn't remember the last time I had seen it.) I was the only non-Asian there. The restaurant was suffused with the pungent and, to many, unpleasant smell of durian. This is the real stuff, folks. I will definitely be back.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Interesting.  Thanks Pan.  Does anyone know anything about Malaysian food?  How distinct is it as a cuisine?  My sense, based on severely limited knowledge, is that it is not that distinguishable from Indonesian food and that it is the general synchretic product of Chinese and Indian cuisines that dominate SE Asia, though I wonder if its as self-contained and unique as Vietnamese or Thai.

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First of all, it's about 1 1/2 blocks from the Flushing Main St. station. 40th Road is parallel to Roosevelt Av., just to its south.

As for Malaysian food, it is distinguishable from Indonesian food, but keep in mind that, while there are regional variations in Malaysian food, Indonesia is really a huge multinational empire, so it's probably impossible to make global generalizations about Indonesian food. Furthermore, some Malaysian favorites, such as Nasi Padang, are specialties of Malays who came to the Malay Peninsula from parts of Indonesia, where many of their relatives still live (in that case, Sumatra).

OK, I'll give you some generalizations about Malaysian food.

(1) They like it hot, so many dishes have plenty of chili.

(2) Their curries typically and almost definitionally use coconut milk.

(3) They use belacan a lot. Called terasi in Indonesia, belacan is shrimp paste - a foul-smelling paste of rotten shrimp plus lots of salt. It is a good flavor, in moderation.

(4) The preferred oil in Malaysian cooking was coconut oil. I don't know if that's changed much since I was in Malaysia in the 70s, or how much Malaysian restaurants here deviate from that.

(5) Malaysian Chinese cooking - which you can get at most of the Malaysian restaurants here since the cooks and, much of the time, target clientele are Chinese Malaysians - often features pork innards, such as intenstines. I still remember having a lunch of pork intenstine soup right across from the bus station in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. Malays and other Muslims in Malaysia, needless to say, steer a very wide berth from pig meat. Another thing about Malaysian Chinese cooking is that it is not always fiery so that, for example, dishes such as Nasi Ayam (chicken with rice) are mild. Malaysian Chinese cooking can be _very_ peppery, however.

(6) Malaysians traditionally ate fish a great deal, and wonderful, fresh seafood was also available at river mouths. Since Malaysians know what fresh fish and seafood are, you can normally count on such dishes to be fresh at Malaysian restaurants. Chili crabs, the national dish of Singapore, are also a Malaysian dish. Vegetable dishes - such as okra (aka "ladies fingers") - that are cooked with belacan will at a minimum have dried little shrimps (also a common ingredient in Malaysian food), but will typically include fresh shrimps, as well.

(7) Roti canai, a dish brought to Malaysia by Indians, is a national breakfast. It is a flaky bread, and it is most commonly accompanied by a chicken/potato-curry sauce.

(8) Satay, though offered by all sorts of restaurants nowadays, is a Malaysian dish, and you can expect it to be best and most authentic at Malaysian or Indonesian restaurants, all things being equal. For those who don't know, satay is Nusantara's answer to shish kebab - chicken, goat, or water buffalo/beef on a skewer, eaten with peanut sauce; slices of cucumber; and rice steamed in a leaf, known as ketupat. They won't give you the ketupat here, though. They also won't give you water buffalo meat, and so much the better. Water buffalo meat is like beef, except that it's much tougher and has to be cooked much longer.

(9) The most typical Malaysian dessert is fresh fruit. Bubur, though given as a dessert in Malaysian restaurants here, is really a soothing breakfast food. It consists of beans or/and various kinds of tubers boiled in coconut milk with manisan/gula Melaka (palm sugar). The variety that uses tubers and is generally more interesting is called bubur cacak.

