When you hear "street food," what do you think of? Grease-spattered carts churning out heaping platters of fried things? Unidentified animal parts served on a stick? Garden-fresh vegetables stuffed into a charred, doughy casing? Depending on where you travel, all of those things could apply. But in Malaysia, whose aromatic, fiery, delicately-prepared dishes inspire much of the cuisine in neighboring Singapore, street food has been perfected into an art.
We spoke to Chef Tommy Lai, head chef at Rasa, New York City's brand new Malaysian restaurant, about his five favorite Malaysian street food dishes – below are his picks. Prepare to salivate...
1. Beef Rendang: Rich in spices, this meat-centric, coconut milk-infused broth takes hours to prepare. It involves slow-simmering, as well as pounding and grinding the many herbs and spices that go into the mix. This lengthy process allows the liquid to get absorbed into the meat, while keeping it tender and succulent.
2. Asam Laksa: On CNN's 50 Most Delicious Foods In the World, this sour, fish-based soup ranks number seven. Not bad for a dish made simply of shredded fish, sliced veggies, Vietnamese mint, and ginger. Added for extra hulk are thick or thin rice noodles and a dash of sweet prawn paste.
3. Curry Mee (pictured): If you're a noodle fan, this hearty, slightly creamy soup is the one for you. Entirely unique to Malaysia, curry mee (mee means "noodle" in Malay) is based around thin yellow egg noodles, but there's a whole party of sambal, dried tofu, coconut milk, prawns, cuttlefish, chicken, egg, and mint to keep your tastebuds guessing.
4. Roti Canai: Believe it or not, Indian food plays a big role in Malaysian cuisine, and this tasty flat bread is a great example of how it's as fun to watch Mayalsian street food being prepared as it is to eat. To make it, the roti dough is twirled until it becomes a very thin sheet, at which point it is folded into a circular shape and served with curry dips.
5. Char Kway Teow: Perfect at the end of a long night drinking, consider this hearty stir-fry Malaysia's answer to Pad Thai, except with a few extra surprises. Cooked with light and dark soy sauce, the chewy noodles are generously embellished with bean sprouts, chives, egg, Chinese sausage, and fishcake.