Hailing from South East Asian and having been back on several occasions I find myself craving the cuisine I grew up on and the foods my parents indulged me in. So as a family we drove out to Surrey to try “Malaysian Hut”. This is our second go at the place, the first was on a Monday, only to find out they were closed. The website and the menu listed is really what had us wanting to go in the first place. The food looked authentic and the descriptions sounded delicious, triggering fond memories.
It is a small family run business open since 1998, specializing in East Malaysian style cooking. They go so far as to import most of their ingredients straight from their hometown of Miri, Sarawak. Their claim of offering traditional Malaysian dishes that you cannot find anywhere else in the city is accurate. Believe me, I have been on the constant search. No other places I have been to offer Pulut Pangang (sweet glutinous rice with shrimp paste wrapped in banana leaf), Rojak (traditional Malaysian salad), Loh Mee (egg noodles with a minced meat sauce), Kuching Curry Laksa (noodle in soup) and Kuih Dadar (crepe infused with pandan leaves and wrapped with finely shredded coconut and palm sugar).
The restaurant was hard to see from the road. We missed it several times rounding the block in our car. The dark of the night and their unlit awning made the restaurant’s name impossible to read. And the small neon “open” sign wasn’t even visible. It also didn’t help that a row of thin pines fenced them and their parking lot away from the street. Because of this we suspect they do most of their business during lunch, when its bright out their restaurant is visible and the surrounding establishments are also open for business.
Looking in we were intimated by the empty restaurant before us. Though found it oddly comforting to have a couple come in as we were about to leave. We had called ahead so one table was prepared with cutlery. We walked in and were greeted warmly. Family members came and went during our stay. We assumed the mother was the one to welcomed us, and had just finished her shift. It was her daughter that was taking over, she would be the one to serve us. As is the case with many small family run restaurants it is cash only, a fact we were observant enough to read on the sign taped by the cash desk.
The restaurant was dressed like a home. A well themed living room with orange walls, wicker chairs, and curtains of beige and white. It was more quaint and cozy then other small restaurants offering similar cuisine. Decorations consisted of artwork and artifacts, a lot of which we couldn’t place. Framed medallions, panel carvings, straw hats, stone statues, and a wooden paddle. It was the country music that threw me off the most, it is not what I imagine hearing at a hole in the wall Malaysian restaurant. It really didn’t match the cuisine.
We appreciated the design of the menu. A lengthly laminated sheet with pictures and descriptions for every item offered. Though it only looked longer than it actually was. There were a few items that were only slight variations on the same thing. For example both the flat rice noodles and the egg noodles started off with their intended noodles, bean sprouts, and eggs. What had them differing and earning their own title was the secondary ingredients used: barbecue pork, shredded chicken, or grilled shrimp, to name a few.
As the only ones dining our food was made to order and came in a speedy fashion. There is comfort in being able to hear your food being made in the kitchen. The scrape of the wok with metal spatula, and the sizzle of fresh ingredients hitting oil.
“Roti Canai”, this one is a must order for my mother. Crispy pancakes with curry sauce. Despite what the menu suggested this wasn’t a traditional curry. The sauce had a flavour we couldn’t put our finger on. It was warm and spicy enough, but so heavy that it didn’t pair as well with the light and sweet roti. Each piece of pancake was light with an enjoyable elastic-like texture. Not at all greasy, it was best enjoyed with bare hands dipping dough into sauce.
“Pulut Panggang”, sweet glutinous rice filled with spicy sun dried shrimp & shredded coconut. We choose this based on the photo advertised. In the menu it was shown as sticky rice packaged in a wrap of banana leaves. So we were undoubtedly disappointed to see the brick of yellow rice presented before us. The original intent was to have the rice grilled in the leaf, giving it a nice char. A smokey smell and a toasted taste. The rice was fragrant and neon yellow from the turmeric used. The pairing of the sweet rice and the spicy filling were a nice play. The side of shredded purple cabbage and carrot was a needed element to fresh up the plate.
