I’m Dreaming of a Malaysian Christmas…

When I found out that I was pregnant, the first thing I decided to do was renovate my apartment. I’d been talking about it since my husband and I bought it 3 years ago, but we never got around to it. Actually, I told my husband that I didn’t want to move into my apartment in the middle of nowhere upper east side unless there was an awesome kitchen and a washer/dryer in unit to tempt me, and he said, “No problem! This apartment doesn’t have any of that and it’s almost a mile from the subway. But don’t worry because it’s a deal and we’ll renovate to make it what we want!” And then every time I asked him about it after we moved in, he said, “Oh yeah, sure sure, we have to do that. I’ll ask around.” … … … That’s the sound of crickets chirping and classic husband inaction. So, jacked up on pregnancy hormones and all-day morning sickness (that’s how we do in the disaster world), I found my own badass contractor (plug for Paul O’Hare – best damn contractor in the world) and as I like to say, “gilded my upper east side cage.”

And I managed to cook some incredible meals for the 1 month I had before my water broke while I was googling “what does a contraction feel like?” Since then (3 months) I basically use my kitchen to make eggs in the morning. I did make Thanksgiving, which felt fantastic although it was dairy free because my son has colic and dairy seems to aggravate it… It was pretty tasty, but a truckload of cream and butter would have really made that meal. I now do takeout at least every other day, which is nothing new to the Upper East Side where very few people seem to actually cook. And yet, with all these takeout aficionados up here, the diversity and quality of takeout choices is lacking! There are some good ones that I will touch on soon (like my Cafe Evergreen weekend dim sum brunches), but there are also some dogs.

My Asian roots are crying for some spice! While my son is napping this morning (thank every deity in the book for that little piece of good fortune), I’ve been looking through my old pics of food and drooling. And right now, it’s a little Malaysian goodness that’s got my mouth watering and counting the days until my son is decently immunized so I can strap him to my torso and make the hike to Chinatown!

New Malaysia sits in an alley, behind another restaurant, right off Bowery, and yet STILL the place is always packed. My friend told me that it was a must try after scoffing at my recommendation of Nyonya on Grand St for Malaysian cuisine. I still enjoy Nyonya, which I like to think is just an acronym for “New York O’ New York-ah,” but it just doesn’t compare to New Malaysia.

My first craving is for a little Roti Canai – the same, delicious, but softer and doughier version of the Kati Roll wrapper served alongside a delicious chicken curry dipping sauce. Red curry spiciness with sweet and rich coconut milk perfectly balance the mild, flaky, and just a tad sweet roti. This is like buttering a croissant and dipping it in chocolate sauce… Asian style. There’s never enough roti to finish off your entire curry dipping bowl, so I always eye around the table to see who’s eating slowly or maybe even dieting so I can scare them into forking over a piece of their roti. It was easy while pregnant – who’s going to deny a pregnant woman food? Only a really bad person would do that – you know who you are. Another proven method of scaring food away from people is showing them your triceps cellulite and then explaining that you didn’t used to have those dangling sacks of fat before eating whatever it is you’re trying to weasel away from them. Unfortunately, my dining partners usually just ignore me and use their arms to circle their plates defensively.

My only complaint is why is the roti so damn small for such a generous portion of chicken curry? Not the time to be stingy here...

