If you’re a fan of Asian eats, you might be a fan of Chinese, Japanese, Thai or even Laotian cuisine (Bida Manda). But there’s a much broader spectrum of Asian eats given all the countries in the region and one that might have slipped past your foodie radar screen is Malaysian! I’ve only had the chance to try it a handful of times but have always been impressed by the different flavors and ingredients used in the cuisine. And over in Chapel Hill, we may have the only Malaysian restaurant in the area (that I know of), Rasa Malaysia. So on a quiet Friday morning, I hoofed it out to see what they were dishing out!
If you’re familiar with this area of Chapel Hill, you might have known Rasa Malaysia’s predecessor: Merlion. Sitting in this corner of Southern Village I always found it odd that a very ethnic restaurant was located in this very suburban setting. And Rasa Malaysia isn’t really any different. It occupies the same location with the same interior of dark brown and airy whites for the interior. One difference is that the street-facing entrance has been closed, enter through the building foyer to the right. The menu at Rasa Malaysia has definitely taken on a more Malaysian twinge, offering favorites like roti, char kway teow, mee goreng and beef rendang. I decide to go all in on some of the more “exploratory” dishes.
Rasa Malaysia starts off lunch with a small cup of soup. It’s recognizable to me as a simple Chinese soup: Napa cabbage in light chicken broth. Very basic but well done and perfect on a cold afternoon. And then things start to get interesting. My stuffed you tiao (stuffed Chinese cruller) comes to the table as a colorful heap of shredded veggies bathed in a cream sauce. I start scratching my head here, usually Chinese crullers are long, fried pastries and I’m wondering if I ordered the wrong item. A closer look at the menu shows that it’s served with a mango salad and some digging underneath shows off some slice pieces of cruller hidden underneath it all.
So it’s time to dig in! This multi-hued plate has shredded mango, carrot, onion, and cucumber topped with a sweet creamy sauce. The crunchy cruller pieces make for a nice textural and savory contrast to the topping, very different. Again, I think this plate must be pretty Malaysian and a spin off of the “typical Chinese cruller” offering. It tastes of the tropics which makes sense to me.
Next up is my nasi lemak and I had NO idea what to expect other than I understood that it’s a very popular dish in Malaysia. It’s plated beautifully with a variety of colors and textures on the plate. One bowl of coconut rice, some curry chicken, what I think is beef rendang, half a boiled egg, peanuts and sambal ikan bilis (anchovies). Whoa! First time here and yeah, I’m trying to figure things out. The coconut rice is great, perfectly steamed and supple with hints of coconut underneath. Taking a bite of the more savory curried chicken and beef rendang makes for an interesting mouthful with the rice. The anchovies at the bottom of the plate along with the peanuts add some crunch and I’m not sure how the egg fits into this meal! Besides adding some additional protein.
At Rasa Malaysia, there’s one older gentleman running and serving the busy dining room, he’s obviously a pro. And still manages to check in several times to see if I’m enjoying my meal. I can tell you for sure that Rasa Malaysia is the real, authentic ethnic deal. They’re serving up Malaysian cuisine without making too many accommodations for those less familiar with the cuisine. Which is fine by me because I always appreciate authenticity in my food. That being said, you certainly come to Rasa Malaysia with a curious and exploratory mindset and palate, ready to taste some different food. It’s not for everyone but if you enjoy Malaysian eats, I’m pretty sure you’ll love Rasa Malaysia!