Tucked in a claustrophobic pedestrian alley joining Elizabeth Street and Bowery is one of the most overwhelmingly eclectic menus you’ll find in Chinatown. Inside New Malaysia restaurant’s single, cramped square room, customers page through a veritable novel of food choices, each more exciting and exotic than the last.
The wait can be daunting if you get there at dinnertime, but we implore you to trust us on this one. The food really is worth whatever wait you may find. Like most restaurants in the neighborhood, New Malaysia’s servers welcome you with a hot pot of tea to get you started, plus a recommendation – Roti Canai ($3.25), a staple and necessary appetizer in Malaysia.
An Indian-inspired pancake likely related to the sesame pancakes of many of the Chinese shops we’ve visited, Roti Canai is seldom crisped imperfectly. Served with spicy sauce and a chunk of potato so big it could have single-handedly ended Ireland’s blight in 1844, it’s more than enough to pull you into a meal you’ll be talking about for a long time. We recommend ordering one per person. You don’t want to fight over them (and you will).
A search for reviews of the restaurant will have several recurring themes centered around the high quality of the food served here. Appearing most often is the “aromatic crab,” a plate of crustaceans drenched in one of the most, well, aromatic sauces you’ll ever come across ($14.95).
If you’re willing to put in the work it takes to extract the tender white meat to be discovered inside the crabs’ shells, I cannot recommend this dish enough. The ‘aromatic’ sauce is as spicy as it is flavorful, with a dash of salt and the perfect level of bitterness. Order a bed of rice to welcome the leftover spices.
A safer bet, complete with one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve ever found in the ‘fried rice’ section of the menu, is the seafood fried rice ($7.25). While the majority of the dish is pretty standard (rice, bamboo shoots, greens and a dash of chicken), the plate’s real treasure is the dried, salted fish. The bite-sized bits are as addicting as anything you’ll ever eat in Chinatown, and will likely have you digging through your dish with a ferocity matched only, perhaps, by the Chilean miners in 2010.
If you’re looking to shy away from seafood while keeping it exciting, try the beef rendang ($12.95), a dried curry beef on a bed of fresh greens. Each piece of beef (and there are a lot) is a mouthful, tender and zesty. Chances are good you won’t even need the included bowl of rice, but it never hurts to try.
Your journey through Malaysia (and a host of other countries represented in this incredibly diverse place) will leave you full and satisfied, yet hungry and desirous for much, much more. New Malaysia has a menu that cannot possibly be explore in a single trip. In fact, chances are good that you’ll see me huddled in the corner on your first visit, desperately breaking and cracking crab shells as if my life and those of all my family members depended on it.