When we went to Malaysia after being hired by Malaysian Airline Systems, one the things I really appreciated and loved was the food. The Malaysian population is basically made up of three groups: Malays, Chinese and Indian, the Malays being the biggest group. When we were there, I was introduced to Malaysian food for the first time, and also to new varieties of Indian food. Being from the Philippines, we are familiar with Chinese food as this is much a part of our culture also, but I have never experienced Malaysian food before although we are a part of the Malay race. When we left Malaysia to migrate to the United States, one of the first things I missed was authentic Malaysian food. After we had settled down in West Covina, California I started looking for real authentic Malaysian cuisine. There weren’t too many Malaysian restaurants around. I tried them, didn’t find the taste I was longing for, and never came back.
As far as Indian food was concerned the only Indian food that I knew before going to Malaysia was anything with curry in it (chicken curry, beef curry, fish curry, etc.) I didn’t know Indian food had more variety than that. Also, if you go to a real Indian restaurant, don’t ever order beef as they don’t serve it. I remember one embarrassing experience in London – we just got to the hotel from the airport at around 7 pm and feeling hungry I went to the first restaurant that I saw close to the hotel. It as an Indian restaurant. I went there, sat down and was handed a menu by the waiter. Although I knew that cows are sacred to the Indians, I sort of forgot that because I was so hungry. I looked at the menu, and I really wanted beef curry, but couldn’t find it in there. I was getting impatient, just came from a long, tiring trip, and I was getting hungrier and hungrier with each passing minute. I called the waiter to place my order. I said I wanted beef curry but I couldn’t find it in the menu. Maybe I just missed it. He just smiled at me and said they don’t serve beef. At that point I got mad and stood up and said “What kind of a restaurant is this that you don’ t even have beef? I’m out of here.” I started walking out and the waiter just smiled, maybe just being polite not to say what an ignorant person I was. Halfway to the door I suddenly realized my mistake, felt so embarrassed at my rude behavior and I wanted to run out as quickly as I could. But I turned around, went back and apologized and said I forgot about the cows being sacred. We all had a good laugh – restaurant staff, the customers who were aware of what had happened and me. I got the best service and attention that night and the other few times that I went back to that restaurant during my short stay in London.
Back in West Covina, several years later a friend of mine mentioned to me about a small Malaysian restaurant in El Monte, California. He told us that they serve authentic Malaysian cuisine, unlike the other restaurants that we’ve tried. It’s about 8 miles away form where I live, and so one Saturday my wife and I decided to check it out. It was a tiny, cozy place, seating no more that 60 persons. The decoration is somewhat simple but it has that feeling of warmth. It is family run, usually only one person takes the orders and serves the food. They could be slow specially when there’s a lot of customers, but I consider this a fair trade-off for getting what I really want. If I really want food fast, there’s a lot of fastfood places all around.
The food is the best that I have tried so far since I left Malaysia, in fact I think it’s even better that some of the places we’ve tried when we were still there. My favorite Malaysian food is Nasi Lemak, which is rice cooked in cocunut milk and then put together in a plate (traditionally they wrap them in banana leaves) with an assortment of side dishes which includes cucumber slices, small fried anchovies ( ikan bilis), roasted peanuts, hard boiled egg, and hot spicy sauce (sambal). It can also come with a variety of other accompaniments such as ayam goreng (fried chicken), sambal sotong (cuttlefish in chilli), cockles, stir fried water convolvulus (kangkong), pickled vegetables (acar), beef rendang (beef stewed in coconut milk and spices) or paru (beef lungs). Most of these accompaniments are spicy in nature. I remember in those days that I was there I would trade my MAS issued western breakfast box with our mechanics’ home made nasi lemak. It was a fair trade – they were ecstatic to eat a captain’s breakfast and so was I with the nasi lemak they brought from home.
This cozy restaurant’s name in El Monte is Little Malaysia. It’s address is 3944 Peck Rd., #8 El Monte, CA 91732. It’s been there since I first went way back about 20 or more years ago. Back then, the small shopping area where it is located was bustling with all those shops and a big Chinese supermarket. Over the years the place bore the brunt of the economic downturn. The supermarket closed several years ago and never reopened. Many of the other businesses also closed and there are many vacant shops in the complex. This little restaurant survived, in fact it has thrived well. I was there just this Friday (June 7, 2013) and this prompted me to write about them. This is an unsolicited article. I was in the area and on my way back home but at 4:30pm I didn’t want to sit in the freeway traffic so I decided instead to spend that time there. It wasn’t full but at 4:30pm there was a stream of customers until I left at 6:00. The place can get busy at dinnertime, and since it is so small it would be wise to call in for reservations.
They serve the usual Malaysian favorites like Beef Rendang, Char Kway Teow, Satay, several soup & noodle dishes. Their prices are reasonable, and they have many items in their menu to keep you busy for a while. There’s a good selection of several drinks, my favorite is the Malaysian iced coffee with milk. I tried making this at home but could never get it right. Just wondering if there’s a secret to it.
So if you’re in the mood for authentic Malaysian food, give this place a try. I hope you will enjoy the food there as I do. Drop me a comment on what you’re experience is. Here’s their info again:
3944 Peck Rd.,Ste 8
El Monte, CA91732
Tel. (626) 401-3188