The complex flavors and textures of Malaysian cuisine are relatively unknown, even in Brooklyn’s expansive culinary universe.
This is food that is as familiar as it is surprising, evoking memories of Chinese, Thai and Indian specialities even as it strikes out on its own intensely flavorful path.
Fortunately for Brooklynites, a wide array of Malaysian culinary delights can be savored at Sunset Park’s Nyonya, one of only a handful of restaurants in the borough that specialize in the cuisine of this Asian crossroads.
Redolent of curry and coconut, main dishes and appetizers alike evoke a sense of offbeat exoticism — tropical paradise meets urban hotpot, served up in a bright, wood-paneled restaurant with the ambiance of an island outpost.
Overall, dishes at Nyonya, like the flavors they unfurl on the tongue, tease and tantalize, yet ultimately satisfy.
Noodle dishes abound. Mee siam ($6.95), stir-fried rice vermicelli studded with shrimp and chunks of tofu and dusted with chopped peanuts, is sweet and spicy at once, with the smoky flavor of food fresh from the grill providing a third grace note.
If you prefer your noodles bathed in broth, try one of the eatery’s baker’s dozen of soups that range from the familiar to the exotic — including clay pot pearl noodles soup ($6.50) highlighting shrimp, pork and egg if you’re seeking a level of familiarity; ginger duck noodles ($5.95) if you are mildly adventurous; and fish head soup with rice noodles ($6.95) if you are an uninhibited diner.
Among the most-appealing dishes on the menu is roti canai ($2.95), or Indian pancake, a freshly baked flatbread served with a curried dipping sauce that’s the perfect culinary warm-up on a cold winter’s night.
Also yummy was Nyonya kari ayam ($10.95), chicken stewed in a curried base enriched with the subtle tartness of lemongrass, and chicken satay ($6.25), small cubes of meat with a crisp, caramelized exterior threaded onto wooden skewers and served with chunks of cucumber and purple onion.
Some of the dishes were as much a feast for the eyes as for the palate. Sarang burong ($11.95), a melange of meats and vegetables cascaded out of a fried taro bowl, and looked absolutely gorgeous with its kaleidoscopic colors. Nonetheless, there are certainly some dishes at Nyonya that are not for the timid. On the menu, an appetizer of crispy pork intestines ($6.95) comes with a warning for customers to “ask server for advice before you order!!!”
Next time, maybe…
Nyonya [5323 Eighth Ave. at 54th Street in Sunset Park, (718) 633-0808]. Cash only. Open seven days.