100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 12, Curry Noodle Soup at Mamak Malaysian
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg The curry noodle soup at Mamak is far more complex than the name suggests.
The menu at Mamak Malaysian Restaurant is absolutely sprawling. Unless you have a clear idea of what you want to eat when you arrive, it can be difficult to navigate, which is why I was glad to have a tour guide when I reviewed the place back in December. My friend sat down and got straight to ordering a number of Mamak's greatest hits, including a dish that is now my go-to entrée when I dine at the Malaysian restaurant: Curry Noodle Soup.
The name really doesn't tell you much, which is why I'm glad someone else told me to order it. I probably wouldn't have, on my own, chosen something so innocuous sounding as curry noodle soup at a restaurant that also served fried pig intestines. But though it sounds simple, the soup is deceptively complex.
It's anchored by a sweet and spicy yellow curry broth with big, beautiful rounds of bright orange chili oil swimming on top. The soup contains thick, chewy noodles, chunks of fluffy fried tofu, slivers of soft eggplant, green bell peppers stuffed with ground pork and my favorite component, crispy tofu skins.
I didn't know what tofu skin was before eating this soup, but now I'm determined to order it any and every time I see it on a menu. It's made by boiling soy milk, letting it cool slightly and waiting for a film to form on the surface, much like what happens to regular cow's milk when it's heated and cooled. The layer of solid tofu is then allowed to dry and, in the case of the soup at Mamak, later fried. It's crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, and when it soaks in the spicy golden curry broth it takes on some of that flavor as well.
The broth is very complex, and the influence of Thai cuisine on this Malaysian dish is abundantly clear. It's sweet, thanks to the coconut milk base, and spicy from the mixture of lemongrass, coriander, cumin, ginger, citrus and yellow chiles, all of which are enhanced by a splash of salty fish sauce.
Every time I order this dish, I start eating it gracefully, as one should eat soup. A spoonfull of broth here, a few noodles grabbed by chopstick there. By the end, I'm holding the bowl up to my mouth and slurping, unconcerned about any judgmental glares aimed my way. The alluring blend of curry spices, coconut milk and crispy tofu is just too strong to resist.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.