Brooklyn’s Pasar Malam Fine-Tunes Malaysian Cuisine
October 28, 2014 - table lamp
All photos by Bradley HawksAs residents of a world’s culinary epicenter (a perspective common by modernist cooking colonize Ferran Adrià, no less), New York diners have forlorn entrance to tellurian cuisines, from Mongolian to Moldovan and many all in between. It’s a fact that has both speedy and stymied Salil and Stacey Mehta, who non-stop Pasar Malam (208 Grand Street, Brooklyn) in Williamsburg this past July. Inspired by a annuity of Malaysia’s night markets (the restaurant’s name translates to “night market” in Malay), a Mehtas set out to constraint that nation’s multicultural hotchpotch of monumental spices and fermented flavors — an amalgam of Chinese, Indian, British, and inland cuisines. “When we speak about pad Thai, everybody knows what that is. But when it comes to things like fish-head curry and egg-jam toast, people are reluctant. We had to reinvent what we were doing,” Salil Mehta says.
That’s a box with Pasar Malam’s Singapore chile crab. Along a Malay Peninsula, Sri Lankan sand crabs are adored for their heft and musky, honeyed flavor. “They’re unfit to find over here,” Mehta laments. Fatty Crab, that popularized a image in New York, uses Dungeness crabs for a version. Pasar Malam takes another hook entirely, going with soft-shells, smashed and boiled crisp. This elementary switch lends a image matchless finesse, permitting one to assimilate a crab whole, withdrawal a tray of thick, honeyed and sharp peppers salsa to mop adult with an concomitant span of pompous Chinese mantou buns, that we can get steamed or boiled golden brown. If, like us, you’re left with additional sauce, a kitchen will happily yield some-more starch for dipping.
Start your dish with your choice of 8 varieties of roti, griddle-fried flatbread that’s baked in ghee, a simplified butter that gives a Indian tack a graphic aroma. Mehta sees a roti as a fortitude of his menu — a perspective bolstered by a vast backlit pointer surveying a several choices that hangs over a restaurant’s semi-open kitchen. The finish product justifies a signature status. Singaporean roti prata, thicker and chewier than a customary Malaysian roti canai, is a tip choice. Either comes with a teacupful of skinny and absolute curry, that swirls with chile oil, lava-lamp-style, after any dip. Murtabak pairs a pancake with curried belligerent beef. Mehta even creates a few dessert roti, including a s’more and a “Roti Elvis,” pressed with — what else? — peanut butter and bananas.
The dining room, flashy with a mélange of plain signs temperament a names of specific dishes juxtaposed with beguiling, colorful murals, evinces a witty cultured with a faux-outhouse bathrooms and, this month, assertive Halloween decorations. But a Mehtas couldn’t be some-more committed to delivering a critical knowledge on a plate.
“Sourcing” mostly gets bandied about when deliberating farm-to-table restaurants. Here a cook seeks out tough-to-find mixture like ginger flowers and uninformed kaffir orange leaves so he can offer dishes that are “as tighten to home as possible.” Somehow we hadn’t envisioned that matter translating to fruit salad, yet a rojak scarcely defies categorization. Chunks of immature mango, pineapple, jicama, cucumber, and apple wash in a shrimp-paste salsa a tone of wanton oil. Mixed with crunchy Chinese crullers (youtiao), peanuts, sesame seeds, and a aforementioned ginger flowers, it’s honeyed and colourful nonetheless unfathomably low with fermented funk.
Along with a chile crab, asam laksa also creates a outing from a Mehtas’ sister restaurant, Laut, that they took over in 2010 (eventually garnering and afterwards losing a Michelin star). The thick Malaysian soup builds on a green bottom of tamarind and lemongrass, sideswiped by sharp sardines, Vietnamese mint, and shrimp paste. As fresh as it is comforting, a singular play perfumes both a list it lands on and adjacent diners to boot. And while both Laut’s and Pasar Malam’s endless menus debuted with a vast Thai and Indonesian influence, Mehta’s integrity to concentration his offerings along an even narrower Malaysian capillary deserves ovation. That said, we will take to change.org posthaste if he ever stops portion satay babi, meltingly proposal grilled pig skewers arrayed with pineapple relish. Likewise his Hainanese duck over rice, prepared atypically with heavily rendered, frail skin and served still on a bone; or mee goreng, stir-fried noodles ornate with shrimp fritters and chile salsa and presented in a Russian doll–like teapot that comes detached in segments to exhibit a mixture within. The perfect series of dishes accessible can confound.
Along a populated widen of Grand Street, Pasar Malam’s bullion façade sticks out in a best approach possible, yet a place stays still solely on weekend nights. Recently, Mehta says, he has felt pressured to “Brooklyn-ize” certain dishes: “A unchanging shrimp toast isn’t adequate to tempt diners here, so we supplement bacon to it.” He also transforms a Hainanese duck into arancini. Both dishes seem on a new bar menu, accessible to span with low-alcohol cocktails featuring impertinent mixers like Mad Dog 20/20 and a Southeast Asian sports splash called 100 Plus, imbuing Malaysia with only a bit of Brooklyn swagger. The pierce has paid off, and a Mehtas conduct to travel that smashing tightrope between tradition and innovation. Raise your “Walky Talkies” — chile-spiced boiled duck feet — and salute Pasar Malam: a city’s best Malaysian restaurant.
208 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY