As an unabashed Malaysia evangelist, I showed up early for yesterday's one-day Malaysia Noodle Festival. Seven Malaysian or otherwise Southeast Asian restaurants from New York (and one from New Haven) each served a noodle dish or two from their colorful tents. Oppressively muggy heat, the threat of rain, and crowds squeezed around outdoor tables helped it feel about as close to Penang as the Meatpacking District could get. All we needed was a Tiger.
Noodles (mee), along with rice (nasi), are staples of Malaysian cuisine, whether egg noodles fried for mee goreng, or two kinds of noodles in a fragrant coconut broth for curry laksa, or with shrimp and egg and sambal in char kuey teow. They'll generally be drenched in broth or quickly stir-fried, and you'll find everything from threadlike vermicelli to wide, flat rice noodles, and an awful lot in between—or more than one in the same dish. And as elsewhere in Malaysian cuisine, you can expect a lot of coconut milk, seafood, and sambal: the fishy-spicy-tart signature condiment that makes just about everything better.
At Tuesday's Malaysia Noodle Festival, the dishes varied in quality and in how traditional they were—but the best were fantastic, leaving us with a few new restaurants on our shortlist to check out. The Mee & Mee Hoon Goreng from Laut isn't on their regular menu, but their sambal came by far the closest to capturing the sharp, savory, powerful flavors I loved. New Malaysia's silky coconut laksa broth has us wanting to scope out their menu further; and Bentara, in New Haven, landed on the itinerary for our next Connecticut visit.
Check out the slideshow for a look at all the dishes, many of which are on these restaurants' regular menus.