Seri Malaysia – Vancouver, BC


Seri Malaysia
2327 Hastings Street East
Vancouver, BC V5L 1V6
(604) 677-7555

Seri Malaysia on Urbanspoon

plate_seri

When eating at an ethnic restaurant anywhere in town, I often ponder the authenticity of the food being served. Vancouver diners  often get shortchanged in this department – certain cuisines (think sushi) being served by untrained “chefs”, unsuccessful re-interpretations of regionalized cooking (think “Szechuan”), classics of a cuisine automatically “dumbed down” with prejudice for fear of offending unadventurous  tastes…I could go on.

In order judge the “authenticity” of a restaurant, I often have to rely on my experience in that particular cuisine gained from my travels, or from my attempts at cooking it, or sometimes through some sort of intuitive gustatory extrapolation. Still – on cuisines where I have little experience,  I wonder whether a dish I am currently enjoying is an exemplary example….and I reassure myself that if I’m liking what I’m eating, that’s all that really matters. The food of Southeast Asia is something I know quite a lot about – experience I gained when lived in that part of the world….so I know almost instantly whether a dish is hitting its target in terms of authenticity.
outside_seri

Seri Malaysia is a non-descript Halal Malaysian restaurant on Vancouver’s East Hastings St. The restaurant, like its Hastings St environs, is a little run down. It could use a paint job, the awning needs a wash, and the decor needs some re-thinking.  The ambiance, however, is not why I keep returning here – I come for the food.
inside_seri

I know a little about this place from my casual chats with the chef/owner Jamal. Chef Jamal used to co-own the original Kedah House…which, at one time, was the only Malaysian restaurant in Vancouver with honest-to-goodness Malaysian cooks. Having a Malaysian cook is still a rare occurrence here in town – the most popular Malaysian restaurants in Vancouver are known to have Chinese cooks. (Sometimes, it really does make a difference.)

rendang2_seri

Much of Malaysian food is bold in flavour – often pungent and unsubtle. It uses a lot of curry spices, strongly flavoured and scented botanicals (lemongrass,  galangal, and so forth) and fermented seafood (for example: belacan – a dried fermented shrimp paste, and ikan bilis – dried anchovies). Seri Malaysia serves what I believe to be the most authentic examples of some of the  classic Malay  dishes here in town (with a disclaimer that  like most countries in the Straits – the cuisine is highly regional and does vary significantly).

As if to validate my assessment of the food here – on my most recent visit here a couple of days ago, none other than the Consul General of Malaysia came in to dine with some compatriots a couple of tables away. I had a quick chat with these gentlemen on my way out.  I understand that the Consulate regularly orders the Rendang and other items here from here in bulk whenever they have official banquets.

rendang_seri

The Beef Rendang (a dish of Indonesian origins) is delicious – tender beef with strong hints of lemongrass (you can see the lemon grass fibers in the  sauce). I’m not sure what cut of beef was used to prepare this one – probably chuck or something similar. A more celebratory rendition would use the meat from short ribs or shank. Rendang takes hours to cook properly…and it gets better with age.

chicken_curry_seri

I also ordered the Chicken Curry which is traditionally prepared in coconut milk. It was well seasoned and tender, though perhaps a little toned down in chili heat today.  You can always order one of the three or four kinds Chili Sambal to adjust the heat. The curry wasn’t an exemplary dish, but it was still very good. The Roti Canai (the Malaysian rendition of an Indian flatbread) was nice and flakey (almost croissant-like) and not at all oily ( a common misstep in its preparation). The Roti was perhaps not the best one I have had in town, nonetheless, it was a perfect vehicle for the curry sauce.

roti3_seri

Chefs who serve me food “the way it should taste”…whatever that means to them…have my admiration. It is an indication to me that they have respect for their diners – they make no assumptions and they will ask you questions about your preferences. Vancouver is a town full of adventurous diners…yet I fear for this place and other restaurants like it.  Chef Jamal has indicated to me that it is a struggle for him at this location (he often runs the entire show by himself- he is the waiter, cook, dishwasher, and host – it really shows when the place is busy). He has, in fact, considered throwing in the towel on occasion (I sure hope he doesn’t any time soon) and he is on the lookout for a better location.