“Nonya Mee Hoon Goreng”. Vermicelli stir fried with sambal sauce, bean sprouts, sun dried shrimps, and prawns. According to my mother “Nonya” referred to an ethnicity of Chinese people mixed with the locals of Malaysia. Apparently they are known for their quality of food. If that is indeed the case, given the great flavours of this noodle dish, the name was aptly chosen. The pan fried noodles were some of the most tastiest I have ever had, flavoured with a strong shrimp paste. Layers of spices created evolving flavours that kept the whole dish interesting from start to finish. I was however disappointed that we were only given two grilled prawns for all the noodles. Carefully laid on top, the shrimp served as more of a decoration than a main ingredient.
“Nasi Lemak”, coconut steam rice served with curry chicken, fried eggs, chilli seasoned anchovies, fresh cucumber, and salted peanuts. This was a complete meal with plenty of sides. Lots of elements kept the plate interesting, but it isn’t necessarily a combination for everyone. When was the last time you had a breaded and deep fried hard boiled egg, that was then covered in tiny salted fish? Not for everyone. The chicken curry was dominating in heat and spice. It easily overpowered everything, which the cucumber aided by offering a descent palette cleanser. The peanuts in this dish are usually fried, these were not. The frying process would have had them more fragrant, but as is they still added a nice crunchy texture.
“Char Kway Teow”, the “regular” version of rice noodles with bean sprouts and BBQ pork. The taste was a little different than what I am familiar with, possibly some black bean sauce in the mix? I found it a little salty with not enough noodles to BBQ pork ratio. Overall average and a little disappointing.
“Fish Ball Soup”. Hand rolled fish balls with vermicelli or glass noodles. We choose the latter, as it’s the noodle more commonly used. It tasted like something my aunt would and could make, feel good home cooking. The soup was seasoned with sesame oil and onion from the flakes of fried onion sprinkled on top. Served last, the soup was unfortunately bland when compared to everything else before. Though it is meant to be a lighter clear broth. The fish balls tasted fresh, you could tell they were mostly made from real fish paste. Each round was spongy and firm in texture, bursting with fishy goodness.
Only after we asked for the bill did we see the sign advertising their daily special of “low sue fen”. This is a special type of noodle named after it “mouse” like appearance. A noodle I love and a noodle I have yet to see offered at any restaurant. I wish we knew about this before we ordered. Had I known this would have been ordered instead of the “Char Kway Teow”. I was disappointed to have missed it. It would have been nice to be told of specials as we went through our menu.
The washroom showed the age of the building which the main dining room was able to hide with its yellow lights and distracting decorations. The one room unisex stall hummed from a blinking florescent light. Erie, it was a scene I could imagine from a horror movie gas station. The washroom itself was grungy. Decorated with dried and fake flowers and odd nick knacks. It looked like a collection of items that the family no longer wanted, but didn’t want to waste my throwing out, so put them on display here. A bouquet of rainbow dyed and now dried flowers? and decorative soaps festively shaped and protected in cellophane.
The bill came with some fruit candies, it was a nice touch and much needed given the about of spice we left with in our mouths. The tea helped but was not enough of a palette cleanser. Even the candy wasn’t enough. I looked forward to going home and brushing my teeth.
Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
I only say no to returning because of the distance we had to travel. I cannot justify driving three cities over and spending almost an hour in the car just for Malaysian food, despite how good it is. We enjoyed what we had though found the cuisine to be more Chinese style Malaysian, than true authentic Malaysian. An therefore a few flavours we expected were lacking. I was also somewhat sadden that our meal wasn’t served on plastic plates like you would get from outdoor hawker stands in Southeast Asia, something I oddly miss. My mother found the food good, but the flavours over the top. Being familiar with the recipes and having made a handful of them herself she feel restaurant style cooking is exaggerated. She declared it was like they over compensate to ensure flavour. Smart, given food and opinion is subjective. Hedge your bets by jam packing dishes with spices and herbs, and wish for the best. Once again I enjoyed what we had, but cannot declare it the best or even the most authentic. Good, but I will not be back for more because of distance. Though if you are in the area or live in proximity I suggest stopping by for some rice and noodles. Where it’s cash only, the prices are decent, and the serving sizes are average. Don’t deny your cravings.