Now that it’s made the trek north to the Upper West Side, it’s become one of our two favorite Asian restaurants. It’s a funky place born of owner Zak Pelaccio’s love affair with Malaysian cooking following a stint cooking and eating in Kuala Lumpur.
I’d never had Malaysian food ‘til Fatty Crab arrived on Broadway. Like Malaysia’s population, it’s a mix of Chinese, Indian, and native Malay flavors. And while it has a reputation for spicy and hot, there’s an overlay of sweetness to a lot of what we’ve sampled at Fatty Crab.
The restaurant serves Malaysian street food in an atmosphere that imitates that influence. It’s loud and low down and the servers have a surfer dude look that's disarming until you discover how efficient they are. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that every one of them had just come back from backpacking around Asia.
The open kitchen lets you in on another secret. It’s full of western cooks who are no less funky than the waitstaff. Sitting at the bar, it’s easy to imagine sitting in some dive on Jalan Alor for which the grilled chicken wings are named.
Jalan Alor is a food haven in Kuala Lampur, a downtown street that was once a red-light district but is now home to the kind of food Fatty Crab does brilliantly. Small plates of finger food. And I do mean finger food.
If you want a fork or knife, you’ll have to ask for one. You get a big spoon instead. Our bartender told us we were supposed to eat with our fingers. That worked well with the Jalan Alor wings and the Fatty Tea Sandwiches but was a little dicier with the Fatty duck and the Green Mango Salad. But I would find a way to eat Nasi Goreng if they tied my hands behind my back.
Nasi Goreng, my dear Malaysian friend Ann Lee tells me, means nothing more than Fried Rice. But this is the most glorious fried rice I have ever eaten anywhere in my life. Chinese Fried Rice is doomed for obscurity once you’ve tasted Fatty Crab’s version. That brick of rice and reddened pork that comes out of the takeout container in one piece will never live up to the glory of Nasi Goreng. Of course, I couldn’t wait to make it.
As it turns out, true to my friend Ann’s word, there are about as many recipes for Nasi Goreng as there are cooks in Malaysia. Ann tells me that it was a breakfast dish in her home, a way to use the leftover rice from the night before and virtually anything else you wanted to incorporate – bits of chicken, fish, shrimp, beef, you name it. The underlying flavor was the key for me and the freedom to incorporate just about anything I wanted to was icing on the cake.
I pulled any number of recipes from the Internet. I chose one from http://www.rasamalaysia.com/, a spectacularly good site with a huge and well-deserved following. It seemed to contain everything I remembered tasting at Fatty Crab. It’s the purist’s version and meatless at that. But I incorporated shrimp and it makes a terrific one dish meal.
The key to making this dish is unquestionably Kicap Manis, sometimes described as the ketchup of Malaysia. In reality, Kicap Manis is sweet soy sauce. I have been shopping in Chinatown recently for all kinds of condiments and ingredients I either can’t get uptown or which are so much less expensive there, they more than pay for the trip back and forth. Kicap Manis falls into the I-can’t-get-that-uptown category. It may even be hard to find in Asian markets but you can order it on-line. http://www.indokiosk.com/ sells it at $3.99 for a 33 ounce bottle.
Now I hate to ask you to wait until it arrives but it’s truly the only ingredient that is consistently found in every recipe for Nasi Goreng and I doubt it would be the same without it. While you’re ordering your kicap, you could also order shrimp paste ($ 2.99). So bookmark this page, go get your Kicap Manis and hurry back to cook this:
Recipe for Nasi Goreng with Shrimp
1/4 tsp. Salt
1/3 cup Canola Oil
6 cloves finely chopped Garlic
1 large, finely chopped white Onion
2 seeded and finely chopped red chilies
2 tsp. shrimp paste
2 tsp. coriander seeds
1 teaspoon sugar
16 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cups long grain rice cooked and cooled
4 tbsp. kicap manis (Sweet Soy Sauce)
2 tbsp. Light Soy Sauce
8 finely chopped scallions, white and green parts.
½ head of iceberg lettuce, finely shredded.
1 thinly sliced cucumber
6 tbsp. crispy fried shallots*
1. Combine the garlic, onion, shrimp paste, coriander and sugar in the food processor and process until a paste is formed.
2. Heat 1 to 2 tbsps. Oil in a wok or large, deep frying pan. Add the paste and cook over high heat for 1 minute or until fragrant.
3. Add the shrimp and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes or until they are just pink.
4. Add the rest of the oil and the cold rice to the wok or pan. Stir-fry, breaking up any lumps, until the rice is heated through.**
5. Add the Kicap Manis, soy sauce, scallions and stir-fry another minute.
6. Simultaneously, fry the eggs in a non-stick pan brushed with a little oil, flipping once. Remove from heat.
7. Arrange the shredded lettuce around the outside of a large platter. Place the rice in the center and garnish with the fried eggs, the cucumber slices and the fried scallions.
8. Serve at once. Serves 4.
Below, a shot of Jalan Alor Chicken Wings
Coming soon...I just haven't nailed the recipe yet!
* I have found fried shallots in a jar in Chinatown with the brand name “Maesri” but they were not on offer at http://www.indokiosk.com/, perhaps because they’re Thai. They’re the Durkee’s of Asia and delicious. If you can find them, by all means use them. But if not, slice two shallots 1/8 inch thick, quick fry them in a little oil and use as a topping for your Nasi Goreng.
** Since we rarely have much leftover rice in our house, I make 3 cups of Jasmine rice, cool it and use it in this recipe. This, obviously, should be done in advance of the rest of the cooking.
Fatty Crab Menu Suggestions:
Fatty Crab’s Fatty Tea Sandwiches fall into the ‘which of these are not like the others’ category. They’re positively dainty compared to everything else. Not that there’s anything wrong with them…there are just more interesting things on the menu. The Fatty Sliders are spicy bites of heaven, the Jalan Alor Chicken Wings are excellent. Watermelon Pickle and Crispy Pork, Fatty Duck and Nasi Lemok Claypot all do Malaysia proud. And you can likely get in and out of Fatty Crab for about $35.00 a person with a drink.