The newest home of Malaysian cuisine, Peninsula, has settled into the international food scene along Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis known as Eat Street. Joining some well-established neighbors offering Chinese, Vietnamese, Asian, Thai, Greek, Mexican, and German food, Peninsula brings a new dining experience with the very spicy, complex flavors of Malaysia.
Located in the South China Sea adjoining both Thailand and Indonesia, Malaysia’s culinary history was shaped by its neighbors as well as the early Chinese settlers and the spice traders of the 16th century. Drawing on its rich vegetation and abundant seafood, Malaysian cooking can be refreshing and even startling. While its neighbors rely on soy sauce, lemon grass and fish sauce as the favorite flavor base, Malaysia starts with these flavors and adds a dried shrimp paste mixture called belacan. To some, this flavor can seem unusual, even fishy, but properly used it gives dishes another flavor dimension not found in other cuisines. Add to this some of the spices of India and Malaysian curries have their own signature taste.
Open just a few months, Peninsula is already drawing crowds to its pleasant dining room and open kitchen. Dishes include the more familiar such as satays, shrimp puffs, wonton soup, and pad Thai as well as some new eating adventures. Baby oyster omelets bring together two compatible flavors for a new look at eggs. Satay tofu fills scoops of fried tofu with a curried peanut sauce, shredded cucumbers and bean sprouts. The Buddhist yam pot fills a bowl of deep fried taro root with a stir-fried mixture of shrimp, chicken, mushrooms, snow peas, and baby corn topped with crisp cashews. Rice noodles stray from the pad Thai approach by replacing fish sauce with a spicy soy chili paste in Peninsula’s char kway teow.
While many dishes include chilies, Peninsula also offers a variety of hot sauces, in fact ten different sauces. Ask for a selection and they will be served in small tasting dishes.
The menu offers a wide range of beef, chicken and fish dishes, and even some pork, including volcano pork ribs, a Malaysian barbecue. It is possible to find vegetarian choices as well but with so many dishes using belacan, ordering becomes very selective. Peninsula also offers an assortment of Southeast Asian drinks including a variety of freezes, and smoothies made with black tapioca pearls as well as an assortment of tropical desserts. Ice kacang is a typical Malaysian concoction of shaved ice with red beans, palm seeds, jelly, red rose syrup and coconut milk.
Open at 11 a.m. seven days a week, Peninsula is at 2608 Nicollet Avenue South, Minneapolis. Sunday through Thursday the restaurant is open until 10:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until midnight. It serves beer and wine and accepts credit cards. Parking is behind the restaurant or in a lot across the street. For information and take-out orders call 612-871-8282.
Phyllis Louise Harris is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher specializing in Asian foods. She is founder of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes Ltd. dedicated to the preservation, understanding and enjoyment of the culinary arts of the Asia Pacific Rim. For information about ACAI’s programs call 612-813-1757 or visit the website at www.asianculinary arts.com.