Hey! Look who found her camera's battery charger:
How have I lived in DC for ten years and never eaten at Malaysia Kopitiam? It seems like a grave oversight, one I am glad to have finally righted.
I don't eat Malaysian food often. I've been to the Straits of Malaya a couple of times, but otherwise, I am more likely to eat Thai, Chinese or Vietnamese before I think of indulging in the cuisine of Malaysia. How wrong, how misguided! As I tucked into an enormous bowl of hot, sweet and sour broth rich with rice noodles, tuna, red onion and mint I thought of how satisfying, tasty and exotic this cuisine was, and was already planning a return visit.
The service is pretty slow -- our dinner lasted over two hours, just two of us ordering an appetizer and an entree -- but luckily food was worth waiting for. We started with an appetizer, similar to something I've had many times at dim sum, slightly sweet, sticky rice in a tight cylinder stuffed with a spicy minced chicken, wrapped and grilled in a banana leaf. Unfold the banana leaf and you get a sweet, spicy, smoky delight.
My main course, as I mentioned, was a huge noodle bowl -- so big I had enough for two leftover lunches. The assam laksa noodle soup was dark red and garnished with green flecks of onion and large green mint leaves. The flavors worked well together, like the hot and sour soup you're used to at Chinese restaurants, but on steroids. The boldness of the hot, sour and sweet, with the thick ropes of rice noodles was perfect for the cold rainy night from which I had sought shelter.
We also got a vegetable entree to split as a side dish; I was trying to get at least a few green things into the meal. We ordered watercress in fermented tofu sauce purely because I'd never had fermented tofu sauce. And guess what? It's not nearly as weird as I thought it might be. I was picturing some Andrew Zimmern-esque, stinky tofu madness, but it tasted mostly of ginger and watercress with only a hint of sour and savory -- in other words, delicious. I ate the leftovers tossed with egg noodles the next day, and it was delightful.
The lesson of the evening? Malaysian cuisine is vibrant and bold -- every dish had at least three strong flavor components going for it, all playing off of each other and combining in delicious ways. The meal was surprising and affordable (entrees in the $10 range and big enough for at least two meals) and I will be going back soon.