Monday, July 2, 2012

Roti Canai and Chendol at Island Malaysian Cuisine, Las Vegas!

Authentic Malaysian cuisine in Las Vegas!

     I went to Chinatown last week with the sole intention of doing sushi for an early dinner, before shopping at the market.  The sushi restaurant at the plaza was closed for an afternoon break and that mode of business is rare in Las Vegas.  Las Vegas is a 24 hour town and you never know what time customers will decide to go out to eat or when a bus full of tourists might show up.
    After being turned away from the sushi restaurant, I noticed the Island Malaysian Cuisine restaurant sign.  I have shopped at the SF Market at this plaza several times and I made a note in the past to try this Malaysian restaurant.  I have many food blog viewers from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines, so letting these viewers know that we have Malaysian restaurants in Las Vegas may be good for promoting tourism.  The Malaysian viewers of my blog do take interest in a wide variety of international cuisines and they do like my traditional Malaysian recipes.
     The Island Malaysian Cuisine restaurant is located at 5115 Spring Mountain on the second floor of the plaza about one mile off of the Las Vegas Strip.  There is elevator access for the handicapped or for those that are really wiped out from doing an all night binge at a night club on the Strip!  
     Just by chance, the food writer for the Las Vegas Weekly happened to publish a critique about the Island Malaysian Cuisine restaurant last thursday.  It is funny how several times we have chosen the same restaurant to write about during the same week.  I was busy with my final exams at school last week, so I had to delay the writing of the Island restaurant review.  In fact, I have a stack of more than twenty recipes and Las Vegas restaurant reviews that have not been written as of yet.  Now that I am on summer break before externship, I will be able to do some catching up.
     The food writer from the local newspaper focussed on the authentic traditional Malaysian cuisine on the Island restaurant's menu.  The noodle recipe that he sampled was actually a a very old traditional fusion of noodles that are Chinese in origin with Malaysian and post colombian exchange ingredients.  What I consider to be true authentic Malaysian cuisine is pre colombian exchange island cuisine.  Much of that old style of Malaysian cuisine was basically the ancient style banana leaf cuisine.  In the tropics, banana leaves are used as plates, food storage containers, lunch sacks and cooking devices.  Since ancient times, Chinese trade routes brought many new items into Malaysian cuisine.  That was the start of the fusion influence in Malaysian cuisine.  After the colombian exchange, chile peppers, potatoes, tomatoes and corn were introduced.      
     The Island Malaysian Cuisine's menu offers a nice variety of the modern food that is popular in Malaysia.  There is a very large Hindi population in Malaysia and traditional Indian cuisine has become a major influence.  Islamic traditional cuisines of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Arabia and Persia also have been introduced to Malaysian cuisine via emigration.  Thai, Laotian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese influences are part of Malaysian cuisine.  To find the roots of authentic Malaysian cuisine, it may be done best by researching traditional food from neighboring islands like Java as well as by looking at pre colombian exchange Malaysian food.  
     Modern Malaysian cuisine is an interesting melting pot of great fusion cuisine from many diverse cultures as well as good old traditional Malaysian cuisine!  Singapore has a similar style of cuisine that infuses many western ingredients and cooking techniques.  Both modern Singapore and modern Malaysian cuisine are worth checking out, if you wish to see how fusion style cuisine is done correctly!
     Malaysian traditional cuisine uses a few ingredients like shrimp paste (belacan), dried shrimp (belecan) and sun dried anchovies (ican bilis).  These items create what is called the umami taste sensation.  There are many items on the Island restaurant menu that feature these ingredients.  When used correctly, like Malaysian cooks know how to do, these dried seafood items create wonderful savory flavors.  Readers of my food blog know that I have posted many recipes, including Malaysian recipes, for entrees that feature savory umami ingredients.  If you want to sample how the umami flavors are prepared correctly before trying this style of cuisine on your own, then try the belacan or ican bilis entrees that are prepared by the expert chef at the Island restaurant!  Then the umami taste sensation can be experienced as it was intended to be.