If you are on East Hastings Sunrise area and you are a little peckish, check this place out. They have inexpensive lunch specials (under $7), but I think it is worth it to order from the full menu.

Seri Malaysia on Urbanspoon

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17 thoughts on “Seri Malaysia – Vancouver, BC

  1. They don’t have a true Penang Laksa (which requires “ginger” flowers for its preparation and are nearly impossible to get here.)

    He does have a seafood laksa which has mackarel – my guess is the flavours will be close to true Penang Laksa assuming it doesn’t use coconut milk. I will now make sure to try it. I will report back when I do.

  2. “Still – on cuisines where I have little experience, I wonder whether a dish I am currently enjoying is an exemplary example….and I reassure myself that if I’m liking what I’m eating, that’s all that really matters.”

    Well said – I often feel the very same way. With so many barriers or intangible factors that hinder getting true authenticity in many cases, its the best we can hope for.

  3. Just a follow-up of bruleeblog’s question about Penang Laksa at Seri Malaysia. (I had lunch there today with my family). No they do not have it. He does serve any Laksa at all, actually.

  4. Good review of this place. I’ve been wondering about them for a while and will most def make a trek there for dinner one day. I love to support hole in the wall places with authentic food and with closures of Orchid Delight and Prima Taste, I need to find my next Malaysia/Singapore food fix!

  5. @bruleeblog:
    He told me that he doesn’t even attempt to make it because ginger flowers are impossible to get here, and to do a Penang Laksa “properly” you have to debone the fish by hand (too time consuming for a one-man operation like Seri.). Many places just put the whole fish in a blender, apparently.

  6. Yeah I figured it was something like that. I was showing someone a photo of ginger flowers the other day and they were surprised – “Really? They’re actually flowers? Not just ginger root?”

  7. @shokutsu
    (if I may…)
    I would hazard a couple of guesses on why Prima closed:

    -native Singaporeans looked down upon the chain (because they use their packaged mixes and pastes – it’s sort of like Aunt Jemima opening a pancake house here, I suppose). Despite this, I like the food at PS…and some Singaporeans that I know are impressed with the flavours and relative authenticity…they still preferred it over a place like Mui Garden, etc.

    -It was trying to “upscale” Asian street food – a real art form around these parts. Not many places have been able to do this successfully.

    -Singapore/Malaysian food is still a little outside of the box for the downtown office crowd where places like the Keg, Earls and Cactus Club reign supreme.

    -The are located in one of the most expensive places in the world to operate a restaurant business.

    The San Jose location is still open, but I hear it too is suffering. (I believe that PS here and in SJ are both franchise locations and not corporate locations.)

  8. There is a new place in Surrey “Taste of Singapore” restaurant. very authentic food great prices. The restaurant itself seems to be very new with a great decor. Food in my opinion is excellent…..mmmm beef rendang.

  9. jamal has done well despite being always shorthanded. I would suggest a big investor help him with the decor, etc… surely the place will spruce up…

  10. He is a very hardworking man. He moves like the wind during lunch hours. I have seen him in action – by himself – in a nearly full restaurant.

  11. My wife is Malaysian, from Ipoh, she loves the food there, in fact we are getting some tonite. Best Redong I have had here.

    Actually the décor and the service is absolutely authentic Malay, the table cloths, the water jugs are all very typical. The service a bit slow, disorganized and indifferent is also true to Malay roots. Combined with their frank discussions of what’s happening in the restaurant and the smiles and chats to our kids, this is true kampung Malaysia, except for the prices.

  12. I just wish he would change his doorbell! I should have mentioned cash only and he does take out as well, a good options when the kids are cranky and the wife is craving Malay food.

  13. Love your blog! Wondering if you know what Chef Jamal is up to now or whether you can recommend another authentic Malaysian restaurant in the Lower Mainland now that this place has closed?

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