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Kale G: This was actually done on Monday, but it turns out I can be quite lazy at times.
Phil B: I blame Kale.
Kale G: Laugh it up, fuzzball. So the last few weeks here at DWPF we’ve concentrated on the truly hole-in-the-wall sort of joints you might expect from a place called ‘Dining with Plastic Forks’. Don’t thank us; it’s our job. That said, occasionally we feel the allure of the metal silverware, and it was in that vein that we found ourselves drawn once more to Eat Street, AKA Nicollet Avenue, in our journey to find the best the Twin Cities have to offer.
Phil B: Yep, the place is aptly named – there are over 25 ethnic restaurants and groceries on this stretch of Nicollet Avenue, which runs about a dozen blocks from downtown to Lake Street. If you are looking for something out of the ordinary, your chances of finding it on Eat Street are excellent : African, American, Carribean, Chinese, Fusion, German, Greek, Indian, Japanese, Malaysian, Mexican, and Vietnamese cuisines are all represented here. So, with so many choices available, where does one decide to go?
KG: I have just one word for you: Malaysian.
I know, I know, it’s not a common cuisine – that’s kind of the point of going there, if you ask us. Our debate of where to go all week was between pork bung and curry. Guess which won?
(For those of you now lamenting the lack of a pork bung entry here at DWPF, for shame. We do this for our amusement, not yours. That’s just a happy by-product.)
PB: In case you are wondering how we even got to this dilemma: we were checking out the website of a Cambodian restaurant in St. Paul and noticed that they had an offering called Deep Fried Pork Bung. Now, phrases like this tend to jump out at you from a page, especially in the context of a dinner menu. This situation practically screamed for further investigation, so we decided to find out more about this delicacy.
A Google search revealed that …. (1) yes, pork bung is what we thought it was, and (2) yes, some people do eat that sort of thing. However, if your curiosity simply won’t let go (or if you still don’t have a clue what we’re talking about), here’s an educational video that shows how they harvest these things.
KG: Back on track. Malaysian had carried the day, and off we went to Peninsula!
KG: We decided to dine outside as the weather was so nice and the forecast so gloomy that we wanted to get what sun we could, while we could. The greeter was… I believe the word I’m going to use here is ‘enthusiastic’. Very, very enthusiastic. I had to clarify with Phil afterwards, but I think he was hitting on me.
PB: Oh yeah, he was definitely hitting on you. With enthusiasm. He went on and on about your most prominent feature, which is ... your … damn, I forget what it is. What was he was all giddy about, anyway?
KG: It’s the hair.
PB: That’s it, your hair. Maybe because he didn’t have any.
KG: Anyways, we settled in to peruse the menu, and almost immediately I was struck by one of my favorite things: Roti. Roti, for the uninitiated, is kind of like naan, only fried and on crack.
PB: Fried crack? You’re talking about the pork bung, right?
KG: Oh dear, that wasn’t very enlightening. I see I shall have to explain.
KG: Roti is a flatbread, very common in many Middle-Eastern and Asian cuisines. Roti in particular is a very high-gluten type of flatbread, which for those of you playing at home means ‘chewy’, ‘substantial’, and ‘delicious’. One of the best things about Roti is it is almost served with curry on the side for either dipping or depositing on top. We opted for the latter with the curry provided, a few spoonfuls of a delightful chicken and potato curry. Now, I don’t want you to think that Roti is only a vehicle for curry delivery, no, no, no! It’s quite the smashing taste sensation on its own as well. Still, either way, the bread delivered to our table nearly vanished from touchdown. I think the waitress was counting her fingers as she walked away.
PB: Hey, it was all finger-lickin’ good! (sorry, Colonel Sanders). I did feel bad about her fingers, though – it was an honest mistake.
KG: Speaking of our waitress, I want to share with you our tea.
KG: Hang on, it will make sense in a moment.
KG: Our tea was a serviceable oolong with some citrusy notes, mostly orange. Nothing wrong with it, mind you, but getting it was interesting. The weather was nice, verging on turning cold on us, as I mentioned. When the waitress asked for drinks, Phil opted for tea, and I followed suit. She then asked, as is Minnesotan custom, “Hot or iced?” Phil, reasoning that the hot tea would be good either in the mild weather or in colder weather if the wind picked up, replied, “Hot.” “Iced tea,” the waitress confirmed incorrectly, and then turned to me. “He said ‘Hot’,” I clarified. “One iced and one hot tea,” she read back. After much debate, the order we wanted placed was placed, and hot tea was delivered.
