I've been wanting to experiment with Southeast Asian cuisine for a while. We have plenty of Vietnamese and Thai restaurants in San Francisco, a few Burmese, one Singaporean, and one Indonesian (that I know of) but I don't know of any Malaysian restaurants. The trouble with eating at places like these is, if you haven't already traveled to these countries or eaten food prepared by natives of these cultures, how do you know what you are getting in a restaurant in America is authentic? How do you know it hasn't been "dumbed down" for American palates? I used to have a Singaporean roommate and was so spoiled by her home cooking. When a new Singaporean restaurant opened near my office, I promptly tried it out, and discovered that their food wasn't as good as my roommates'.
Looking up recipes and cooking them yourself presents another set of challenges. There are often unfamiliar ingredients that are difficult to find. Spices and ingredients that you haven't tasted before and cooking techniques you aren't familiar with leave you with feelings of, "Did I do this right? and "Is it supposed to taste this way?"
When I made this dish, I had a very difficult time finding the taucheo (fermented yellow bean paste.) I showed the written name in English to the Thai guy at the Southeast Asian market I went to, and he gave me a jar of yellow bean paste saying, "this isn't exactly the same thing but its very similar." Same thing with the dried red peppers. I found a bag of dried red peppers on a dusty shelf in the same Southeast Asian market, but was it the right kind of red pepper? I'll never know.
The result was that when I made the dish, my boyfriend said, "well, it looks a lot like the picture on the recipe." We both enjoyed eating it - it was delicious! - but we have no idea whether I made it right! Such is the challenge that lies in cooking obscure dishes from faraway, exotic lands. Anyway, this was not super-spicy at all. It was very yummy, and I made it in a wok with cracked & cleaned Dungeness crab.
Get the recipe: Rasa Malaysia Chili Crab
(Image: Kathryn Hill)