Cakes and such are served as snacks, or as desserts for festive meals. Peanut pancakes are delicious, but be warned that large helpings are usually provided. Kaya is a wonderful Malaysian sweet: A jam made from rich coconut custard. One of my favorite things at Jing Fong, the dim sum eating hall at 20 Elizabeth St. that's owned by Malaysians, is the kaya pauh, buns with kaya inside. I'm still looking for anyplace that serves or sells the kueh bakar (baked cakes) I used to eat at recess in Sekolah Kebangsaan (Malay National Public School) in Terengganu: Batter with lots of coconut inside, broiled over the fire of a wood stove. Man, were they good!

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Pan.  Thank you so much for all that detail.  I learned a lot and am definately heading to Queens to check the place out in the next few weeks.  I have spent a lot of time in East Asia, though little in SE Asia.  What were you doing over there?  Also, are there any other Malaysian focused places you would recommend in Manhattan or other boroughs in addition?

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I'm not an expert on malaysian food but I'll add my 2 cents. I had a great meal at Taste Good in elmhurst the other day, and it seemed authentic. The curry seafood soup and beef rendang were the best I've had yet. The people around me were eating some great looking dishes.The food is spicier here than teh other Malaysian places I've been to (good).

Pinang (not Penang) in Forest Hills has some good dishes (although tasta good si mor eauthentic). I especially like thier red snapper Thailand style. Can't go wrong with a whole fried snapper. theie mango chicken and ginger chicken are good. The noodle dishes and soups are better at Taste good.

I like Franklin Station Cafe (Manhattan) but it is malaysian French. Well, it seemed like Malaysian food with french-ish desserts. I like thsi place a lot. :)

I'm not a fan or Penang or Baba.

Did I miss anyplace good other than the one he posted about in Flushing? I haven't tried Nyonya in Little Italy.

-Jason

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One of the reasons I actually asked is that I think I had given up on Malaysian food after multiple bad experiences with Penang.  Soits interesting and excellent to know its out there.

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Mao:

My mother is an anthropologist, who was apprenticed to a great bomoh (Malay shaman) and traditional midwife in a coastal village in the Malaysian state of Terengganu (east coast of the Peninsula). I went to the local Sekolah Kebangsaan (Malay National School, i.e. public) for 5th and 6th grades, studied silat (Malay martial arts), gathered wild plants and mollusks, attended healing ceremonies, rode my bike around the township, played a lot of checkers, etc., and had a grand time.

You say you had bad experiences with Penang, but that's a chain (Nyonya and BaBa are also part of the chain). Which Penang did you have bad experiences with? The only one that's really authentic is the one on Prince St. in Flushing.

Jayask: You say you aren't a fan of BaBa (which is on Bayard St.). Why not? I've never eaten less than a very good meal there, and I've had some great ones. Then again, it's been a few months since I've been there, so I suppose it's possible that it's deteriorated. But I've said previously that it might be the best Malaysian restaurant in Manhattan at this point, so it'll take a bad meal there to change my mind. Nyonya on Grand St. is inconsistent, but I've found that if I stick to Malaysian dishes, again, it's never less than solid, and it can be great. I had a post-birthday celebration there on Feb. 3, and while it was by no means great, it was quite acceptable. I liked Sentosa (Allen St. and Division) quite a bit for awhile, but I was a little disappointed by how overly hard the noodles in their laksa were the last time I went. I also used to consider New Taste Good my standby, but not for awhile; I don't remember why I changed. I had one great meal at Singapore Cafe, but it was so fatty I've hesitated to return. (I think I went back once and had a good meal. It's been a while.)

I guess at this point, the only place in Manhattan I thought I could recommend unreservedly is BaBa, and Jayask doesn't like it. Then again, I would never order anything that's in Thai style in a Malaysian restaurant. Why bother? In my opinion, the Thais will make the same thing better - and they also do a damned good job on Malay curries, though the selection of Malay curries is not nearly as wide in a Thai restaurant as in a Malaysian restaurant. Any time you get something in a Thai restaurant that's called a "Masaman Curry," keep in mind that "Masaman"=Muslim. There are Malays who live in the Chao Phraya Valley (Bangkok's valley), not only in the parts of southern Thailand that were Malay sultanates as recently as the 19th century.

