Parks dot the stretch of Broadway from Elmhurst Hospital to the Elmhurst subway station. Here in the mornings you will often see elderly Chinese performing slow Tai Qi movements or aerobics to the accompaniment of a portable radio tuned to Chinese pop music. On weekends, people from all over the neighborhood go to these parks; children play hopscotch on the sidewalk while old men play Chinese chess on concrete steps and a group of men plays handball in the court behind them. Across the street from these recreations are rows of storefronts under dingy awnings. My destination lay between two Chinese grocers, a Malaysian restaurant—Taste Good—with a storefront so small you might not even notice it.
The interior of Taste Good is long and narrow. A colorful statue of Guan Yu looks over the room from a shelf, which appears as though it might be a serious shrine. The walls are largely covered with pictures of different dishes. I felt as though I had stepped into one of the luncheonettes in Chinatown.
And indeed, I noticed right away that I was surrounded by a language that sounded Chinese, though it did not seem to be standard Mandarin. Probably, it was Hokkien—a language from Fujian, where many of the Chinese migrants to Malaysia came from—or Cantonese.
Taste Good has more than 200 dishes on its menu. Picking a meal here is a formidable task. I ordered rojak as an appetizer. Rojak is a cold salad containing mostly fruits and vegetables smothered in a thick dressing made of palm sugar, crushed peanuts, and chili pepper. At Taste Good, the mix includes cuttlefish. I could not identify the fruits and vegetables, but they seemed to include lotus root and pineapple. The dressing also contained shrimp paste. (The chips on top are also made from shrimp.)
This was a highly successful dish. It is true that the shrimp paste surrounded it with a slight odor of rotting garbage, as if there were an open dumpster just out of sight, but the brain—my brain, at least—finds it hard to connect decay to something that tastes as fresh as this rojak, so the smell seemed safely peripheral. The flavor of the shrimp paste can be detected, but it complements the sweetness of the other ingredients nicely with its pungent earthiness.
I also had nasi sambal udang. This is a bowl of jumbo shrimp drowned in a sauce consisting of what the menu called “exotic spices.” I cannot say what most of them are, but the most prominent is chili peppers. It also has, perhaps more prominently than any of the spices, a lot of shrimp paste. If you push the main pulp of the sauce to one side, the thick red fluid that shrimp paste is suspended in runs out on the plate. You will probably want to brush your teeth after eating this food. I believe this is originally a Sundanese dish, from the western part of Java, but I will have to confirm.
Finally, I had bubur cha cha, a Malaysian dessert. This is a mix of cooked sweet fruits in vegetables in coconut milk, a little similar to the mung bean porridge bubur kacang hijau (the Indonesian dessert I had at Asian Taste 86). But instead of mung beans bubur cha cha has sago or tapioca pearls, along with black peas, chunks of yam, and other sweet vegetables. Quite nice.
82-18 45th Ave
Elmhurst, NY 11373