Rojak at Pasar Malam
Roti canai at Pasar Malam
Fish head curry at Pasar Malam
The Michael Jackson at Pasar Malam
New Yorkers routinely scour Asian cuisine with gusto, digging into fish-sauced Laotian larb, garlicky, MSG-splashed Szechuan and sweet-and-sour Filipino fare like gastro globetrotters. But Malaysia’s sambal-and–shrimp-paste backbeat never quite hit the hype levels of its buzzier brethren.The city’s few Malay hubs have faded in recent years—rollicking, PBR-sloshed Fatty Crab is now the last man standing of the Fatty empire, and Salil Mehta’s Union Square refuge Laut, which nabbed an out-of-left-field Michelin star in 2010 alongside heavyweights like Aldea and Del Posto, has since lost that sparkler.
Mehta, however, hasn’t abandoned his post as a Malay ambassador on New York’s restaurant scene—he follows up Laut with Williamsburg haunt Pasar Malam, a multicolor hodgepodge of Buddhist altars, faux-marigold garlands and glowing signs hawking “satay” and “laksa” in an effort to evoke its Panang night-market namesake. Like the melting-pot Malaysian at its focus—brimming with Indian, Chinese and Thai flavors—the restaurant is all over the place, but when it comes to Malay classics, it proves a quality primer to the country’s underrated eats.
The open kitchen bustles with cooks stretching house-made roti to order, a flaky Indian flatbread that comes in eight varieties here. Steer clear of the gimmicky fusion mess that is the peanut-butter-and-banana roti Elvis ($9) and instead opt for the simple, standard canai ($6), as paper-thin and buttery as good French viennoiserie, primed to sop up the accompanying zingy coconut-milk curry. You’ll order a second helping before the entrée even arrives.
Rojak ($8), a traditional salad of raw green mango, tart pineapple, crisp jicama and torn hunks of fried Chinese cruller bread, is really a vehicle for the pungent belacan sauce (pounded, sun-dried shrimp paste), all umami funk and caramel cling. It is initially off-putting to a first-timer but it preps the taste buds for mains like Malaysia’s national dish, nasi lamak ($15). A mess of offerings come presented on a thali platter around a neat cone of coconut rice: creamy curry chicken, shrimp sambal, tangy pickled vegetables and a hard-boiled egg. Load up your fork with a bit of each for a medley of sour, sweet and spice that’s singularly Malay.
Some dishes swerve unnecessarily to American tastes—the Hainanese chicken rice ($15) is less South Pacific and more Deep South, with a crackly-skinned fried bird swapped for the customary boiled chicken. But the should-orders are ones that are tougher to unpack, stuff like curry bobbing with fish heads ($19), an oyster omelette studded with bean sprouts ($6.50) or the intensely licoricey lo honko drink ($4).
Pasar Malam is far from a comprehensive study, but for the average hungry Joe, it proves there’s more to Malaysia than takeout tom yum.
|Venue name:||Pasar Malam (CLOSED)||Contact:|
208 Grand St
|Cross street:||between Bedford and Driggs Aves|
|Opening hours:||Daily 3pm-midnight|
|Transport:||Subway: L to Bedford Ave|
|Price:||Average entree: $15. AmEx, DC, Disc, MC, V|
|Do you own this business?|