I have been back in the States for more than a year now since living in Singapore for a couple of years. It is a tiny, multicultural country located in Southeast Asia. Because of its diverse ethnicities, Malay, Indian and Chinese, the people of this nation fused the flavors of their different cuisines to suit their taste buds. And every now and then, I would miss that tantalizing aroma of chili and curry in the Hawker Center. I would long for the taste of fish sauce and lemon grass. Luckily, I discovered this gem in the heart of Bellaire. Houston's Banana Leaf Restaurant was the answer to my cravings!
Banana Leaf is a mom and pop shop specializing in Malaysian cuisine. The place seemed authentic. To whet my appetite, I ordered the classic Malaysian/Indian appetizer that everyone loves. Roti prata is a delicate Indian pancake that is served with a delectable curry sauce. The pancake is somewhat crispy and versatile that you can ask for different types of meat in it, sweet fruits, or even a fried egg. When it came out, I noticed that the curry sauce was a tad watery than I remember it should be. I dipped a small piece of pancake into the sauce. The flavor was wonderful. I thought that it was a good start!
One of my favorites to eat in Singapore was their charcoal grilled satay. These chicken or beef skewers (or combination if you ask nicely) are perfectly served with a spicy peanut sauce, which, in my opinion, is one of the best sauces on Earth. This dish immediately brought me back to Asia. Everyone should definitely try this because it is such a well-composed dish, street food or not.
For my entree, I opted for the traditional Singaporean laksa noodle soup. Now this isn't some boring, bland chicken noodle soup. No, this is a spicy coconut and lemon grass soup that will make your taste buds explode with an exotic blend of Asian spices. The noodles, along with the chicken, shrimp, pork, and vegetables, is sheer perfection. Just a word of caution, this bowl of soup is rich not only in flavors, but also in cholesterol. So, eat sparingly!
If you don't want a soup, that's perfectly acceptable, because there's plenty of other dishes in the restaurant that are designed to feed each person's individual needs. For example, a classic Singaporean dish is their Hainanese chicken rice. A true clean-cut dish, it's merely steamed chicken served over white rice with the chef's special soy sauce. The secret of this dish is in the rice and unfortunately, I didn't get that Hainanese flavor that I was looking for so I was a bit disappointed.
So if you're brave enough to try the Southeast Asian flavor, you don't have to travel thousands of miles to taste it. Just hop into your car and visit Banana Leaf in the heart of Chinatown. Houston is so lucky to have a restaurant like this, not only because of their delicious food, but because it will one day expose the majority of Houstonians to a different world of gastronomy.
For more about Malaysia and the restaurant...