Malaysia’s unique cultural makeup blends traditions from many other cultures, including South Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, and Thai. This is because the country was part of the ancient spice route and was a huge trade hub where different people came together. The inevitable meld of cooking techniques and ingredients created a new cuisine that’s singular to that part of the world. Pasar Malam (208 Grand Street, Brooklyn; 718-487-4576) celebrates that cuisine, and serves classic Malaysian food here in New York.
Vegetarian options abound on Pasar Malam’s menu. “Vegetarianism is a very important part of Malaysian food,” says owner Salil Mehta. “When the Muslims of Malaysia [first] emigrated to Malaysia, they [ate] halal meat. Halal meat was not available in Malaysia at the time, so what they started doing was cooking vegetarian food. So a lot of the traditional Malaysian dishes are vegetarian…because they didn’t have an option as far as meat goes.”
Mehta tries his best to make sure his dishes are traditional in terms of both flavor and technique. Pasar Malam’s rotis, such as the roti telur ($8), are made here as they are in Malaysia. Roti is a type of Indian flatbread that is made from wholemeal flour. The roti telur is a special type of crisp roti filled with egg, fiery hot peppers, and onion, and served with a sweet, potato-laced coconut sauce.
The restaurant’s mixed vegetable dishes are also classic; try the Malaysian mixed vegetables ($13) for a good example of the fare. The dish uses soy sauce and a medley of spices as its base, with an assortment of ingredients, including beancurd skin, tofu, shiitake mushrooms, broccoli, carrot, snow peas, bamboo shoot, napa cabbage, and glass noodles. The vegetables are crisp, and the steamed tofu is supple and soft.