Get your kicks
Athird U-turn, another pass along Papanui Rd scanning the shops, and another failed attempt to find Malaysia Delights. Light was fading and our will to keep hunting was fading. We phoned. A woman answered: ‘‘We’re right by KFC.’’ OK, that would be the KFC right in front of us. And there it was. ‘‘How could you have missed it?’’ I asked my wife, before nipping through the door to avoid a reply.
It is a bright, newish cafe. The functional formica tables could belong anywhere, but the Malaysian flag and Malaysian Tourism Board posters around the walls give the game away.
Like so many cafes and restaurants, Malaysia Delights is a refugee from the CBD. In fact the waitress – the same one who steered us via KFC – said it had moved premises from Manchester St to Colombo St and the building was examined and cleared by the council on February 22 when . . . but we all know that story.
The menu is a densely packed lineup of dishes that doesn’t waste time on fancy white space. There are photos too, but their postage-stamp size offers few clues.
What these types of restaurants do best – at their best – is give a good belt of exotic flavours and textures, in a sort of cheap way. That cheapness seems to add authenticity.
Malaysia Delights delivers all of this. Its exciting lineup includes Hainan chicken rice, seafood laksa, gong bao chicken, sambal fish, deep-fried tofu in mushroom gravy, coconut cream prawn (dry), shredded duck meat soup – to pluck a few from a list of 90 plus.
The dishes feature the wide range of cuisines that influence the Malaysian style, especially Indian and Chinese.
To begin we chose Nam Yee spare ribs from the specials and Penang lobak – a typical hawker dish of pork wrapped in bean curd. Both came with a sweet chilli dip.
The ribs had been marinated in fermented red bean curd and were tender and gently spicy.
The dip was needed for the real kick. The pork was a coarse mixture, juicy and super tender. Again the dip was the vital flavour enhancer.
The waitress raised her eyebrows at our orders for main dishes – because of the amount, I later gathered. The classic Penang fried kueh teow was joined by fried tofu with vegetables and Malaysia nasi lemak.
The kueh teow – a mix of flat rice noodles, sprouts, onions, chicken and prawns (well, two), in a dark soy and chilliinspired sauce was an excellent version: Perfect comfort food with a real smoky flavoured chilli kick.
Star of the vegetable dish was the fried tofu which held its shape, just, among the perfectly crisp celery, broccoli, cauliflower, onion and mushrooms in a fairly bland sauce. The textural contrast between the slippery custard-like tofu and the crunchy vegetables worked its magic.
But fittingly the star dish was the nasi lemak, which is pretty much Malaysia’s national dish.
It was presented as a mound of rice cooked in butter in the middle of the plate, surrounded by piles of roasted peanuts, fantastic tiny crisp Malay anchovies, broccoli, half a boiled egg, sambal sauce and for an extra dollar the waitress substituted
Where: 479 Papanui Rd. Ph 03 366 8686 When: Dinner Tuesday to Sunday from 5.30pm till late. Who: Those who miss or want authentic Malaysian tastes. How much: Wine by the glass from $6.50. Beer, $7. Entree $5-$12, mains $12-$16. Go again: Definitely. the choice of a standard chicken, lamb or beef curry with beef rendang.
The only disappointment was the blandness of the sambal, which I’d hoped would be much spicier and hotter, but the rendang (beef stewed in coconut cream and spices until it is nearly dry) was superb.
The almost furry sauce clung thickly to the tender beef. Very moreish.
All the different parts went together, textures and flavours. I loved the anchovies so much I had more as a side dish for $1.50.
We couldn’t eat it all. Too greedy, the waitress wagged her finger at me. Maybe, but when three mains, two entrees, extra anchovies, a beer and a glass of wine only costs $75 all up, who cares?
This is an excellent place to try something new or recapture a food memory from travels in Southeast Asia.
It’s authentic, it will wake up your taste buds, inspire your senses. And it’s right beside the KFC.