Kaya Malay Bistro's Malaysian salad marks the Lunar New Year

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Scott Kwan is often asked what inspired the name of his business. Kaya Malay Bistro (1063 West Broadway) opened in 2012, and the co-owner says that diners wonder whether the contemporary Malaysian restaurant’s moniker was inspired by someone special.

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“They always ask, ‘Is it a girl’s name?’ ” Kwan tells the Georgia Straight during an interview at the restaurant. “Kaya is actually coconut jam.”

Growing up in Hong Kong, Kwan remembers eating this sweet spread for breakfast. He says that in Malaysian cuisine, the popular condiment is usually sandwiched between two pieces of toast along with a fried egg. Kwan credits his mother, who hails from Kota Kinabalu, for sparking his interest in Malaysian cuisine.

“I liked cooking since I was a little kid,” he says. “My mom always cooked Malaysian food for me, and it made me very curious: what is this Malaysian culture?”

Kwan and his family continued to visit Malaysia frequently even after moving to Vancouver in 1993. He began his restaurant career at the Banana Leaf chain, where he met Kaya’s executive chef and co-owner, SinSer Lim. After helping to open New Westminster’s Tamarind Hill, Kwan reconnected with Lim to launch Kaya.

“I would describe Malaysian food as very similar to Vancouver, like all kinds of different cultures mixed up. In Malaysia, there are so many influences from Indonesia, India, and China,” Kwan explains. “There are so many different groups mixed up, so if people like fusion food, they’ll like Malaysian cuisine.”

Kwan says that during the upcoming Lunar New Year, yusheng—a fish salad with Chinese, Malaysian, and Singaporean roots—is consumed as part of weeklong celebrations in Malaysia. He explains that the name of the dish means “raw fish” but that it also sounds like the Chinese word for abundance.

“Every year, my mom would make this one at the end of the week,” he recalls. “Everybody would stand up to the table, make a big circle, hold chopsticks in one hand, and mix it up.”

While tossing the large salad, Kwan encourages guests to make toasts and declare good wishes for the new year. “My mom always said, ‘You need to say it aloud so that things will come true,’ ” Kwan notes.

To add to the festive mood, Kwan recommends pairing the dish with a sweet white wine, such as a Riesling or Gewürztraminer, or a rosé.

Scott Kwan’s Malaysian-style “Yusheng” smoked-salmon salad

Ingredients

¼ cup (60 mL) unsalted peanuts, shelled and peeled
¼ cup (60 mL) sesame seeds
½ small daikon, peeled and thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled, cut into thirds, and thinly sliced lengthwise
1 red bell pepper, seeds removed and thinly sliced
¼ cucumber, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 green onion stalks, thinly sliced lengthwise
½ cup (125 mL) red pickled ginger, drained
6 lime leaves, stems removed and thinly sliced
1 small bunch cilantro, leaves only, chopped
1 oz (28 g) prepared shredded jellyfish
6 oz (170 g) sliced smoked salmon or salmon sashimi
1 cup (250 mL) Chinese shrimp crackers
2 tsp (10 mL) five-spice powder
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp (25 mL) sesame oil
Plum and citrus dressing (see recipe below)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 ° F (180 ° C).
     
  2. Arrange peanuts and sesame seeds on two separate baking sheets. Toast in oven for 5 minutes. Remove baking sheets and cool. Pour peanuts into a blender and pulse until crushed.
     
  3. Place all vegetables, herbs, and seafood on a large serving platter. Top with shrimp crackers, five-spice powder, toasted peanuts and sesame seeds, and sesame oil. Drizzle dressing over top just before serving.
     
  4. Give each guest a pair of chopsticks. All should carefully toss the salad together using chopsticks while offering each other good wishes for the new year. To serve, divide the salad between 4 to 6 plates.
     

Plum and citrus dressing

½ cup (125 mL) plum sauce
½ cup (125 mL) rice vinegar
½ cup (125 mL) kumquat paste or other citrus paste
½ cup (125 mL) pomegranate juice

Method

Pour all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

Yield: 4 to 6 side servings.

Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.

Scott Kwan and Kaya Malay Bistro staff demonstrate how to serve the salad following Malaysian customs.
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