Guide: The Typical Malaysian Menu
First you're going to find what we call appetizers. They're more like snacks. Look out for rojak, a piquant salad of pineapple, cucumber, and jícama dressed in a powerfully spiced savory dressing. Order the Ipoh bean sprouts — very simple, lightly blanched bean sprouts served in a soy dressing with plenty of freshly ground white or black pepper.
Happy Joy, 25 Canal St, nr. Ludlow St.; 212-388-0264
Roaming further into the menu, you'll find a bunch of noodle dishes: fried noodles, which are known in Malaysia as mee goreng, and noodle soups, the best of which is called yong tau fu. The latter is a really fantastic dish, a variety of barely blanched or deep-fried ingredients such as tofu, bitter melon, and eggplant that have been stuffed with a gently seasoned forcemeat of mackerel, and served with lo mein noodles and either a clear stock or an intensely seasoned coconut-milk curry broth.
Nyonya, 194 Grand St., nr. Mulberry St.; 212-334-3669
The next section of the menu will have a range of rice dishes. The go-to one would be the coconut rice — nasi lemak or nasi uduk. It's steamed with coconut milk and flavored with aromatics like ginger and lemongrass.
Minangasli, 86-10 Whitney Ave., nr. Macnish St., Elmhurst; 718-429-8207
New Indonesia and Malaysia, 18 Doyers St., nr. Bowery; 212-267-0088
Fatty Crab, 643 Hudson St., nr. Horatio St.; 212-352-3590
Next you're likely to find an array of stir-fries. The best of them is called kang kung belacan — it's fresh-water spinach that's been quickly fried in a very hot wok with shallots, garlic, chiles, and dried shrimp paste (belacan).
And finally, there's the proteins: fish, chicken, beef, and, if it's Malaysian-Chinese (and isn't halal), pork. The must-have meat thing would be beef rendang. It's slow-braised in coconut-milk curry, flavored with cloves and cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger. All the liquid evaporates, and the meat is left to gently [brown] in the beef fat that remains in the pan. In Sumatra, they use water buffalo, which results in a fantastically rich dish.
Upi Jaya, 76-04 Woodside Ave., near 76th St., Woodside; 718-458-1807