CHICKEN SKEWERS: With a light marinade and an excellent peanut sauce for dipping, they’re the perfect appetizer for those new to Malaysian food.
I’m not an enthusiast of fusion food, but I do like the cuisine of Malaysia, where history has developed a four-way fusion cuisine. The original Malay curries and satays, which are like those of Indonesia, have been overlaid with Chinese, South Indian, and a few Thai tastes. Bubor Cha Cha, named for a Malaysian dessert, is the third such restaurant in Chinatown, and though it cuts a few corners as it slaloms through an immensely long menu, you can eat very well here. (The décor is also fusion — fake Trader Vic meets plasma TVs tuned to CNN.)
|Bubor Cha Cha | 45 Beach Street, Boston | 617.482.3338 | Open daily, 11 am–2 am | MC, VI | No liquor | Discounted parking in shopper’s garage | Sidewalk-level access|
It’s hard to pick a bad appetizer. Right on top is roti canai ($4.95), a large rubbery pancake to rip into pieces and dip into a small bowl of dry-spicy chicken curry. This restaurant has refined the curry by using boneless pieces of chicken, which makes it easier to eat without losing any flavor. Next item: roti telur ($6.95), featuring the same dip with a stuffed pancake (which can be greasy) filled with onions and a few green chilies. Skip down a little for six chicken or beef skewers ($7.50). The meats aren’t marinated as much as elsewhere, but given the excellent peanut sauce, that may be a plus for mixed parties, in which some people aren’t sure about Malaysian food.
Another safe appetizer is ayam pandan ($7.95), possibly the original fried chicken wings, since chickens may have been domesticated in Southeast Asia. Despite this long history, the wings are just poached and fried with a little spice, and tied prettily with a pandan leaf that might have lent an exotic aroma, but doesn’t. It’s served with a peppery dip. Achat ($4.95) is a lightly pickled salad of cabbage, carrots, and cucumber with ground peanuts, which I found delightfully refreshing.
The challenging flavors for outsiders are shrimp-chili paste, which our party passed up, and durian fruit, offered as an appetizer pancake ($8.95). My experience with durian is that it is best eaten by itself, and in some isolation. It’s a smells-horrid/tastes-nice fruit that doesn’t lend itself to recipes, since the aroma persists and the custard texture of the raw fruit gets lost. The shrimp paste tends to work best for me when it has more chili, which balances the off-putting shrimp aroma.
Our risk-takers focused on the three frog dishes, and went for “Frog Delight” ($16.95): frog legs hacked up and fried, then sautéed with ginger and scallion and served in a hot pot. If you can get past your prejudices, it is rather delightful that way.