Living far away from family this year, I didn't celebrate the first week of Chinese New Year by going out for dim sum or another festive meal. I talked to my parents in China via cell phone, made some Sichuan wontons, and called it good. I took solace in the fact that 1) I've eaten many great CNY meals in the past, and 2) I'm constantly recipe testing for my upcoming Chinese cookbook, so every day is like Chinese New Year.
Still, it was nice to finally have a Chinese meal outside of my apartment after a long hiatus of not doing so. Last night I went with Kian (of Red Cook) and his partner Warren to the opening of our friend Magda's photo exhibit near Chinatown. Afterward we wandered over to Nyonya on Grand St., It's part of the Penang restaurant chain that's pretty popular along the East Coast. I've eaten at the Boston branch numerous times, and occasionally find myself with massive cravings for their roti canai with curry chicken dip, so I was pretty excited to try Nyonya.
We ordered two servings of the roti. Needless to say, it was as good as I remembered from Penang, and even flakier. Usually I would order one or two bowls of rice cooked with chicken oil (which tastes much better than it sounds) and pour the remaining chicken curry dip over the rice. This make-shift chicken rice smothered with curry dip is FANTASTIC, but the danger is filling up on rice and not eating enough of everything else. So I resisted.
We did not resist ordered the New Year dish called "yee sang", which I had never seen or heard of before. According to Kian, who's from Singapore, it's a CNY tradition that's carried on only in Singapore and Malaysia. The salad has about 7 or 8 ingredients, one of which is raw fish, and gets tossed with chopsticks by everyone at the table for prosperity. Ours had a bunch of colorful components, including daikon, jicama, candied papaya, candied persimmon, wonton crisps, rice crisps, and taro chips dyed red and green.
Our "yee sang" came with red envelope, which our server opened up to reveal our "lucky lotto number", plus some "white gold" (white pepper) which she sprinkled over the top of the salad. Then she scattered salmon sashimi over the salad and topped it off with what seemed to be a large amount of honey. Finally she wished us a happy new year, left us to toss the salad, and swooshed off to perform the same ritual for another table.
I really liked our salad and couldn't stop picking at it. But our table did reach the consensus that, yes, that was a large amount of honey, even for a dish that's supposed to be sweet. It would have been a much better as a dessert than an appetizer.
But the dish was still good, and what followed was even better.
I already gushed about the roti with chicken curry dip. This chicken satay was pretty juicy and also similar to what I remember from Penang.
I had not had a good plate of char kway teow since visiting Singapore in 2009, so this was a good trip down memory lane. Not quite hawker stall quality, but pretty darn close.
Another favorite (how many favorites can you have in a field of seven dishes?) was Chinese water spinach sautéed with belachan, or spicy shrimp paste. This gives the Cantonese preparation, stir-fried with a bit of garlic and fermented bean curd, some serious competition.
We also had some poh piah, Malaysian spring rolls topped with a sweet chili sauce. And for dessert, Kian insisted on ordering the pulut hitam, black sesame rice with coconut milk. I'm normally not a huge fan of Asian desserts, with the exception of mochi and black sesame ice cream from Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, but the coconut milk made the dessert pretty enjoyable. I wouldn't mind eating it again in the future, along with everything else we ordered.
199 Grand St. (btwn Mott & Mulberry)
New York, NY 10013 2
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