Wilmington recently got a Malaysian restaurant in that crazy Independence Mall that looks like Independence Hall (huh?) on Concord Pike. I meant to pounce on Rasa Sayang the second they opened for business, but things happened...or, more accurately, didn't happen. And then, when I did get it in action a few weeks ago, the mall Rasa Sayang is housed in caught fire a mere six hours after I paid the bill and exited the new restaurant. Nooooo! Thankfully, the other side of the mall was ablaze (I know those businesses weren't thankful) and none of the restaurants in Independence Mall were destroyed...and, of course, no one was hurt.
Rasa Sayang's interior is nice, but nothing out of the ordinary for a restaurant in a strip mall. A bar greets you when you open the door (why do all restaurants, no matter how casual, have bars nowadays?), and, to the right, a couple of stairs lead down to an dimly lit room filled with tables and booths.
Our server was eager to take our order before I had even looked at the menu, and returned to take our order in under two minutes after we requested more time. She also wasn't familiar with the dishes on the menu, but explained to us she was new. Understandable.
The menu could be a little more descriptive of the dishes. Special sauce, house special sauce, special brown sauce, and chef's special sauce don't really give diners any hint as to what exactly any of these sauces are.
And strict vegetarians need to get ready to ask lots of questions. Many traditional Malaysian dishes are made with shrimp paste or fish sauce, and menu descriptions of some dishes don't always mention this. I've stated before that my one vegetarian sin is that I eat dishes prepared with fish sauce when dining out at South East Asian restaurants (I love Thai food too much), but I do not do shrimp paste (a paste made from fermented shrimp and fish that smells like hell, much more so than fish sauce), and many dishes at Rasa Sayang contain shrimp paste. Because of this dietary restriction that I impose on myself, many dishes offered at Rasa Sayang are off limits.
We started with achat, a dish I've never had. Achat (also spelled achar and acar) is a cold dish of pickled vegetables in a nutty, sweet, and mildly spicy turmeric sauce topped with sesame seeds. The crisp pickled vegetables were delightful, and did not taste as if it included shrimp paste as is called for in some, but not all, achat recipes (since I was unfamiliar with the dish, the inclusion of shrimp paste never even crossed my mind, so I did not inquire before ordering). I wouldn't mind if there were a big tub of Rasa Sayang's achat in my fridge right now. There is a chili pepper denoting spiciness next to this item on the menu, but I would never call this dish hot. My partner ordered the kang kung belacan, a Malaysian dish of sauteed convolvulus (I believe it's misspelled on the menu as convolvus) with shrimp paste. This mound of sauteed mild greens is similar in taste to spinach, and the sauce is pungent due to shrimp paste (hey, some like it). Again, this dish had a red pepper on the menu denoting spiciness, but did not register as spicy. My partner, who can stomach shrimp paste, cleaned his plate.I ordered mango tofu, a Malaysian dish that I knew was shrimp paste and fish sauce-free. I've only had this dish once before, and I vaguely remember it being too sweet, but gave it a go again since it had been so long since the last time. Yep, too sweet for me. The sweet sauce on top of sweet shredded mango served in hollowed mango halves was a double whammy of sweetness. I could have used more rice than the small molded cup I was given to cut the sweetness, but the fried tofu was quite nice, though -- chewy fried skin surrounding soft silken tofu. I don't normally like silken tofu, but the tough skin contrasts nicely with the squishy insides.
Since I'm always on the quest for my favorite pad Thai, I returned for take out to sample Rasa Sayang's version of this Thai noodle staple. I was very pleased with Rasa Sayang's pad Thai because: (1) it was light on the fish sauce, (2) very close to the sweetness that I like (sweet, but not too sweet), and (3) was not gloppy with sauce. But the most surprising and delightful discovery were the little flecks of red pepper that gave just a little bit of heat (just a little) to a dish that normally is not spicy. And...Rasa Sayang has my new favorite pad Thai in Wilmington!
An aside: Actually, there's a place in/near Wilmington that has a pad Thai I like just slightly better than Rasa Sayang's, but the owner of this other restaurant (no mention of or link to the business; they don't deserve it) wrote me a passive aggressive email telling me to eat elsewhere, so I've never been back...and never will. And, since the owner's remarks were sent to me personally and not left in the comments, I won't reprint them (I respect private emails).
I also ordered the satay tofu stuffed with cucumbers and bean sprouts. The light, crunchy vegetables combined with tofu sure beats a plate piled high with plain fried tofu (I can only eat so much tofu, you know), as is the usual veggie satay offering at many restaurants. The satay sauce was a little oily, but the perfect nutty, sweet and spicy foil for the tofu and veggies.
I'll definitely be back for pad Thai at Rasa Sayang, but will probably stick to the Thai dishes and the few Malaysian dishes that don't contain shrimp paste as I work my way around the menu. In the mean time, if Rasa Sayang would like to elaborate their menu descriptions and crank up the spice levels, that would be awesome.
1601 Concord Pike, Suite 73, Wilmington, DE 19803