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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Curry Mee at Singapore Malaysian: Is the Perfect the Enemy of the Slurpable?

Posted By on Thu, Jan 7, 2010 at 12:54 PM

click to enlarge Nonya enough? - EATING IN TRANSLATION/FLICKR
Curry mee is a delicious dish with a great name. When you're settling into a table at Singapore Malaysian (836 Clement at Ninth Ave.), ravenous enough to chew on the menu, it's quite fun to say, or, ideally, howl, spoon and fork already in hand, mouth gaping like a cartoon character's, extending the "ee" for as long as your dining companions will permit: "Curry meeeeee, please". Back in 2006, then-Weekly critic Robert Lauriston lauded this thick coconut curry soup ("packed with fried tofu, sliced chicken, shrimp, al dente green beans, bean sprouts, hard-boiled eggs, and so many wheat noodles ... that it's almost more of a noodle dish than a soup") as "a winner."

After a visit last week, we're applauding, too. However, Lauriston took issue with some of the Richmond District restaurant's other dishes ― Malay beef stew, Hainan chicken and rice, and nasi lemak, the traditional Malay breakfast, among others ― because they deviated from the Nonya-style preparations he'd had elsewhere, and hoped to rediscover there.

But culinary traditions, particularly ones founded via fusion, tend to be big tents, accommodating a wide spectrum of variations. Singapore Malaysian probably doesn't serve what you'd eat everywhere in Singapore, but it does serve what you'd eat somewhere in Singapore, or what some people with ties to Singapore decided to cook here in San Francisco.

Imagine it's 2065. A Bay Area expat operates a cute retro cafe in Obamapolis, on the Moon's increasingly gentrified near side. She transplanted to the lunar plains 10 years earlier, to cater to the flood of tourists, business travelers, and scientists taking up residence. On the menu, she's offering beets (let's say they're local) in a salad. After a lifetime spent searching for space on Earth, we've decided to literally retire there, and we hobble in, crotchety, racked with gout, and order it, hoping for a taste of the California we remember from back in the mid-late '00s. The beets arrive, sliced chioggas, crowned with scattered moon nuts and rounds of moon cheese ― and even though we like it well enough, we write a review for The Moon Monitor reminding everyone that traditionally beets were served with walnuts and goat cheese at Bay Area restaurants in the mid-late '00s. Beets and walnuts and cheese: They were like Forrest and Jenny, we say over and over, and no one really cares, because everyone's eating beets with moon cheese now, and no one remembers that movie but us.

What we're saying is that food traditions change from place to place, and what's inauthentic in one place may become less so in another. Anyway, we'd rather stand on a soup box than a soapbox. We went last week, and the curry killed us.

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