     After looking at the menu at the Island Malaysian Cuisine restaurant, I decided to feature a Malaysian style Hindi appetizer and and Traditional Malaysian dessert instead of showing the traditional Malaysian cuisine.  It was a very hot afternoon in Las Vegas, so being the seasonal chef that I am, I chose food items that are appealing for a hot day.  A soothing mild yellow curry chicken stew canai with Indian Roti Chapati bread seemed like a nice choice for an appetizer or light afternoon meal!
     The roti bread was made fresh to order and it was piping hot when it was served.  The roti had a nice hand crafted texture and it was great for dipping in the thin canai.  The canai uses chicken only as a flavor additive.  A section of chicken back was used to flavor the stewed curry.  Curry spices range from mild to very spicy.  Yellow curry is usually fairly mild.  Curry spices have a way of giving relief to the heat of a hot summer afternoon.  One taste of the well prepared Roti Canai and you will see why Indian cuisine has become popular in hot tropical Malaysia!
     Ah!  A cool icy refreshing Malaysian dessert!  Malaysian Chendol is one of the top ten most refreshing hot weather desserts that there is.  The word Chendol or Cendol comes from the Javanese word Jendol.  Jendol translates to bump, lump or bulge.  Chendol refers to the green worm like jelly rice flour dough that has a texture of pasta or a dumpling in this dessert.  The dough is pressed through a hole to form the small gummy chendol worms.  
     The waitress at the Island restaurant said that the house chendol was made with pandan leaf and not green food color.  Pandanus are a southeast asian and South Pacific island type of ancient palm tree that have thick roots that extend out from the middle of the tree trunk into water.  Anybody that has worked with fresh palm leaves knows that when the green leaves are scraped, a long lasting green colored paste is formed.  Pandanus produce large fruit and the leaves have a nice subtle flavor.  I know what pandan leaf tastes like, because I was a weird kid in Florida that had a strange habit of tasting things and pandanus are a common ornamental tree in that region.  Some kids liked to taste candy, while kids like me tasted plants and stuff.  Go figure!
     There are many versions of chendol from Java to Thailand and Vietnam.  Malaysia just happened to be one of the first countries in asia to get modern refrigeration.  Naturally, shaved ice became the signature touch for the Malaysian chendol dessert.  The topping of brown sugar and coconut milk is poured over the shaved ice.  The shave ice is piled high over grass jelly, the green chendol and red beans.  I know that this sounds like a strange combination of items for a dessert, but the flavors are mildly sweet and very refreshing in hot weather!  That is why chendol is one of the most popular desserts in the South Pacific islands and tropical asia.  The chendol at Island Malaysian Cuisine is a must try!
     The dining room atmosphere at the Island Malaysian Cuisine restaurant was tropical, laid back, clean and interesting.  I really like hand painted mural walls better than blown up photograph walls.  The artist that painted the tropical island murals did a very nice job.  Flowers and decorations gave the dining area a nice feel.  The kitchen partition was made of reed blinds.  A pool table that was out of view in the back of the dining room is a typical feature that is found in many South Pacific restaurants.  Malaysians, Indonesians and Filipinos are into billiards in a big way!  In recent years, the world champion billiard player has often come from the South Pacific islands.  Of course, playing pool in the late afternoon is a great way to beat the heat!
     The waitress was very friendly and informative when describing the menu items.  She kind of gave me a puzzled look when I was taking pictures of the food.  Most of Chinatown Las Vegas knows that when I whip out my camera, a restaurant review soon follows.  After the meal, I told the waitress that I write nice things about Las Vegas restaurants on the internet and that I hope it brings the restaurant more business.  I told her that if I have something bad to say, I do not write a review.  
     To make sure the food is prepared with no extra special attention, I only mention that I am a food writer occasionally after the food is served or not at all.  This way, you see the food as it is served to common customers with no preferential treatment.  My food blog is linked to a few internet Las Vegas publications and many foreign internet newspapers, so my anonymous approach to writing reviews still goes without notice by local businesses.  That is good, because I only want to be served the same food that everybody else is served!
     I highly recommend the Island Malaysian Cuisine restaurant for visitors of Las Vegas and locals alike!  They offer a great menu of modern and classic Malaysian cuisine and the service is great.  On a hot Las Vegas summer afternoon, enjoy some nice tropical Malaysian food, try a refreshingly cool chendol dessert, shoot some pool and beat the heat!  Yum!  ...  Shawna                   

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