Tag Archives: Malaysian

Gut Instinct: Go on, Make My Malay

Eat me. Photo: Flickr/Michael McDonough

It’s a torrid Upper West Side Tuesday night, and shoppers are bustling to Fairway and Zabar’s, stocking up on cheese, veggies and coronary-causing kosher meat. I haven’t trekked here for brisket. Instead, I’m outside of Fatty Crab (2170 Broadway, betw. W. 76th & W. 77th Sts., www.fattycrab.com), a Malaysian-inspired restaurant, awaiting Singapore gourmand K.F. Seetoh. We’re scheduled to meet at 7:15, but he’s running late. This gives me time to unspool his tale.

Over the last 15 years, the exphotographer has become one of the biggest culinary cheerleaders of Singapore, a 250-square-mile city-state located off the Malay Peninsula’s southern tip. Influenced by Chinese, Indian and Malaysian cooking traditions, Singaporean cuisine is a Southeast Asian melting pot. Armies of hawkers and restaurants dole out noodle stir-fries, curries containing fish heads and crabs swaddled in incendiary chili sauce.

Fifty years ago, 20,000-plus street carts roamed Singapore. They were a delicious nuisance, but “the government couldn’t get rid of them because they fed the nation,” Seetoh, 48, says. “Street food flavors are in our DNA.” Instead, the hawkers were relocated inside football field-size food halls that house 150 to 200 vendors—street food with a governmentapproved stamp. These days, there’s no shortage of superb food in Singapore. Finding it? That was the rub. To remedy that, Seetoh started the Makansutra, a guidebook organized by dishes rated by chopsticks, not stars. Tonight, Seetoh and I are touring several Malaysian eateries. Would any earn his coveted threechopsticks rating, aka “die die must try”? Continue reading

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Gut Instinct: Hitting the Club

Spicy shrimp sambal from the Cardamom Club!

Last month, a curious bit of terror and mystery landed in my email inbox. The subject line read “Mom’s Malaysian Meals,” and like a Vietnam vet suffering posttraumatic stress disorder, I flashed back to one of the most harrowing meals I ever ate.

During the early days of courting my fiancée, I treated her to a Malaysian feast at Chinatown’s Skyway. The restaurant came recommended by my friend Jason, a man who’s never met a fish head he didn’t suck dry. “Really complex flavors,” he enthused. By complex, I think he meant “rank.” My fiery beef rendang was as subtle as sticking your tongue into a flame and gnawing soggy leather, while my fiancée’s shrimp with eggplant tasted as if it were seasoned with decomposing fish. “This is certainly… interesting,” she said, leaving her food as untouched as a virgin. I do not recall receiving a kiss that night.

From that day forth, I avoided Malaysian food like I do the Jehovah’s Witnesses that ring my doorbell every Saturday morn. Why subject myself to such culinary torture? But out of curiosity and procrastination, I opened the email. Continue reading