Tag Archives: Laksa

Serai: Malaysian Cuisine in Chicago

We first had Malaysian food in the suburbs of Chicago many years ago at Penang. In the intervening years we have sampled Malaysian food in Malaysia itself and London, and every time we have it, we always fall in love again. Despitwe this deliciousness, Malaysian food is still pretty rare to find . When we heard about Serai (2169 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647), a new Malaysian restaurant opening in Chicago, we knew we had to give it a try. Malaysian food in a unique combination of Chinese, Thai, Malay, Indian and Indonesian influences, and with that amalgamation, it is no surprise that it is one of our favorite cuisines in the world.

Serai is located on a quiet corner of Logan Square, and is bigger then we expected – there are two dining rooms with wooden tables and chairs, and a full bar. The menu is pretty extensive, with Malaysia specialties, and it branches out into more general Thai or pan Asian foods. However, we heard that the Malaysian specialties were the standouts, and we recommend that you start off with Malaysian specialties. Some of the most iconic Malaysian dishes are on the menu including Char Koay Teow ($11.95) – stir fried flat noodles in soy sauce; Hainanese chicken rice ($14.95) – garlic and ginger poached chicken with rice cooked in its stock; and nasi goreng ($11.95)- a Malaysian fried rice. The server we had was very knowledgeable about Malaysian food, so don’t be afraid to ask questions about any recommendations or specialties.

We started out with a roti with vegetable curry (clearly showing influence from India). The roti flatbread was nice and flaky and the curry was mildly spicy and flavorful, and we appreciated that we could get the curry in chicken or vegetarian varieties. After only a little deliberation, we ordered our two favorite Malaysian dishes, beef rendang ($13.95) and laksa curry noodles ($13.95). The laksa noodles came in a coconut milk curry broth with char siu BBQ pork, shrimp, fish balls, a hard-boiled egg and “tofu puff.” Tofu puffs are fried, small pieces of tofu that somehow manage to have an airy texture, and Serai’s were exactly like what we had in Malaysia. The beef rendang ($16.95) is beef in a spicy dry curry sauce with lemongrass and ginger, served on a banana leaf with sides of rice, eggplant and string beans. The beef was extremely flavorful, and extremely complex, with just a hint of heat.

The servings at Serai were generous, but we happy scarfed down our dinner, pleased to get another taste of Malaysia. Though we were too full to partake, there are also a few desserts like coconut pudding or sweet sticky rice, and hard-to-find drinks like iced Milo (an international version of Nesquik), Teh Tarik and Malaysian-style iced coffee. Overall, we were very impressed with the food at Serai. Everything was delicious – and reminded us exactly of the food we had in Malaysia. We can’t wait to come back and try some more of the Malaysian classics, especially the chicken rice!

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Sedap, Malaysian Nyonya Cuisine in London

malaysiaWe ended up at Sedap (102 Old St, London EC1V 9AY) thanks to a concert that never occurred. We were in the impossibly trendy Shoreditch waiting for a concert that was supposed to begin at 7, but by 8:30, the show had no signs of starting, and was being filled with more young teenagers than a One Direction concert. We decided to just cut our losses and grab a bite to eat. We had heard good things about Sedap’s unique take on Malaysian cuisine, so we decided to give it a try. Located within walking distance of Shoreditch, in a much more low-key (and less trendy) area, Sedap serves authentic Malaysian Nyonya food in a simple, serene setting. To contribute to the calm, there was even a little fountain in the corner where we were sitting (It was dark so unfortunately the picture did not come out at all).

Sedap

Sedap’s Interior

Nyonya cuisine (sometimes called Peranakan) is the result of the intermingling of indigenous Malay, Indonesian and Chinese techniques and ingredients, and is rare to find outside of Malaysia and Singapore. When we visited Singapore in 2010, we tried Nyonya cuisine for the first time, and we instantly loved the complex and diverse flavors. Sedap’s menu was pretty concise and we saw some dishes we had not seen since our trip to Singapore, which was welcome, including the emblematic Hainanese chicken rice, in a chili and soy sauce (£8.80). Also on offere were several Laksas, including Singapore Laksa, thin vermicelli noodles with fish cakes andshrimp in a curry sauce (£8.95). “Laksa” is a common type of dish in Nyonya cookery and refers to noodles in a soupy coconut milk curry (of which there are many, many variants).
???????????????????????????????We ordered one of our favorites from Singapore, Prawn/Shrimp Lemak (£8.70), and a new-to-us dish: Beef Rendang (£7.95). Both dishes came out pretty quickly and were perfect portions to share. The Rendang was advertised as being in a spicy, “almost dry” curry, meaning it was more of a thick paste that coated the meat. Not a photogenic dish, but spicy, flavorful and tender. The prawn lemak was a coconut milk curry, with plenty of lightly spicy soupy-ness and a strong lemongrass flavor. Both dishes were flavorful and complex, and had clearly been cooked to order. Overall, we found the food at Sedap to be unique and reasonably priced (for London) for the quality. We wish we had more time in London to explore more of Sedap’s Nyonya dishes and flavors. But even if we won’t be back for a while, we encourage people to get off the tourist track and try something new beyond the typical curry.

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