The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Malaysian @ Mahathir Restaurant, Tokyo

After I wrote a series of journal entries to give an introduction to the Malaysian food we ate on our February trip to Malaysia, a couple of my friends in Japan expressed they'd never had Malaysian food before, and that they'd love to try it. Unfortunately, Malaysian restaurants are a bit of a rarity in Japan so it wasn't like we could bring them to the closest one to sample Malaysian dishes. My friend Shan did a little internet search for Malaysian restaurants in Tokyo, and she found Mahathir Restaurant, interestingly named after the former Prime Minister of Malaysia (read this article for more information on the restaurant's name). The restaurant is in Shinjuku district, but tucked away from the busiest areas and is located close to Shin Okubo station which is only one stop from Shinjuku station on the Yamanote Line.

Two weekends ago (yeah, I know, I'm a bit behind in blogging), Kim was in Tokyo for the weekend, and we were meeting up for dinner on Sunday. Since I was craving for some Malaysian noodles, and since Kim was one of my friends who'd expressed an interest in trying Malaysian food, it wasn't difficult deciding where to go for dinner. We were greeted by an orangutan toy hanging near the entrance, and there were several more orangutans hanging on the wall of the dining area. It's a small, cozy restaurant that could sit about 30, and it got pretty full pretty during the peak dinner hour that Sunday. The owner showed us to our table and since we were the first customers for the day, I had a chance to chat and find out more about the owner's background (it was really so that I could suss out what type of dishes to order, for example, if they were from Penang, then Penang dishes would be safe to order). The restaurant is run by a Malaysian Chinese man and his wife, from the northern states of the west Malaysia. From what I could hear, they speak the Hokkien dialect, so I knew that at least their noodles would be good! However, the menu offerings were not limited to Malaysian Chinese dishes, and many Malay, Indian and even Nonya dishes were available for us to choose from. The prices of each dish start from 1200yen (~AU$12), and there were many meat, vegetables, rice and noodle dishes to choose from. So many, in fact, that Kim was amazed at how big the menu was considering the relatively small size of the restaurant.

This group shot gives an idea of the restaurant's interior:

We ordered Char Kuey Teow (fried flat rice noodles) which had some prawns but unfortunately no seeham (cockles). It was well-seasoned and greasy, just as it ought to be. Next came Beef Rendang, which is a type of dry curry stew with beef, a popular and delicious Malay dish. This one not as dry as ones I'm used to, nor was the meat cooked to the point of falling apart, but it was still delicious and spicy.

Char Kuey Teow and Beef Rendang:

For vegetables, we ordered some Kangkung Sambal (at 1200yen, it was the most expensive kangkung I've ever ordered!) which was spicy but also quite oily. We also wanted some fish, and the Nonya Fish was recommended by the owner himself. Crispy deep-fried fish with a tangy sweet sauce - I'm not certain what makes this dish Nonya-style (my mum is of Nonya), but it was a good dish. We ordered some plain nasi lemak (coconut rice) to eat with the food - it was very fragrant and full of coconut flavour.

Kangkung Sambal and Nonya-style Fish (the plate of coconut rice is peeking at the top left corner of the fish shot:

For dessert, we ordered the Durian Ice-cream which is made on premises with real durian! We were really excited because we hadn't eaten durians for ages, and we weren't disappointed. It was really good, and we could taste bits and pieces of durian flesh in the ice cream. I'm surprised that the owner could source the fruit inside Japan as I'm certain that the smell would be far too strong for the sensitive Japanese palates. Sigh, I want to eat some durian. We also ordered some Momo Cha-Cha (the correct term is actually bubur cha-cha, I think "momo" is a Chinese slang), which is a popular Nonya dessert made with taro, sweet potatoes and tapioca pearls in a sweet coconut soup. We had the choice of having it warm or chilled, and we went with cold. It was nice, but I still prefer the ones my parents use to make at home.

Durian Ice-cream and Bubur Cha-Cha:

The bill came to around 8500yen (including drinks) which is probably the most I've paid for a Malaysian meal. I guess rarity comes with a price, and it's a price I'm willing to pay to satisfy my cravings for spicy, robust Malaysian fare.

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