Eyebrows raised, I looked skeptically as my bespectacled friend, the one with the penchant for suede elbow-patches and sweater vests. “Malaysian food?” I asked. Not confident I had heard the professor correctly. “Really? In the Springs?” I may have sounded somewhat flummoxed, but our fair city is not known for a broad range of international cuisine; and a local discovery of food from the Southeast Asian federal constitutional monarchy is unheard of.
I have not had the privilege of traveling to Malaysia. China? Yes. Thailand? Yes. Korea, Japan? Yes, yes. But having yet to even sample Malay food, I was feeling ever the uninitiated novice.
When a new cuisine is first approached, the default stance is to embrace the menu in its entirety. A flurried sampling of nearly everything on offer is the surest way to “get one’s arms around the matter,” as they say. Mercifully, Asian Cookery’s menu is relatively brief. The pandemic has had its way with the restaurant industry, and streamlined menus (and to-go cocktails) are some of the only benefits of the “new normal.”
Noodles are a welcome foundation of any dish. While a personal preference may be skewed toward southern Italian usages, the historical fact of China’s invention of noodles must be recognized. And the Chinese do a mighty find job with those noodles, too.
Wait. China? Were we not assessing the qualities of Malaysian food, you ask? Shrewd observation, dear reader. As it happens, nearly one in four Malaysians are ethnically Chinese. Thus, the ancient empire’s significant influence upon the small archipelago’s cuisine is unsurprising.
Similarly, a Chinese influence upon the Asian Cookery’s menu is hard to miss. To be perfectly candid, had anyone presented to me the evening’s takeout order and insisted it was Chinese food — perhaps from the Beijing region — I would not have argued with them.
Pork on noodles one way, pork on noodles another. A curry dish with fish cakes. That pork again, this time on rice. And then there’s the beef rendang nasi lemak. While aesthetically the least appealing of the online menu’s thumbnail pictures, this particular rendang (rendang being Indonesian in origin) was the evening’s clear standout dish — attributable to both the tender and flavorful beef of the rendang and the sweet and creamy coconut rice of the nasi lemak. Nasi meaning “rice,” and lemak meaning “rich and creamy.”
Further, don’t overlook the potstickers. Obviously handmade and with great skill. Dipped in the accompanying ginger/soy sauce, these could themselves be dinner.
We scoured the menu and ate our bodyweight so you don’t have to. Turns out the professor hasn’t eaten here yet, nor been to Malaysia … nor China for that matter. I think we’ll book flights asap and really show him up.