As for Flushing, based on that one meal, Restorant Malaysia might be the best Malaysian place in that neighborhood, but I don't know yet. I can say that I had another meal at the Malaysian place that's on the same block but closer to Main St. (it has a name but the words "Restoran Malaysia" [which simply means "Malaysian Restaurant"] are also visible; don't be confused), and it was just OK. Penang on Prince was inconsistent though never less than acceptable in my trips there - but that must have been some 2 years ago. That said, I never found it incredibly exciting, and the staff seemed to be constantly surprised by my wanting to order things like Asam Laksa that "white people don't like" - even when I spoke with them in Malaysian. :angry: By contrast, no-one questioned my choice of dishes at Restorant Malaysia, and the curry soup was made very spicy, just as they undoubtedly do for everyone (that's also one of the things I used to like about Sentosa and New Taste Good).

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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The Penang that I have always gone to is near my father's on 1st and 66th.  Was not aware that they are a chain until you mentioned it.  I may try Baba this weekend though.  This whole thread has been kind of an education as to what exists within the bounds of Malaysian food in NYC.

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Pan:

As I said....I am not an expert of Malaysian food.

That said, I did not dislike Baba. It's just that there is not one dish that I ordered there that I haven't had better somewhere else. I expected better, so was dissapointed. Then again....I am comparing it to places in Queens, so it may be the best i Manhattan.

The Penang I tried was in Flushing. It was good. I just have been more impressed by Taste Good, Pinang, and even Frankin Station Cafe (which is French Malaysian downtown)

As far as my ordering some non authentic dishes at Pinang (such as Red snapper Thailand style)....I have been there many times and tried a lot of things, some authentic and some not.  That fish dish, mango chicken, and ginger chicken were good (even if I don't know how authentic they were.) I did try the same snapper dish at Baba, and the Pinang version was better. I'm not recommending the place to an expert such as yourself. What do I know about Malaysian food compared to you? :)

I do plan on trying the new place you recommend in Flushing when I am next that way.  :)

Jayask@aol.com

-Jason

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Jayask:

I think it's certainly possible that the places you've been to in Queens are better than BaBa.

I'll look forward to seeing posts by you and Mao after you've tried Restaurant Malaysia, and I also plan to go back and try other dishes.

I also realize that I may have spoken too quickly about the Penang chain. It's possible that the branch on Elizabeth St. is pretty authentic because it's in Chinatown; however, I haven't tried it. Basically, I find that the authenticity of Malaysian food in restaurants from the Penang chain is in inverse proportion to how far they are from areas with large concentrations of Malaysians and other people from Southeast and East Asia. Come to think of it, I figure that's a pretty good general rule in regard to Malaysian restaurants.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Well, I went back tonight. Asam laksa and Ipoh bean sprouts. Very good laksa, except for one slight imperfection: at least one piece of pineapple tasted slightly overripe. But the soup generally was quite tasty - perhaps the fish, especially. The Ipoh bean sprouts didn't have as much pepper as I've had on them before, so I added pepper from the shaker.

I think that next time, I may try a bigger dish like shrimps with belacan and okra, which I had been considering.

Overall, today's meal wasn't as great as last time, but still solid. I'll see what I think of other dishes.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Pan... what a wonderful post you gave us.  Amazing for anyone wanting to understand Malaysian cuisine.  I am printing a copy of it to save for reading later.  Thanks.

Do you do anything with food at all?

Eat it!  :biggrin:

You're welcome.

I left out a description of laksa. Penang-style asam (sour) laksa is a delicious soup, very strong-tasting and not for everyone, but I love it. It's made with a whole bunch of different ingredients, including hot peppers, lots of belacan (shrimp paste), pieces of fish (mackeral is most traditional), sliced onions (often red), cilantro, tamarind juice, often some pieces of pineapple, and lots of noodles. It's fiery, salty, sour, sweet, crunchy, somewhat oily, and like nothing else you've ever eaten. I try laksa at every Malaysian restaurant I go to.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Pan,

I had great Laksa in Goa of all places.  It was divine.  And then I had some in Singapore.  But the Goan version was divine.  The chef makes his own dried shrimp paste.  Could that make all the difference?

