Malaysia Kopitiam

June 2006 Cheap Eats

Amid the strip clubs and saloons on M Street, this hideaway purveys the exotic flavors of a cuisine that takes cues from India, China, and Thailand.

An alabaster Buddha oversees the subterranean pine-paneled dining rooms, where vinyl booths are sometimes repaired with electric tape. Its broad, beatific smile seems to say, "When the food is transcendent, why concern yourself with outward appearances?"

A large loose-leaf binder with pictures of each dish prompts experimentation, a good thing because some of the menu's most winning plates are less familiar ones.

Roti canai is a flaky round of bread to dip in creamy chicken curry, the bits of bird still on the bone, the reddish curry spicy enough to heat the tongue. Lo bak is succulent pork combined with a paste of sweet jícama and rolled like a sausage–the skin crackles at every bite. There are banana-leaf packets of steamy sticky rice with a dusting of chicken and shrimp ground to a powder, and chunks of lamb in an intense curry gravy. Even stir-fried Chinese broccoli surpasses most others with flecks of crispy garlic.

Go back to the roti, billed as a "crispy crepe," for dessert. With a thin layer of lotus paste inside, it's a marvelous finish to a marvelous meal.

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