Saturday, 13 October 2007 by kinakoJam
Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do, and saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
But more, much more than this, I did it my way
OK, when it comes to our dining choices in NY I pretty much did it Sietsema's way. And in one particular case, it may not have been the BEST way. There was a tinge of regret when I made the mistake of checking up on Oversea Asian on Chowhound.com. On that website, the legions seem to prefer another Manhattan Malaysian joint. Which lead me to wonder for a moment, if I should've done it Skyway.
But then I thought back on the delicious sweet-sour mango chicken, the flaky, buttery roti canai (so it probably is pre-frozen, so what?), and the melange of nasi lemak flavours and I was at peace.
It IS still a lingering regret that we didn't have time to explore Sietsema's recommendations of Malaysian and other 'asian cuisines in the outer boroughs. I have a certain stubborn idea (similiar to Maytel and Hock's) that restaurants should be humble and obscure, that the 'real' and best Asian food would be found only in Queens or even New Jersey and never in Manhattan. (I have Sietsema to thank for this prejudice, too). So I have shovelled all regrets aside, since i figure Skyway is just another Manhattan joint, after all...
Must admit, I do find it bewildering and somehow irritating to broach the seething mass of conflicting ideas on Chowhound about which restaurant is 'best'... most of them write in a way that is so earnest and humourless and often seems so ill-informed.
Still, one is inclined to think that some of them must have a good idea about what's good to eat.
The brave legions of Chowhound posters have quite a task on their hands. In NYC (as in Tokyo) there are SO many places that are good to eat. Some of them are only good for one or two dishes, and some of them decline in quality within months while new ones pop up every day.
To try to define what is 'best' is a virtual impossibility, because when there are so many options, 'best' depends on what you feel like that day, doesn't it?
I found this blog whereby a person spent a year eating their way around the world, and then summed up their top fives in various categories. Some of the places and dishes sound worth trying out, but the lack of scientific approach and the profusion of locations and cuisines makes it all seem rather random. Since it could take decades of living in a certain country to become an expert on a cuisine, it is bewildering to see someone try to come off like an expert on Napolitano pizza just from having passed through there for a week or two. This, dear friends, is the nature of our day & age. Foodism, dear friends, is at work everywhere you look.
Anyways. No matter how you get your info, the main point is to find delicious meals.
There are two options in a big city like NYC. You could spend two weeks blocking out all the eateries from a certain cuisine and eating your way through all of them. Or you could make a virtual career out of trialing places that you've seen recommended on the web. For instance, I found this site by an enthusiastic eater who made a shortlist of places she wanted to try out in NYC culled from Sietsema's recommendations - and then cross-referenced with Chowhound and a cabbie food-blogger. I must say that we enjoyed every single meal recommended by Sietsema. But I suspect - foodism irritations aside - that if I lived in NYC I would resort to a similar strategy.
OK, so enough rambling. I am NOT an expert on Malaysian food. For some reason there is a lot of really good Malaysian food in Wellington, NZ, where I grew up. As take out it's more of a tradition among people I knew than Thai or even Chinese, so it reminds me of being 16 and eating searing egg sambal.
One of the things that impressed me about Oversea Asian was the freshness and tastiness of the vegetables that were involved. Mango chicken:
I wished the Nasi Lemak had been a bit less dry & a bit more coconutty (like the superb coconut rice we had at Village Mingala the night before - but that was a Burmese restaurant so I shouldn't confuse the matter! The achat (sweet/spicy/sour pickled veges) that came with it were great and the general confluence of tastes and textures was very satisying.
Above you can see Yeong Tofu, the dish that enticed us to Oversea Asian in the first place. Here is the description by Sietsema:
"It might be the name of a prime-time soap, set in an organic supermarket and featuring a cast of glib twentysomethings: Young Tofu. Instead, it designates a clay pot that sits steaming in front of you, a collection of stuffed objects in a curried coconut broth ($5.25). Bulging with shrimp-laced tofu paste, the okra, eggplant, and long green chiles sink to the bottom, while Venetian barges of fried and unfried tofu float lazily by. This liquid museum of curd would have made a complete meal in itself, had the bewildering, 150-item menu not tempted you to stick your neck out further."
(Read the full review here: it's from '04, mind)
The crispy fried tofu skin with the creamy broth was superb. (We chose half chicken broth and half laksa-style curry mixed). 'Yeong' in cantonese means to stuff. So Yeong Tofu means veges stuffed with tofu, and the dish also included pieces of eggplant welded with fishpaste that tasted a little musty like the back of the shelf in an old chinese supermarket: but in a good way.
The roti canai was very good, the accompanying curry with hunks of meat very tasty.
Overall, it was a delicious and over-the-top lunch (so much food!) washed down with plenty of tea and nice before strolling to Alife so Erik could buy a purple sweater.
It may not have been THE best Malaysian NYC has to offer, but it was very good, and it made me wish there were more Overseas Asians in Germany. I would be very happy if this restaurant existed in Cologne.
As a point of consolation for those of us who don't have the option of being in close proximity to the Italian food of the Bronx, the Asian spots in Queens and the Latin American food of Jackson Heights simultaneously, I just read the following inspiring comment by one Malaysian blogger:
"I used to drive 5 hours to find good Chinese or Singaporean or Malaysian food. Now I prefer to spend 5 hours preparing it myself."
If you, too, feel a dearth of Malaysian food in your life, this is a recipe for Yeong Tofu. Give it a shot!
A customer contemplates the qualities of a good nasi lemak: