Special note (3/25/10): Malay Satay Hut, one of my top picks since I moved to Seattle in 1999, has been increasingly disappointing of late, and I have removed it from my list of favorite restaurants in the Seattle area. Last weekend, the food was flat. (Decent, to be sure, but not nearly as special as it once was.) This has been the trend, along with increased prices and diminished portion sizes. Most frustrating, the much-beloved baby squids have been AWOL recently, replaced with inferior squid steaks that the owner told me “are easier to cook.” Gone, also, are the long lines that I happily endured years ago. I hope that the restaurant can somehow rebound and return to its glory days.
We usually run from restaurants that have pictures on the menu. They remind us of steakhouse chains from our childhoods or Chinese takeout places where the food tastes like the box in which it’s packaged. But we find endless delight in staring at Malay Satay Hut’s full-color menu. If we could resist distraction, we’d laminate our takeout copy and hang it on the wall.
Explore the whole menu. Everything’s great, except for dessert, which we forgo. (If you want something sweet, a friend who’s a self-admitted spicy food wimp finds Nirvanic relief in an avocado shake.)
Start with the roti canai. Just order it. Look around and it seems everyone starts their meal with this wonder: a soft but crispy Indian fry bread, accompanied by an addictive curry dipping sauce that goes from sweet to hot in your mouth. Pillowy and perfect, roti canai is our idea of comfort food.
And be sure to get a vegetable dish, like the belachan string beans (the okra is also a good option). Vegetarians beware: as in much Southeast Asian cooking, the mouth-feel and fat of a little seafood or meat enhance the taste of the vegetables. Belachan preparation means stir-fried with shrimp paste (don’t try this at home if you fear an everlasting pungent odor), and some prawns provide a nice balance to the beans.
Dishin’ is having an unusually difficult time picking just one dish this time, and we have two recommendations for entrees. Malaysian Chinese pork chops always make it to our table. Don’t let their apparent simplicity fool you. One bite and you’ll marvel at the complexity of the sweet and yet seductively spiced chops, which are perfectly crisped but still tender, and appropriately garnished with fresh cilantro leaves. Toss your chopsticks. This is meat and bones, so don’t be afraid to eat with your hands—finger-licking good!
For you adventurous foodies: Check out the specials board. This is how we discovered baby squids. Order them as you wish; we like dry curry—perhaps our favorite dish of the restaurant. Squeamish about squid? These miniature versions are delectable, quickly stir-fried to a pleasing tenderness in a curry sauce that our friends frequently describe as intoxicating.
For taste and value, Malay Satay Hut is the jewel of the International District—and maybe all of Seattle. We call it Wild Ginger at one-third the price (and maybe one-third the atmosphere, which is fine by us) and three times the authenticity.
Originally posted at Seattlest (where “we” = me) on February 23, 2007. I couldn’t resist adding a few more photos here (in addition to the baby squid and the pork chops, you can see Singapore noodles, okra, eggplant and mango chicken), and will need to go back to get more (and better) photos sometime soon.