It is an understatement when I say it is hard to find good Malaysian food in southern California. Yes, I know of that one in Tustin, but quite frankly, it isn’t worth my stomach space to eat mediocre anything. Therefore, I am extremely excited to visit Kedai Makan, (“kedai” means shop and “makan” means “eat”) a Malaysian restaurant, during a recent trip to Seattle.
We arrive late one evening (around 9pm) to find the restaurant bustling and there is wait. The interior reminds me of Malacca, a place we would often visit when I was a child. We are starving and the aromas wafting in the air is making me salivate and my stomach growl. While we are waiting, I start chatting with the hostess and come to find that neither the owners (she is one) nor chef is Malaysian. In fact, they’re not even Asian! It makes me even more curious and intrigued.
After about 15 minutes, we are ushered to a corner table offering a view of the whole restaurant. Looking around, I see an eclectic mix of ethnicities, and all these non-Asians are eating Malaysian food! I love it!
They have a full bar here, and the cocktails are strong. Pandan Lemonade ($9) is a refreshing libation but heavily spiked with vodka. The distinctive aroma of pandan (pandanus amaryllifolius) lingers on the palate long after you’ve swallowed the lemonade. It is a scent that brings back memories of my childhood – I would always request pandan cake for my birthday!
Roti Jala ($6.50) is a popular street food. Here, the lacy design of wheat flour bread is pretty, but the bread itself would have benefited from a longer cook. It is soft and doughy instead of possessing a nice crispy exterior. However, the accompanying dhal curry – you may also choose lamb curry – is fabulous! The fragrant curry leaves and coriander burst through leaving us craving for bite after bite.
Kedai Pickled Mustard Greens ($4.50) is subtle, not as vinegary as I like my pickles, but it brings a finishing touch to the dishes requiring just a bit more acid. If your tolerance for chile is that of an amateur, do not eat the lone red chile in the bowl because it will burn your mouth. It is an ideal palate cleanser, as well as a respite for those wanting to cool their mouths off after something spicy.
We all agree Kerabu Timun Nanas ($8.25), a salad of cucumber, pineapple, and red onion is scrumptious. It is perfect on every level. There are peanuts for crunch, dried shrimp and fish sauce for added umami, and kersik – toasted grated coconut – for a fragrance unrivaled to any other. It is tantalizingly seductive and your mouth keeps longing for more. This is what southeast Asian flavors should do to your palate.
It is 9.45pm and people are still streaming into the restaurant! I love it! Irvine shuts down at 9pm and there’s nowhere to go except the drive thru.
Chili Pan Mee ($12.50), a dish of wheat noodles topped with crispy pork and condiments of green onions, fried shallots, and fried anchovy is an interesting interpretation. The poached egg on top is a tad overcooked, and the lack of acid results in a one dimensional flavor profile. There is a little dry sambal on the side for those wanting more heat – that’s me! Fresh lime juice added to the sambal would have completed the noodles, but I am not in “work mode” and end up using the pickled mustard greens and the vinegary chile sauce on the table to brighten up the noodles.
It is difficult to choose between the vegetarian (Kedai) fried rice, or the Nasi Goreng Kambing ($12.50) fried rice with lamb curry. In the end, we pick the carnivorous option. It is a little sweet from the kecap manis (a sweet thick sauce), but tolerable for my salty palate. There are sprouts, greens, and a fried runny egg, but I still eat it with the pickled mustard greens.
We are stuffed, but are not able to resist Bubur with Ice Cream ($6.50). The bubur hitam, or sticky black rice, is on the runny side, but tasty. Traditionally, bubur hitam is eaten with coconut milk, but here, the coconut ice cream works well with it. Flavor-wise, it is spot-on.
Even though our meal is an interpretation of Malaysian cuisine, with many hits and a few misses, I still enjoy it tremendously. I like that the flavors are there even though it might not be an authentic dish served in Malaysia. Best of all, I love that so many people are here eating flavors I grew up eating, and obviously enjoying it … a lot! I can’t wait to come back again!
1802 Bellevue Ave
Seattle, WA 98122