Up close and personal with flaky goodness

Next up are crispy and chewy fried and dried anchovies in Malaysian belecan sauce… because what’s yummier with your little bits of fishy goodness than some funky shrimp paste and chili seasoning? Nothing. This is one of those dishes that I think helps you figure out whether or not you’re going to get along with someone, like a good blind date dish. You’re either the type of person that looks these little fishies in their eyes, takes a deep whiff of that Chinatown back alley funk and thinks, “Awwwww yeahhhhh, I gotta get me some of this” or you’re that “other” type of person that I don’t usually associate with unless forced to. You know, the type of person that won’t eat anything with eyes or that smells a little fishy… the type of person that you usually catch grimacing and wrinkling their nose as they tiptoe through chinatown holding their pant legs up so they don’t step in anything… the type of person that I literally can’t talk to for more than 5 minutes without antagonizing in some way while my husband grabs my hand under the table, silently begging me not to make another food enemy the way I alienated his second cousin by telling her that Magnolia cupcakes taste like a combination of chalk and dirt, mashed together into a dry cupcake shape, iced with the overly sweet taste of sellout. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, you either like these little umami bites tossed with more umami goodness, complimented with sweet and tangy barely-cooked red onion crunchiness, or you’re a culture-hating nazi. Ok, maybe not a nazi, but we would not get along…

Fried dried anchovies in a shrimp paste sauce - like tasting Chinatown... in a good way.

If you can't eat this dish because the anchovy is staring at you, stop reading this post and this blog. Never come back.

Just keep swimming through your meal, because we’ve got bigger fish to fry… literally. You know what was shocking about my first time eating fish in a non-Asian restaurant when I was a teenager? The fact that the fish came on my plate vs. being served family style and also that its head was missing. No fish head? But then who gets to eat the fish eyeball? Listen, I know – you don’t have to be a nazi to not want to eat a fish eyeball. I will give you that. But all I’m saying is that a fish eyeball is pretty damn good. It has the texture of a stale gum ball – really chewy – but the flavor of really light but savory fish jerky. I’m not selling it, am I? It’s like durian – Westerners can’t stand the smell, but it doesn’t bother me at all because it smells like durian, which is delicious. At New Malaysia, order yourself any of their whole fishes, either fried or steamed. I like the deep-fried red snapper in jawa sauce. What is jawa sauce? It’s delicious. I kept asking the waiter and he would answer by pointing at the sauce on the fish. It’s like asking “who’s on first?” What is jawa sauce? It’s the sauce that comes with the deep-fried red snapper. I kept asking, he kept repeating that answer until I asked him if I was being punked and he just stared at me blankly. I googled it later and Jawa is an Indonesian island so I’m guessing jawa is not an ingredient, but just refers to the style of sauce.  All I can say is that this dish is damn delicious – the sauce has a meaty savoriness to it that’s so perfect with the crispy snapper skin underneath and the pale, juicy, flaky flesh.  It’s like wearing a perfectly cut and draped, sleeveless velvet cocktail dress to a holiday party.  At least I think it is – I usually show up at holiday parties in jeans with at least 3 shots of Don Nacho tequila warming my system.  Not anymore, though, cuz I’m a mom!  So don’t call social services on me just yet, people!

Do you choose the red snapper? Or what's in the box? If you get the movie reference, I heart you.

Can someone PLEASE tell me what's in the jawa sauce???

I hope your holidays were as delicious as possible!  I actually lucked out and my parents roasted and brought 2 ducks to my apartment this year, complete with potatoes and asparagus sautéed in duck fat and some sticky and wild rice stuffing that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  All I had to do was make some buttery smooth yukon gold mashed potatoes, an apple tart, and a deep dish caramel pumpkin pie… and those little tasks took FOREVER as my son decided to feast on his holiday meals every 1.5 hours:)

Stay tuned for my next post all about CHAMPAGNE!  Good news is that I’m back off the wagon, but the bad news is that I can only have 1 glass a day.  I know, some of you are shaking your heads and saying “I only have one glass a day because I’m uptight, blah blah blah” and judging me.  Well don’t.  Anyhoo, when you can only drink one glass a day, you reallllllly learn to pick and choose what it is you’re sipping.  So I called in a favor and picked my Christie’s wine expert friend’s brain for her top 5 picks under $50!  Let’s hope that my baby gives me the opportunity to post again before the New Year!

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1 Comment

Filed under Eating my feelings and paying for it

One response to “I’m Dreaming of a Malaysian Christmas…

  1. Dougie

    Jawa sauce is a basic chili sambal with gula jawa, unrefined palm sugar. So good.

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