I think it’s fair to say Malaysian food isn’t spectacularly familiar to most people in the United States.
When I lived in the U.S., my experience with Malaysian food had been based on an abundance of recipes that had been assimilated based on American preference for certain Thai, Chinese, and Indian dishes. So when I went to Pak Awie to have authentic Malaysian food I realized I didn’t really know what Malaysian food was and thus the question — what exactly is Malaysian cuisine?
Malaysia’s culinary style is a mixture of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Thais and Arabian cuisines – to name a few. This has resulted in a symphony of flavors, making Malaysian cuisines highly exotic albeit a touch underrated as compared to some of its neighbouring counterparts who have more defining characteristics and dishes. When people think of Chinese food they think of dim sum, won ton soup, beef with black bean sauce and broccoli (to name a few); when people think of Thai food they think red or green curries, etc. In my mind, it’s a bit harder to think of what dish comes to mind for Malaysian food.
In 2010, Susan Smillie wrote an article in the Guardian about the confusing nature of Malaysian food, highlighting the huge range of dishes and their unfamiliarity to Westerners because not only will you find, for instance, Chinese restaurants serving traditional Malay dishes, you’ll find Malay – and other – restaurants serving variations of Thai, Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian dishes. Amongst others. CONFUSION.
A commenter on this article provided some helpful tips when it comes to ordering Malaysian food — he stated that if you are ordering food in a Malaysian restaurant, it might be less confusing to decide if you wish to order either Malay-Malaysian dishes, Chinese-Malaysian dishes, or Indian-Malaysian dishes; rather than mix-up all the different Chinese, Malay and Indian dishes in your order. This way, you can get a sense of the difference amongst the dishes and spices and learn the cuisine better. Good idea.
The point of all this rambling banter is that Malaysian food is a) a bit confusing and b) I don’t think I was properly prepared for the authentic experience I had at Pak Awie. I’m going to write up this restaurant anyway with the little disclaimer that, owing to my lack of knowledge in this food realm, this will not be the most objective post (The Rav B isn’t very objective to begin with), and no one should regard this post as a reason to not go out and experience the cuisine for themselves. Personally, I couldn’t stomach the experience (won’t go into much more detail on that), and it is unclear if it was the combination of what I found to be overwhelming fragrant spices that didn’t quite mesh in the way I had hoped or that I was expecting different tastes altogether… or maybe that I had a couple of beers before going to the restaurant…or maybe mango smoothie drinks just don’t go with beef and salty fish. Who knows. Check it out for yourself and let the Beast know about your experience.
Brought to Pak Awie near Edgware Road by the supposed to be guest blogger for the Rav B, the Rahman Noodle, I had high hopes for this off the beaten path unpretentious restaurant. The space is sparsely decorated, with just a couple of paintings and wall hangings including the restaurant logo with a picture of Awie in it, the owner who can be found behind the counter working hard alongside the rest of the friendly staff. Service was pretty slow but the staff was all so lovely, I had to be forgiving. Especially since our waiter had bits of rice stuck in his hair he clearly didn’t know about, which I found equally amusing and adorable.
The drinks menus is extensive offering a variety of fresh fruit juices, smoothie drinks, infused teas, and fizzy drinks. The Mango Mission smoothie drink was delicious and refreshing with bits of shredded coconut in it. Pak Awie does not have a liquor licence but there is a Tescos nearby and you are welcome to bring alcohol into the restaurant if you so desire.
Owing to the fact this was my first authentic Malaysian dining experience, we chose the combo platter since it provides a sampling of all the starters on the menu: Satay, CucurUdang Pak Awie, Gado-gado, Ketam Goreng Tepung, Sotong Goreng Tepung, Udang Goreng Tepung, Popiah Goreng and dipping sauces.
The satay was definitely my favorite – an authentic Malaysian style dish, marinated and skewered meat on a stick, in this case chicken, and then grilled. The chicken was marinated in spices such as lemongrass and galangal, which belongs to the ginger family — excellent peanut sauce dip. Pak Awie used a range of other spices besides these, some of which I’m not quite sure what they are (this was a common issue).
As a sidenote, meat on a stick is one of the most underrated food items in the world, so I do love satay. There should definitely be more dishes in the world that entail meats on a stick.
Gado-gado, literally meaning ‘mix-mix’ is a combination of carrots, cabbages, bean sporuts, water spinach, tofu, with a sliced hard-boiled egg on top. Not a fan of this one – bit plain.
Popiah Goreng, vegetable spring rolls filled with shredded Chinese cabbages, carrots, beansprouts & sweet corn kernel served with sesame dip were okay – the sweet corn was a bit of a weird taste for the spring rolls and the dip didn’t complement them quite right. Again, this is probably due to my preference for Chinese plum sauce – a more sweet and sour flavor. Plum sauce or duck sauce served in Chinese-American restaurants can be made from plums, apricots, pineapples or peaches added to sugar, vinegar, ginger and chili peppers. Deliciousness. The sesame dipping sauce for the spring rolls wasn’t the flavor I was expecting.
The Udang Goreng Tepung, crispy prawns served with dip, were good, nothing spectacular. They could have been slightly crispier and the shrimp a little juicier. Other unmemorable highlights include Cucur Udang Pak Awie (prawn fritters in flavour of dried shrimp, chilli pepper, chives & beansprouts), Sotong Goreng Tepung (crispy calamari), Ketam Goreng Tepung (batter fried crispy soft shell crab and sweet chilli dip)
After this platter and the mango mission smoothie, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by all the food. Good thing we ordered enough to feed the entire British Army.
The army feeding included beef rendang: slow cooked beef in lemongrass, galangal, lime leaf, coconut and spices, which is a traditional feasting dish, apparently? and Kari Ikan Bawal (silver pomfret curry – a classic style of cooking with okra, aubergine and tomato). The beef was nice and tender, not too spicy. I didn’t make it to sampling the fish as it was all a bit too much as this point so can’t comment on that one.
Side dishes included: Sayur Goreng Bersos Tiram (stir-fried mixed fresh vegetables with garlic & oyster sauce), Sambal Belacan (apparently famous Malaysian chilli & shrimp paste served with cucumbers — didn’t know about that either), Nasi Lemak Kosong (plain coconut rice), and Nasi Goreng Telur ( egg fried rice with green peas)
Nasi goreng is ubiquitous in Indonesia, and also Malaysia and Singapore. I am obsessed with Chinese fried rice (almost as much as I am with burritos), and eat it on average of once a week either with beef, chicken, prawns or seafood – doesn’t matter. Egg fried rice is divine, fact. Nasi goreng differs to other Asian fried rice recipes by applied generous amount of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), and the taste is stronger and spicier compared to Chinese fried rice. I also tasted almost floral fragrance when eating this rice. Perhaps this is why it didn’t agree with me – I can only merely postulate theories at this point..
The mixed veggies in oyster and garlic sauce were good — probably the only thing that was what I was expecting.
Now would be the time to note that the Rahman Noodle likes this restaurant and he is Malaysian so don’t take too much to heart the ramblings of the stubborn, Chinese-American food loving Rav B on this one. Go and check it out and report back.
*Bonus: They take reservations! You know how the Beast feels about that..
36 Southwick St. London,W2 1JQ
Tel: 0207 402 8055