I guess the rule at Peninsula is ‘enunciate’.
PB: I think she was still in shock from the finger incident.
KG: Still, this in no way diminished our enthusiasm for what came next: entrees.
Phil had looked up the menu online beforehand and had fallen in love with the Beef Rendang. Beef Rendang is a Malaysian curry, hot and savory, very rich and very good with the heavier meats like beef.
PB: Rendang originally came from the Minangkabau ethnic group (originally from Indonesia), but is now widely enjoyed across Malaysia. This dish was customarily served on special occasions or to honor guests, so I figured it would be perfect for a DWPF lunch. In a typical Rendang recipe, the beef is slowly simmered in coconut milk with vegetables and spices (i.e. ginger, garlic, lemongrass, hot chilies, onions, and red curry paste) for hours until the liquid evaporates, leaving a very thick, spicy stew which goes great with steamed rice. In the end, the meat is so tender that you can cut it with a fork. Well worth the wait.
KG: While I applauded his planning and foresight, I myself was torn between choices. The Malaysian Pork Chop sounded good, but so did the Curried Lamb Shank. When I asked the waitress which she preferred, she enthusiastically endorsed the Lamb Shank. Fearing that deviation would lead to more verbal sparring like the tea fiasco, I opted to follow her lead.
KG: This was a good choice for me. Phil and I are both huge fans of curry across the continents, and these two dishes were great examples of why. The Curried Lamb Shank is a lighter curry, heavy on the coconut milk, leading to a very sweet and spicy flavor across the tongue. Like I said, I love just about any curry, but the sweeter ones always tug at my heartstrings just a little bit more, and this one was no exception. The shank itself was beautifully tender, falling off the bone, and the moist lamb made a perfect counterpoint to the melodic flavors of the curry it was dressed in.
Phil, stop me if I wax too poetic on this.
PB: Don’t worry, Beavis and Butthead will make another guest appearance if it gets too bad. Please continue.
KG: Wow, those two? There's motivation. The Beef Rendang was also a great piece for Phil, who was in the mood for savory. Randang is darker - literally and figuratively! The flavor is more complex and with heavier notes than the curry the lamb was dressed in, and additionally it’s a deep red, where my curry was neon orange. The beef wasn’t quite as tender as my lamb, but it made a good run for it, and when is beef ever more tender than lamb anyways?
PB: This was yet another occasion that I liked Kale’s choice better than mine. The Beef Rendang met all of my expectations, but it was no match for the sweet and spicy perfection of the Curried Lamb Shank. Will order it next time.
KG: Either way, both entrees were great examples of why you want to try Malaysian. They’ve got some things in common with the more well known Indian and Asian cuisines, but it has flavors and notes all its own.
PB: Malaysia’s geographical location (i.e. the Strait of Malacca) has been a crossroads for Asian trade and culture for centuries, and it shows in the recipes. Indian, Thai, and Chinese influences can be found everywhere in Malaysian food, but who’s complaining? It’s all very, very good.
KG: And wouldn’t you know it? When we went to pay our bill, who should be lurking at the counter but this guy:
PB: Here we go again … they are everywhere, y’know.
KG: Yup, another religious icon. We asked if it would be okay to take a shot, and when the greeter asked why, Phil explained we collected photos of religious icons in restaurants, thinking that would quickly bring about acquiescence on the part of the greeter.
Who promptly told us he was Christian and would we like to take a photo of him?
We explained it was about iconography, not believers, and he wasn’t an icon. He responded that in his mind he was a religious icon.
And I realized, as I should have when he sat us, that it was going to be one of those days.
PB: Yeh, that’s what we get for thinking we’d get a normal response from a dude with a hair fetish, along with narcissistic personality disorder. He seemed quite insane in a fun kind of way.
KG: That said, the banter was quite amusing, if theologically disturbing, and the food was… Phil?
PB: AWESOME!! Full plastic fork awarded here, folks.
KG: As succinct a summation as one could ask for. Four tines.