Secret Recipe: A Good, Not Great, Find
In a Search for Malaysian Food in DFW
Malaysia is a country of vast and diverse cultures, all marrying to create one united cuisine. The nation's food borrows and combines elements of Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, Filipino, and Indian menus, creating a robust flavor profile. The use of spices is generous, and fat is celebrated. Malaysian food offers myriad bold tastes, and the menu is dense with curries, meats and noodles. While there are features of healthy items like sautéed greens and steamed fish, most dishes lean towards the heavier side.
Secret Recipe's Hainanese-style roasted chicken
My love affair began when I was traveling through Asia post-college. When I ate my first Malaysian meal, it tasted like something I'd had before, yet was unlike anything else I'd ever eaten. The dishes and flavors seemed familiar, but there was a different personal touch to each item. My fondness of the cuisine most likely stemmed from my affinity for sweetness. Everything from curries to roti tastes sweeter. The heavy use of coconut milk has much to do with it. There's still the heat associated with Indian or Thai cuisine, but the punch isn't as overbearing.
When I returned to Texas, there still wasn't much Malaysian to be found during that time. While on a visit to Houston a few years ago, my cousin introduced me to the excellent Malaysian restaurant, Banana Leaf. Back in Dallas, I searched for an equivalent, but was met with barren results. Recently, however, I'd heard some rumblings of a developing Malaysian food scene in certain suburbs in Dallas. As of last week, I learned of Plano's Blue Ginger Garden from Airon Peralta at the website Made with Air. While it's definitely now on my "to-eat" list, there was another restaurant I had to visit first.
Secret Recipe in Carrollton has been on my radar for quite some time, but I could never make the commitment to driving 20 plus miles from my apartment to the restaurant. The restaurant's name didn't help, motivationally speaking. There also was always some confusion on my part on whether Secret Recipe was a true Malaysian restaurant or if it was -- as the restaurant self-labels -- an "Asian bistro." On New Year's Day, I decided to take the plunge and find out once and for all.
Contrary to some Yelp posts I read, the restaurant offers their separate Malaysian menu daily, not just on the weekends. Yes, Secret Recipe has two separate menus. Asian fusion dominates the main menu while a second menu is entirely dedicated to Malaysian fare. Although some things on the main menu (Mandarin ribs) looked tempting, ultimately I eschewed the spring rolls and sesame chickens and stuck to the impressively comprehensive Malaysian options.
Many items are listed by their Malaysian names and with no description, so pictures on the menu, as well as recommendations from the staff, are helpful. The setting is casual, which is reflected in the prices. Orders are placed at the counter, but the food is brought out to your table. The afternoon's diverse crowd of diners -- from Indian families to Malay-Chinese families -- was representative of the eclectic nature of Malaysian cuisine. The best of many culinary worlds appear on the menu. Stewed vinaigrette pork is similar to Filipino adobo. Flat noodles are representative of Cantonese cuisine. Of course, there are the curries and roti, but the best of all is Hainanese chicken and rice.
Hainanese chicken and rice originates from the southern Chinese province of Hainan, and although it can be found everywhere from Singapore to Vietnam, it is very closely associated with Malaysian cuisine. It's an immensely popular dish of chicken boiled in various stocks, served up with rice that is cooked in a fatty chicken stock. Depending on the country, accompanying sauces can vary from the requisite plain old soy sauce to salt, pepper and lime mixtures.