Bananas in a Bicycle:
Malaysian Food in WeHo
You would think when you are about to spend a year in India, you would want your last meal Stateside to be a big juicy hamburger. Or perhaps a hot dog and apple pie? Not political scientist and food adventurist Alex Lee. He invited us to join him in his transition to the Eastern palate with a flavorful farewell dinner at Manja, Malaysian Cuisine in West Hollywood.
I was immediately drawn in by the gorgeous rainbow of plush pillows that hung along the booths of the restaurant. You could observe them in all their glory, uninterrupted by customers, because the entire restaurant was deserted. At first I thought this was because we were dining early, 6pm, but then from the kitchen we heard, “No customer! I chef!! I have no food!!” Then we were a little worried.
Someone must have run to the supermarket, however, since our cheerful waiter soon appeared to take our order and bring us complementary fried bananas in a French looking miniature bicycle. I asked, “Why the bicycle?”, to which he replied, “Sorry, I don’t know. This is Malaysia”. As confusing as this answer was, I appreciated that he wanted us to suspend our disbelief and imagine that we had been transported to a tropical Southeastern Island.
When the waiter returned to take our order, however, I asked if he could read us the Malaysian poem on the back of the menu, just so we could hear what Malay sounded like. He looked at me, confused, and said, “Sorry. I don’t know. This is Malaysia.” Ahhh, I realized, he’s not Malaysian at all. His mantra was not for our imaginations’ benefit, but rather to remind himself what type of food he was serving.
Alex took care of the rest of the ordering, so I don’t remember the exotic names of the items we ate. No doubt the waiter had never heard of them either. But the chef sure knew how to cook something out of nothing, because everything was delicious.
A crass American description of our delectible fare would be: crab eggrolls, fritters topped with shrimp and veggies, a thin noodle dish with enormous seasoned prawns and tofu, and a beef and creamy sauce dish.
No one else ever showed up to eat at Manja while we were there, which is strange since the food was really good, and the wait staff thorougly amusing in a reality tv show kind of way.
A harpist in a prom dress arrived at the end of our meal and began to play. As far as I know, she continued to perform for the empty restaurant, the testy, talented chef and her staff accompanying her with bickering, late into the night.