Spoiled rotten, that’s what we are. Despite our sublingual climate, living in Houston has its perks when it comes to the culinary department. Tired of Thai? How about Vietnamese? No? Chinese, Japanese, Korean? No? Let’s do Malaysian!
The Banana Leaf is located in a strip center on Bellaire Boulevard, just east of the Beltway. On entry, the interior almost looks too nice to offer anything authentic, with wall mounted digital frames flashing pictures of various dishes and fancy wooden chopsticks, but on the other side of the kitchen’s glass window, things are looking rather serious. Flames shoot up from a hula hoop sized wok and a loud hiss fills the small restaurant that sounds ominously delicious. The menu is huge and daunting. It’s advisable to study it online and extensively research the unknown dishes before attempting to order. Or you could ask the waiters for their suggestions and entrust they won’t let you down, which rarely happens. Being that Malaysian cuisine has been influenced by so many other cultures, the flavors of India, China, Indonesia and Thailand contribute to the Malay recipes.
The appetizer was a good foreshadowing of things to come. We quickly devoured the beautiful stack of taro coated fried shrimp with a lacy thin outer crust. Our entrees followed soon after and the two stars dishes were my shrimp curry, with big fat shrimp and a sauce similar to a Thai yellow curry, but with less heat and more shrimp paste funkiness, and the littlest son’s magnum opus of a dish, the Sarang Burong, which translates to ‘Bird’s Nest’. Similar to mashed potatoes, the cook had shaped a bowl from taro and flash fried it so that it held its form. It was filled with an assortment of shrimp and vegetables like baby corn, Shitake mushrooms and cashews and we all helped him kill the four pound presentation. Our eldest ordered the flat noodles with beef and scallions, which turned out to use a surprisingly good cut of meat unlike most other places of the Leaf’s caliber. The only disappointed diner at our table was the patriarch who had ordered the barbecued flounder, which turned out to be fried, a no no for his attempt at a healthy diet. But it was a great example of fish, moist and flaky from it’s banana leaf wrap and filleted table-side which is always cool to watch. The kids wanted to keep the bones but we declined.
The next time your stubborn palate wants for something new, check out this little Malay joint on the Westside. Bring skinny friends or small children so you can help yourself to a bit of everything on the table without much resistance.
9889 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77036