QUESTION: Help out a homesick expat. In Singapore and Malaysia we love eating buttery rotis with a bowl of dal (often with chunks of meat) for breakfast. Where in the Southland can we find such comestibles?
—Patrick, Santa Monica
ANSWER: New Yorkers longing for Malaysian cooking have always tended to head to one of the Penangs out in Flushing, Elmhurst or in Manhattan’s Chinatown, sleek Malaysian-Chinese diners where the flavors are cleaned up a little too assiduously, but provide creditable versions of some of the highlights of the cuisine: the shrimp-funky rojak salads, curried fish heads and char kway teow. The places never seemed quite up to the level of such Los Angeles Malaysian restaurants as Kuala Lumpur or Yazmin, but they were good enough to tide over a craving for a week or two.
Still, Penang always had great roti canai: delicately crisp flour pancakes as large as crumpled handkerchiefs, almost thin enough to read through and practically sizzling with hot butter, served with a small bowl of hotly spiced chicken curry. And the roti canai at the first California location of Penang, located in a sleepy Chinese shopping center in West Covina, are every bit as good. It is hard to restrain yourself from gobbling them up the second they come to the table. Which is good, because the roti become as hard and unappealing as fried phonograph records when you let them sit for more than a minute or two. Penang, 971 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, 626-338-6138.