Tuesday, December 9, 2008

At the crossroads of Southeast Asia

I wish that I could say that I was blogging from abroad, but the subject of this post is actually just a choice phrase selected from the paragraph on the front of the takeout menu of Jaya, a Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown where I dined, along with my friend Gideon, on Friday night. Malaysia, the restaurant's owner Selamat Makan writes, "has been a melting pot of rich and exciting cross-cultural cuisine of traditional Malay, Indian, Indonesian, Thai and Chinese influences," adding that "this exciting, delicious, fiery, mild, tantalizing cooking is what we at Jaya present to you for your enjoyment." Cuisine that tastes of five different Asian countries and manages to be both fiery and mild at the same time? Count me in!

All jokes aside, the food at Jaya is some seriously good stuff, with layered flavors like chiles, coconut milk, cilantro and soy permeating each dish. Friday night was my first time eating there; it was Gideon's pick for dinner. When we arrived at about 7 p.m. the place was already bustling--always a good sign--with a healthy mix of white people, some of them likely tourists, but also a fair number of Asian families. Everything on the menu sounded so good to me that I didn't even know where to begin and was forced to make a last-minute decision when the waitress came by. I chose the dish on the menu that sounded least familiar to me, Yang Tao Foo Noodle, described as "bean curd and vegetable stuffed with fish paste in curry broth or clear soup with egg noodle." I opted for the curry broth. I wasn't quite sure what would be brought to the table, but I wasn't dissapointed when it looked like this:

















And it smelled even better, with the sharp herbal scent of lemongrass cutting through the vapors of rich coconut milk and spicy chile paste rising from the steaming bowl. This was basically a big bowl of thick and intensely flavored curry filled with chewy egg noodles and topped with a few very interesting items: that cracker-looking thing at the top of the bowl was a thin, salty, deep-fried piece of fish skin that was actually very tasty, especially dipped into the broth; the chunk of tofu that you see was, in fact, stuffed with a hunk of creamy fish paste and some minced vegetables; the eggplant was tender and soaked in curry goodness; and the whole of the dish was showered with chopped scallions as well as a few bits of crunchy fried onion bits. I was full halfway through eating this and gave the rest to Gideon, so at $6.75 dinner was truly a bargain. Most of the other items on the menu--which were all unusual and intriguing--are under $9, and the most expensive dish offered costs $14.95. I know I'll definitely be returning soon.

Jaya
90 Baxter St. (at White St.)
(212) 219-3331

1 comment:

Nina said...

This place sounds fantastic! Would Allen like it??? I want to go! Great review and excellent writing, as usual...
Nina