Got a hankering for some cool new fusion? As always, Portland is the place to go. The latest addition to the Piknik Park food cart pod, Straits Kitchen, is the first of its kind in the area. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Straits Chinese — also known as Baba-Nyonya — cuisine, it’s a melt-in-your-mouth mélange of Malaysian and Chinese culinary traditions. The food at Straits Kitchen is primarily influenced by the Baba-Nyonya cooking found along the western coast of Malaysia, specifically in the cities of Malacca and Penang. Matthew Korfhage of the Willamette Weekly, who was captivated by this unique cuisine while visiting Singapore, wasted no time sampling what Straits had to offer.
According to Korfhage, Straits’ signature dish is the laksa lemak noodle bowl ($10). This curry-based concoction consists of an intricate mix of spices which are fried and then mixed with coconut milk and chicken broth. Its warm and savory sweetness is tempered by an edgy touch of tart. Korfhage’s favorite dish, though, is the inche kabin, a jazzed-up version of popcorn chicken whose “bright heat” is balanced with a soy-lime dipping sauce. Korfhage’s final recommendation is the pong teh rice bowl ($8). This pork and potato stew may lull your taste buds into a false sense of security — until they encounter the side of sambal belachan, a pungent chili condiment that’s spicy, sour and a little sweet.
Personally, I think the fried Brussels sprouts will be my first taste of Straits Chinese cuisine. It’s described as deep-fried and tossed in a soy-lime sauce, with peanuts, cilantro, green onion and jalapeno. They had me at deep-fried. And it’s even recommended for people who don’t like Brussels sprouts (which I do). They can also add some of their tender pulled pork into the mix to create a great paleo bowl for the caveman-diet diners here in Portland.
Needless to say, I’m glad I’m only a hop, skip and jump away from this exotic cuisine, which I admittedly had never heard of before now. On to more tasty new adventures!