Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Buddhist Thai food delights Malaysia's Muslim palate

At the upscale restaurants, spotlights filtered by a bamboo screens throw a soft glow over tables covered in crisp white cloth. Metallic green silk curtains hang from a high ceiling and the food is served by Malaysian staff in Thai-style dress.

The average price for a three-course dinner is about 40 ringgit ($11.70) per person.

The signature tom yum dish is made from lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galanga, shallots, lime juice, fish sauce, tamarind and crushed chilies. In Thailand, it is eaten at any time of day, in restaurants or from street stalls.

"Most Thai dishes are fused from Chinese, Malay and Indian. That's why it's easy to satisfy people here," Thanee said.

Thanks largely to Malaysia's tom yum lovers, about 80 Thai restaurants, excluding food stalls, are spread throughout the country, where 60 percent of the population is Muslim.

Thanee, who opened his first eatery with an initial investment of $235,000 in 1999, now has 13 outlets, mostly in Kuala Lumpur. He expanded to Singapore, where he has one diner and plans to open two more next year.

"I explored many countries, but Malaysia offers the lowest cost in this region, even lower than my hometown," said the Bangkok-born Thanee.

"I am an architect, so I can put image and culture into my restaurants. I can't cook, but I can tell what is good taste."

($1= 3.425 Malaysian ringgit)

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