Thanks for your great insight into this cuisine.  We are lucky to have you share in such detail.

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Pan,

I had great Laksa in Goa of all places.  It was divine.  And then I had some in Singapore.  But the Goan version was divine.  The chef makes his own dried shrimp paste.  Could that make all the difference?

Thanks for your great insight into this cuisine.  We are lucky to have you share in such detail.

Well, my folks and I had a wonderful and very memorable Indian feast in Tokyo (in 1975!). The restaurant turned out to be associated with the Indian embassy, but we went to it purely by accident - we just happened to see it when we were hungry.

I really don't know whether making one's own shrimp paste would make a great difference.

I'm glad to provide some information about Malaysian cuisine. I just hope that I find a Malaysian restaurant in New York that I'm consistently delighted with. I have to say that, for a while, it was impossible to get _ANY_ Malaysian food in New York, and the immigration of Chinese Malaysians to New York has been a sort of godsend, in that it has provided me with a lot of comfort food that reminds me of a place I called home for two important years of my childhood.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I can relate easily to your feeling. I feel the same way about Indian food.  When will I have a restaurant that can provide me with consitently decent Indian food?

But things seem to be changing... and hopefully soon we will have a great Indian and Malaysian restaurant in NYC.  So each of us can be sated about those childhood hankerings and also about each of these other cuisines.

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I had a great meal and a good meal at Singapore Cafe shortly after it opened. Singaporeans have complained that it is just another Malaysian restaurant, and not Singaporean in any way, shape, or form, but I don't care about that. My problem with the place is that the amount of fat they use is just totally excessive.

I've had many good meals at Sentosa but I was dissatisfied by how hard the noodles were in their Asam Laksa last time I went. I still think it's probably one of your better bets for good and authentic Malaysian cuisine in Manhattan. (Why is authentic important? Because my experience is that restaurants that water it down or otherwise adulterate it for non-Asians' tastes suck.)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Pan - I think we should schedule an eGullet dinner in a Malaysian restaurant of your choice and you can order the menu. Then you can teach us all about the glories and subtleties of Malaysian cuisine. Why don't you pick a few dates at the end of June and see if we can scare up 6-10 people.

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Pan - I think we should schedule an eGullet dinner in a Malaysian restaurant of your choice and you can order the menu. Then you can teach us all about the glories and subtleties of Malaysian cuisine. Why don't you pick a few dates at the end of June and see if we can scare up 6-10 people.

That's a great idea, Steve, but I will be in France until June 27, so July would work better for me.

I will call a Malaysian friend and ask her for recommendations, too.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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You say you had bad experiences with Penang, but that's a chain (Nyonya and BaBa are also part of the chain). Which Penang did you have bad experiences with? The only one that's really authentic is the one on Prince St. in Flushing.

I don't know how "authentic" they are, but the only Penang we've been to is the one in East Hanover, NJ. It is excellent. Sometimes there are some service difficulties, but we have enjoyed about 95% of the food there. I especially like the Pearl Noodles, Clay Pot Noodle Soup, the Tofu Nyonya, any and all of the fresh fish dishes, the Jumbo Shrimp prepared in a variety of ways, the mango or pineapple chicken is good for someone who is unfamiliar with the food (a "safe" choice, for my dad, for instance).

Pan - I think we should schedule an eGullet dinner in a Malaysian restaurant of your choice and you can order the menu. Then you can teach us all about the glories and subtleties of Malaysian cuisine. Why don't you pick a few dates at the end of June and see if we can scare up 6-10 people.

I second that. Great idea. Please have it on a weekend night so we can come. I'd love some education on the cuisine, because, as I said above, Penang is our only experience with it (well there was a place in Washington DC too, but I don't think we ordered right there).

That's a great idea, Steve, but I will be in France until June 27, so July would work better for me.  I will call a Malaysian friend and ask her for recommendations, too.

Yay! Goody, I'm excited. I hope your Malaysian friend will come to the dinner, too.

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