Today’s post is by Culture with Travel East Coast Correspondent, Brian Cicioni, who writes I May Roam.
Four countries border Thailand: Cambodia to the East, Malaysia to the South, Myanmar (Burma) to the West and Laos to the North. While Thai food seems to be everywhere in New York City, Manhattan also has Cambodian (Khmer), Laotian and Malaysian restaurants.
CAMBODIA: ANGKOR CAMBODIAN BISTRO (UPPER EAST SIDE)
When you enter Angkor Cambodian Bistro, you’ll be greeted by a long-lobed Buddha head. The inside is elegantly decorated with low lights. The exposed brick walls are adorned with paintings of the former Khmer empire like Angkor Thom. If low light is not your thing, there is also outside seating. After dining, you may want to go shopping for elephant and Buddha head pillows!
After fleeing Phnom Penh in 1975, chef Minh Truong lived in Vietnam and then Thailand before moving to the United States in the early 1980s. Some of the items on the menu are from neighboring countries, but the majority are Khmer. Cambodian staples like amok and beef salad will be recognizable to anyone who has visited the motherland or even South Philadelphia. Khmer cuisine is generally less spicy than that of neighboring Thailand or Laos.
LAOS: KHE-YO (TRIBECA)
Khe-Yo is New York’s first Laotian eatery. Most dishes are spicy, but traditional sticky rice can tame the spice levels. The menu is fairly simple. Executive chef Soulayphet Schwader has certainly added his own touch to each dish on the menu. He urges diners to eat with their hands, but utensils are provided.
Neither the inside nor the outside make it apparent that you are in New York’s only Laotian restaurant. You’ll be able to easily share dishes – they lean more towards meat than fish. Laos is, after all, a landlocked country.
MALAYSIA: WEST NEW MALAYSIA (CHINATOWN)
Hidden in an alleyway between Bowery and Elizabeth Street, West New Malaysia has nearly 250 items on its menu. Although there are some Chinese and Thai dishes, most are Malay. Around half of the items have the “spicy” logo next to them, but the chef is more than happy to dial back the spice to accommodate non-Asians.
If you’ve never had Malaysian food before, roti canai is a very common appetizer. Mee goreng and chow kueh teow are common noodle dishes. New Malaysia also features more than a dozen soups on the menu. I recommend skipping the Wonton soup – which you can get at nearly any Chinese restaurant – and trying the crispy fish head soup instead! If you need some exercise after eating, the pedestrian entrance to the Manhattan Bridge is one block away.
Have you ever been to Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar or Laos? Share your impressions. If you’ve never been, what would you most look forward to?