Rijsttafel Ramblings

Dear Dara answers questions, both asked and unasked, about the foods you seek

But did they have any roti prata? No. Why? Because you ate it all. You did. And by the time I got there, they were all out. So I got to order a beer (thanks to their new beer and wine license) and brood over this dire situation. I ask you: Is this fair? I tell you about the hidden gems, and you go there and gobble up all the treats while I'm just stuck at home, walking in circles, looking for my car keys? It's enough to drive a girl insane. Or, at least to Golden Valley.

Which is exactly where you'll find the Twin Cities' other Malaysian restaurant, Rasa Sayang. Now, this unassuming spot up in the northernmost reaches of Golden Valley should be of particular interest to anyone living in north Minneapolis, Plymouth, Crystal, Robbinsdale, or New Hope. Until recently the little spot was a Chinese restaurant, but a new Malaysian cook has brought in a new level of cooking. The roti here, "roti canai" ($3.50), is a small, rich, translucent-fried pancake served with a potent, sweet, and turmeric-laced curry sauce for dipping--with the intense, fried roti and thin, concentrated curry, it's almost like a roti fritter with dipping sauce, less like French fries and gravy than tempura and dunking broth. The Nasi Lemak ($8.95) is the best thing I've had at this sleepy restaurant, which serves beer and wine. Order it and you get what could be called a mini-rijsttafel--a rectangular platter with six mounds of snacks: delicious potato-chicken curry, a little salad of spicy pickles and ground peanuts, a tomato-onion-anchovy relish, sliced cucumbers, sections of hard-cooked egg, and finally a delicious sweet-coconut-milk-infused rice. The gado-gado I tried was lovely too, a deep-fried tofu and shrimp cake on a bed of shredded cucumber and jicama, with a glossy peanut sauce cloaking everything. So there! Now you're up to seven courses, and if that isn't enough of a rijsttafel for you, you'll have to spring for a trip to Madison, or Amsterdam.

Finally, I had hoped to end this column with a little rallying cry for Harry Singh's. Why on earth would I do that? Because Singh hails from Trinidad, and Trinidadian cuisine has many parallels with the big-picture influences found in the cuisine we've been discussing. Like what? Like it's a tropical island where natives, Chinese, and Indians have evolved a totally new cuisine based on elements of their homeland as expressed through local ingredients--though, in this case, with significant African contributions.

And personally, I think a one-to-one comparison between the roti prata at Singapore, and roti canai at Rasa Sayang, and one of the curry rotis from Harry Singh's is about as brainy--and delicious--an intellectual exercise as is possible in this town, since all three dishes evolved from the simple peasant bread "roti" as made in homes throughout India, but the ones at Singapore! and Rasa Sayang are translucent pancakes that are as unlike bread as corn fritters are unlike corn, and the big, fluffy, pillowy discs at Harry Singh's are unique in another way, wrapped around a silky filling of that staple African protein, pigeon peas.

But alas, alack, you can't go to Harry Singh's to try them out, because by the time this hits the streets, Harry's latest restaurant in Uptown will have closed, yet again. Yet again. Is this how farmers feel about a hailstorm? Every few years, whether you want it or not?

The good news is, he's not closing for good, but simply relocating into the sweet heat of Eat Street--I can't say where yet, but suffice it to say that somewhere between Quang and 24th Street, sometime this fall, we are going to see another showcase for Harry's beloved Trini cuisine. Until then, please know that the former Uptown spot is going to be home to the second Burrito Loco, a locally grown burrito spot brought to you by young brothers Greg and John Pillsbury, who are no relation to those Pillsburys, and that is why they have to hustle their butts off, and so they promise to be open till three o'clock in the morning, every morning! And they say they will deliver to you, till three. So all you Burgundy-swilling, hydroponic-profligate Lake Calhoun gold-coasters can stop driving your Range Rovers into your Explorers during late-night Lunds runs, because finally, finally someone besides Pizza Lucé is volunteering to bring your snacks to you. Snacks like both the regular sorts of burritos and the new sorts of bar-fusion hybrids, like buffalo-chicken burritos.

And now I ask you: If we have these old European Empire-created melting woks here, today, in 2003, scattered around the Twin Cities, a northern mill town about as far from the Sun Not Setting on the British Empire as you can get in both time and space, well, I ask you this: Have you written your will yet?

Because I would really appreciate it if you could write in some kind of stipulation whereby your great-great-great-grandchildren contact me by Ouija board, because I have this sneaking suspicion that what we will have is Burrito Loco's buffalo-chicken, as a roti-sushi-cube on Base Station 9 over the Krylon Sea. I mean, when you look at everything you know about people and everything you know about these various curry rotis in the Twin Cities, don't you just know that the future holds nothing but melting woks in space?

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