A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Jun. 5.

Dinner -

Overseas Asian Restaurant - 49 Canal St., Chinatown
Roti canai, Asam laksa, Mee goreng

I was in a Malaysian malaise. After a lackluster meal at Nyonya (see Dinner, Apr. 30), I decided to test out my friend Manny’s recommendation of Overseas Asian. Located in the eastern end of Canal Street, the restaurant still had the Chinatown formula down pat: small, unadorned space, brusque but effective service, and lots of cheap food.

Intent on comparing, I ordered some Nyonya favorites, the roti canai and the asam laksa. Also looking to sample something new, I went with the mee goring as my main course. “You must be very hungry,” the waitress warned. No, I just blog about food, I wanted to retort.

The roti canai, a doughy crepe-like pancake with a deeply brown chicken curry, is the most standard Malaysian appetizer. It was far from standard here. The curry had a depth of flavor to match its color. Every time I soaked my shred of pancake in the liquid, I was rewarded with a wave of overlapping tastes. Salty, spicy, sweet, meaty, this dish had it all and pulled it off expertly.

The asam laksa was similarly wonderful, again edging out Nyonya. The version of the soup here turned up the weirdness even further, emphasizing its fishiness and lemongrass sourness without apology. It was no surprise that the waitress felt the need to warn me again, as its strangeness could upset many uninitiated stomachs. As much as I enjoyed it though, I had trouble finishing the bowl, because the portion was so massive and the chunks of pungent fish so generous.

After all, I had to save room for the mee goreng, a stir-fried noodle dish that contains bits of egg, chicken, vegetables and shrimp. Of the three dishes I had, this was the least exciting, though it was still very tasty. Again, the portion was almost daunting and the heavy wheat noodles made it feel even more substantial. It reminded me of a very well made and more interesting lo mein, though my one criticism is that like its Chinese counterpart, this dish was too greasy.

Still, Overseas Asian more than revived my excitement for ethnic eats. It reminded me of all of the unique spices and bewildering combinations that I didn’t even know I was missing. Best of all, it gave me a new go-to place to satisfy my cravings, turning my Malaysian malaise to Malaysian elation. 8/10


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