I'm just back from eight days eating my way through Malaysia—Penang, Melaka, and Kuala Lumpur—and on the plane home, I sat next to a New York-living, Malaysia-born woman who told me I had to try "this Malaysian restaurant on the Bowery. Well, not really on the Bowery. Down an alley or something? Anyway, it's legit."
So my first order of business when back in New York was to track it down, and in the Chinatown Arcade, a passageway connecting Elizabeth and Bowery, I found New Malaysia.
I set myself up for what I thought would be sure disappointment; how often are American restaurants the real equivalent of foods you remember fondly from abroad? But New Malaysia, on many fronts, came through.
The roti canai ($3.25) was a little bit thicker than many I'd had, but it was supremely crisp, stretchy-middled, and easy to tear off and dip in the accompanying chicken curry. Char kway teow ($6.25), besides being a massive plate of food for six bucks, was incredibly satisfying—the rice noodles picking up a bit of smoky flavor from the wok and a little heat from the chilis, tossed with tender baby shrimp and small bits of egg.
Nasi lemak ($5.75) was another reasonably faithful rendition. The rice, which is cooked in coconut milk, didn't echo that flavor as much as many versions I've had, but the belacan (fermented shrimp paste) and fried anchovies were both present and accounted for, pushing that funky, fishy flavor so distinctive of Malaysian cuisine.
The best dish we had wasn't on the lunch special menu, though it was tasty enough that we might spring for it again. Sambal squid ($12.95) gets you large but remarkably tender squid strips doused in a sauce that tasted heavily of belacan and lime, the tangy-savory combo I can't get enough of. I could've used a bit more heat in the dish, but still devoured a plateful happily.
46-48 Bowery (Chinatown Arcade # 28), New York NY 10013 (map)