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June 2005 Malaysia Kopitiam

A modest-looking restaurant with a very accomplished kitchen.

It's hard to order from a menu of an unfamiliar cuisine with any confidence that you're going to like what you get. Owners Leslie and Penny Phoon of Malaysia Kopitiam, a modest-looking restaurant with a very accomplished kitchen, try their best to make the food of their homeland accessible. There's a photograph of every item on the menu, and if that's not enough, Leslie, your host, will consult with you. Or you can leave the choices to the Phoons. Penny will ask if you have any allergies or strong preferences, how spicy you like your food, and how much a person you'd like to spend, then disappear into the kitchen and start cooking.

Malaysian food draws from Chinese, Thai, and Indian traditions and is influenced by the hawker food that vendors sell on the street. You can try a number of dishes by ordering a sampler platter of appetizers—satay chicken; curry puffs; po pia, a crepe wrapped around a filling of jícama, egg, and dried shrimp; and otak-otak, salmon and minced chicken wrapped in a banana leaf. Good main courses include, on the spicy side, Malaysian Curry Chicken and spicy Tamarind Squid, and for the less intrepid of palate, ginger chicken or black-pepper chicken, spicy without being overpowering.

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