Singapore’s Banana Leaf (Rojak, not Kojak)

I frequently find myself at the Farmer’s Market and The Grove at the intersection of Fairfax and Third Street especially when I’ve got guests from out of town. The variety of food stalls, some of which have been operating for decades, makes it easy to please groups with divergent appetites, and the central location makes for a good meeting point to grab a quick meal, shop, or see a movie. Tucked away against the southern wall of the old Farmer’s Market is Singapore’s Banana Leaf, a self-described “Singapore-Style Malay Indonesian Indian Cuisine” restaurant. The Banana Leaf is one of Regina’s go-to places, and we’ve eaten there several times in the past year. Every time we’ve eaten there we’ve walked away pleased.

Roti paratha is excellent flatbread with a mild curry dipping sauce.

I can’t lay claim to any great expertise in Malaysian, Singaporean, or Indonesian foods, although I find the mixtures of flavors and disparate influences fascinating. I’ve only recently developed an interest in these regional foods, and I’m dying to expand my food knowledge in that direction. I couldn’t tell you the level of authenticity in the foods served by the Banana Leaf, but I suspect that they’re holding back on the spice. The food is generally pretty mild and accessible for even the most staid palates. It’s not really challenging like, say, Long Phung restaurant was last week. However, that being said, the food is delicious and addictive.

Regina just loves the Roti Paratha, an Indian flatbread served with a luscious curry dip. The mild, layered “tortilla” is warm and yielding, with a crisp exterior and a soft, gentle flakiness on the inside. It’s pretty damn good.

Rojak is a dynamite fruit & vegetable salad. Fresh and refreshing.

I’m always tempted to call the Rojak salad the “Kojak” salad because, well, I’m a bit of an idiot and like nonsensical rhyming. I also like to eat this salad: fresh cucumber, jicama, bean sprouts, pineapple, green apple, and spinach tossed with a slightly spicy and sweet dressing made with tamarind, palm sugar, chili paste, peanuts, and perhaps a hit of fish sauce or dried shrimp paste. I must say that this salad is amazing. Refreshing, crunchy, and addictive. I always add a slug of extra chili paste to it, because I find that is adds zing and cuts back on the sweetness a bit.

Laksa was delicious but could have used more heat!

I also like the curry laksa. The curried broth is pleasant and flavorful and I like the tofu and bean sprouts. I’m not a big fan of the fat, tubular rice noodles; they’re bland and mostly flavorless. I prefer a thinner, more toothsome noodle. Also, I really like a boiled egg in laksa and the omission in this version dispirited me. However, my spirits were buoyed by the tender fish dumplings. Very mild and smooth in texture, much like slightly seafoody matzo balls, the fish dumplings are very good and comforting. My final regret is I thought the broth needed some real spice! I had to punch it up with lots of chili paste. Final judgement: good, but needs improvement.

Mee Goreng. The noodles were addictive. If it wasn’t for that bone-dry chicken!

The Mee Goreng is delicious and the noodles perfectly cooked. The marinated chicken breast, however, was dry as a bone and utterly tasteless; I suspected the chicken had been cooked for some time and added almost as an afterthought. Next time I’d skip the add-on poultry and get the noodles vegetarian. Be sure to squeeze that lime over the top of it. It’s not just garnish.

A great primer on the foods of this fascinating region.

If you want to delve deeper into Singaporean, Indonesian, and Malaysian foods, the Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland is an excellent introduction. Check it out.

Singapore’s Banana Leaf

(323) 244-2882

6333 W Third St Ste 122 (Fairfax Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA 90036

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