Forget dim sum and
chicken satay. Delicious,
new and very di;erent
Far East cuisines are
spicing up our meals.
Shahnaz Habib checks
out the best in Malay,
Azerbaijani and Burmese
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANDRE W BANNECKER
Once upon a time, Asian cuisine was
synonymous with Chinese takeout. But
now, even as McDonald’s and KFC set up
house all over Asia, the diverse cuisines of
this continent have been making inroads
in America. Today, Korean-American chef
David Chang is one of the biggest names
in food, and most major cities on the East
Coast can turn out a reasonably good
samosa or pad Thai.
And yet, even beyond these obvious
favorites, a more recent wave of migration
has been bringing new flavors to America.
These “new” cuisines, which are actually
old cuisines with hundreds of years of tradition behind them, are redefining what
we think of as Asian food. Searching for
these di;erent flavors in recent months,
I treated myself to foods as diverse as sesame bread from Azerbaijan and tofu made
from lentils, as they make it in Burma—
and no passports or visas were necessary.
Here are a few of the highlights.
“Nowadays fusion cooking is a big fash-
ion,” says Leslie Phoon, the gregarious
owner of Malaysia Kopitiam in Washing-
ton, D.C. “But Malaysia has been doing
fusion cooking for hundreds of years.”
Phoon began telling me about his
national cuisine by first disabusing me of
any illusion that this small country might
have a homogenous cuisine. Like the good
trading post that it was, Malaysia, perched
at the crossroads of many maritime
routes in the Pacific Ocean, has embraced
the foods of several countries. A Chinese
princess and her entourage may have
brought the first noodle soups to Malaysia
from mainland China. But over the years,
Nyonya cuisine, a combination of Chi-
nese and Malay cuisine, has evolved into a
distinct melting pot of flavors.