[Free stuff by Wilfrid: March 15, 2010]
I was pleased to be invited to an event organized by the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation to inaugurate its "Malaysia Kitchen for the World 2010" campaign - an initiative to increase awareness of Malaysian cuisine and promote Malaysian restaurants in New York city.
My father was an international commodity trader, and Malaysia was the nation with which he had the closest connections. Although he was inclined to be an egg-and-chips eater wherever he found himself, he was fond of the country and his Malaysian friends, and I saw more Malaysian food growing up than the average English kid. As an adult I spent some time in Kuala Lumpur, as well as in Singapore where some of the best Malaysian (as well as Chinese) cooking can be found. Has it been a big part of my eating itinerary in New York? No: because as far as I've been aware up to now, there really wasn't much in the way of good and authentic Malaysian food available, other than at Skyway on Allen Street or Overseas Asian on Canal. Squidged into one of the claustrophobic lecture seats at the International Culinary Center, I was happy to have my horizons broadened.
By Zak Pelaccio, among others. I confess I have been a little harsh on chef Pelaccio's rendition of Malaysian food. In Eating the Apple 2010 , I complain of a tendency to cloying sweetness in the food he serves at Fatty Crab, and point out that better versions of Malaysian classics can be had at places like Skyway at a fraction of the price, and without the rock music and painfully hip service. I can't walk back my opinion on the food, but this occasion at least increased my respect for Pelaccio's knowledge of the cuisine. He is practically marinated in it.
In addition to hosting the event, he demonstrated chicken satay with a peanut sauce. One of the ingredients was a sort of fermented shrimp paste; he passed a block around the audience, and the...interesting aroma certainly lingered.
Malaysian cuisine, in my perception, is for the most part easy-going - layers of agreeable, user-friendly flavors, with the odd funky note thrown in. Fermented shrimp is a funky note (as is the legendarily pungent durian fruit, something we were spared on this occasion). Although spiciness isn't unknown, I've rarely found true Malaysian food to be threatening in the way that Thai food is. And I still have the feeling that chef Pelaccio kicks up the heat as well as the sweetness to cater to New York expectations. The peanut sauce with the satay was fiery.
Hasni Ghazali came down from Bentara in New Haven to lay out the familiar breakfast/street snack roti canai. Half the fun here was watching him throw the dough and slap it around.
A disarmingly simple dish featuring warm, folded bread much the same as a paratha, and a dipping sauce - typically, as here, lentil curry - you'll find this at any New York Malaysian restaurant.
A restaurant which used to nail this was Wing Shoon on the corner of East Broadway and Essex - ostensibly a Chinese seafood restaurant, but with a Malaysian menu too; but I've not been back there in a while.
Erik Cheah of the Penang restaurant chainlet (there's one on West 72nd) and Rhong-Tiam restaurant whipped up a bowl of laksa. This version featured chicken and shrimp as well as thin rice noodles.
One revelation was the sheer quantity of ingredients which contribute to the deep flavors of a dry-cooked beef rendang.
Chef Kathy Wong of Laut (just off Union Square) arrived with countless tiny dishes of prepped spices and condiments, and the resulting dish was a knockout. Laut has been off my radar (and judging by questions was unfamiliar to most of the audience); on this evidence, it deserves further investigation.
I was pleased by the austerity of the plate, and can't help but note again that the spiciness in this dark, long-cooked meat was at the level of a mild, warm glow - no assault on the senses. Something new I learned was the the spiced meat will keep in a jar on the shelf for up to three months - essentially this is preserved beef.
Some desserts were offered on the way out, but I missed most of them. I did enjoy the "pulled tea" which was offered.
This is tea with condensed milk - the "pulling" refers to pouring the beverage back and forth between cups until the milk is thoroughly blended with the tea. Having had the Chinese and Indian influences on Malaysian cuisine pointed out, it was interesting to be reminded that the Brits were there too. This was like a strong breakfast "cuppa."
Further events are scheduled throughout 2010, including an Asian night-market under the Manhattan Bridge on April 30 (dog and cat presumably not served).
More information here. I must visit Laut. And maybe... maybe I should give Fatty Crab another try.