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Kopitiam flying the flag high for Malaysian food in New York

Kopitiam flying the flag high for Malaysian food in New York

Screengrab of the New York Times review from nytimes.com.
Screengrab of the New York Times review from nytimes.com.

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 26 — It’s not the first time the New York Times (NYT) has featured an eatery serving Malaysian food in their city but it is a pleasure when you read a review written by someone who seems to “get” the food.

Especially when the person doing the review is the newspaper’s restaurant critic Pete Wells.

At NYT, reviews are not done at the invitation of the restaurant and not based on a single visit. And the restaurant critic is somebody whose opinion means a lot to restaurants in the city.

Wells’ review of Kopitiam, a simple kopitiam-style eatery in the city’s Chinatown, is delightful.

Of the nasi lemak served here, he writes: “I don’t know another kitchen in the city where the fragrances of coconut and pandan leaf infuse the rice as elegantly, or where the tiny dried fish, which Kopitiam fries with peanuts, from a caramelized crust that erases the distinction between sweet and savory.”

See what I mean when I say he “gets” the food… that description of the ikan bilis and peanuts alone is ace.

The other Malaysian staples dished out by the chef and owner Kyo Pang sound so authentic, I feel like I want to eat at Kopitiam.

Of the way we Malaysians love our sugar: “For mornings when nothing but a cannonball dive into sugar will do, Kopitiam is ready with a sculptural pile of thick-cut French toast battered with Milo malt-chocolate powder, a Malaysian passion, with streams of sweetened condensed milk playing the part that in this country is normally taken by maple syrup.”

Wells writes about the service and how it can be chaotic at peak times (orders missed, or how they once ran out of coffee and tea!) but he generously says that “even with a backlog of tickets, though, the food trickling out of the kitchen is almost unfailingly terrific.”

And if you have any doubts about Wells (and how important he is to restaurants in the city), Eater NY wrote about this review just hours after it came out.

So I am thinking it is a good day for Kyo Pang and her crew at Kopitiam. That one star (which means good) is a pretty big win for the young woman who grew up in Malaysia and started Kopitiam in New York three years ago.

And yes, it is most definitely a win for good Malaysian food. I get a kick out of thinking how some New Yorker is eating proper pulut inti right now.

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