"Even our tea and coffee is imported from Malaysia,” Kesh Dhami, the general manager for PappaRich U.S.A. told me over lunch in the bright airy dining room of the Malaysian chain’s first New York City location, which opened a month ago in Flushing’s One Fulton Square mixed-use development. Like many things that tea becomes part of the spectacle in PappaRich’s open kitchen. Teh tarik, or pulled tea, the signature drink of Malaysia is made by pouring or pulling them from one container to another. Once the tea’s brewed the tea man pours it back and forth from a great height stretching his arms wide. It’s possible to build up quite a thirst watching the arc of steaming amber liquid.
Dining at PappaRich
Another part of the show at the newly opened Malaysian specialist whose dining room overlooks downtown Flushing is the making of roti, the many-layered Indian-influenced flatbread. The roti man, who flips and twists sheets of dough until they are paper thin is the first thing you see when entering the restaurant. Roti canai, a classic preparation served with curry chicken, daal, and curry sauce is a favorite. The roti selection goes well beyond the roti canai, with more than a half-dozen varieties, including roti bom, a thick sweet version served with condensed milk and sugar.
“I’m quite sure we’re the only ones making roti canai fresh,” Kesh said. “Everybody else buys the frozen bread and throws it on a hot plate and serves it to you but we don’t do that.” Moments before I’d watch the roti man prepare a roti telur bawang, layered with egg and onion. The wedges of slightly sweet eggy bread were a perfect vehicle for the accompanying beef rendang. I was particularly impressed by the inclusion of whole cardamom pods in the complex curry sauce that hums with just enough heat.
“A curry cooked by a Malaysian Chinese chef is different than if you go to a Chinese restaurant,” Kesh said. “I want my whole tongue to be dancing each time I have Malaysian food it’s a mouthful of flavors.” And the architect of those flavors is one Sifu Kwai Soo a master chef who’s been cooking Malaysian cuisine for 40 years. “What we do that is different from a lot of Malaysian restaurants even in Flushing is we make everything fresh,” Kesh said. “We have our secret ingredients and recipes. They are authentic recipes created by Sifu.”
When asked through a translator about his favorite dish to prepare Sifu Soo didn’t hesitate to respond with char kway teow. PappaRich’s version of the classic Malaysian stir-fry of flat noodles is crowned with plump prawns and shot through with egg and garlic chives. A mounting heat that seems to come from invisible hot peppers suffuses the tangle of chewy ribbons. At the bottom of the nest of noodles find several broad slices of fish cake fanned out.
Those fish cakes also play a role in PappaRich’s curry laksa, a classic Malaysian comfort food singing with the flavors of chili and coconut. Chicken, tofu puffs, bean sprouts, and eggplant join the fishcakes along with springy yellow egg noodles and thin strands of rice vermicelli. Twin cylinders of fried beancurd skin that jut out of the rich spicy broth. The crunchy rollups are lovely to eat on their own and also do a great job of soaking up the broth. The restaurant also serves assam laksa, a sour fish soup with broad noodles, pineapple, tamarind, and ginger flowers imported from Southeast Asia.
“When I was in Malaysia we had many meals at PappaRich,” says Cissy Tan who along with her husband, Daniel, and PappaRich USA own the Flushing store. “Me and my kids and my husband liked it so much we thought that it was a great idea to bring it back here to New York City.”
One of my favorite things about Malaysian cuisine are the desserts, which are a lovely way to cool off after the chili heat. PappaRich’s cendol, a dish that reflects the cuisine’s Indonesian influences didn’t disappoint. A mound of sweetened shaved ice topped with green squiggles infused with the scent of pandan is ringed by red beans and other goodies. Along with a cup of white coffee, it’s a great way to cap a meal at Flushing’s newest Malaysian eatery.
Getting there: PappaRich is located at 39-16 Prince Street in the One Fulton Square complex, a short walk from the Main Street stops on the 7 train.