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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

Malaysia De­lights

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.

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