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Malaysia’s population is evenly divided among three ethnic groups: Malays, Chinese, and Indians. This diversity means that looking at a Malaysian menu can feel like a Cliff’s Notes version of Chinese and Indian cuisine written by someone with a strong predilection for all things coconut. Ordering is a dilemma — chicken curry, or fried rice, or Malaysian noodles? We skipped over the known options in favor of two Malay-Indian hot & spicy dishes.
Beef Rendang ($11.95), was slow cooked in cloves, lemongrass, cinnamon, and the ubiquitous coconut milk. "Why is this so good?" I asked my friend Anna, who spooned more chunks of beef on her plate before replying, "I don’t know, but I can’t stop eating it." Pairing the dish with white rice ($1) helped counteract the beef’s spicy kick. You’re supposed to dip Roti chanai ($2.50) in curry, but we preferred eating this light and flaky Indian pancake with the beef dish.
Laksa Noodle ($7.95) with shrimp in Malaysian curry broth was nasal-passage-clearing, glass-of-water-gulping spicy. Its intensity was simultaneously invasive and compelling; all I could think about was the heat invading my mouth, but I didn’t want to think about anything else. Jaya’s traditional dishes aren’t made milder for Western palates, so heed well the red pepper icons on the menu.