Italian restaurants tempt diners with focaccia and olive oil. Mexican restaurants lay out chips and salsa. Indians, papadum and chutney. These free snacks tame voracious appetites while dinners are planned. So if you find yourself in Malaysia, or maybe just Milpitas, look for Roti Canai and Curry.
The Banana Leaf, a Malaysian restaurant in Milpitas CA, sculpts their pan bread into three dimensional shapes.
Flour, water and oil make the dough. A line cook pulls and spins until a frisbee forms. Like a pizza, centrifugal forces stretches the disk to size of side table.
The drama explodes as the edge of dough catches the granite surface for just a split second. This Cirque du Soliel moment ends with a dough stretched so thin it is translucent end to end.
The cook lays the dough flat on the granite counter as a rectangle. He peels off the thicker edge with his hands. He folds the remaining four corners inward like the beginning of origami. Natural tackiness keeps the edible vellum together.
The dough lands on the griddle. Air pockets are pressed down with a spatula. Thicker portions gain a golden brown hue. Whisper thin dough, taught from the yoga exercise never quiet rest on the griddle. They remain true to their original color.
The cook flips the large handkerchief to repeat the browning process. Sometimes pressing, sometimes trimming a thick corner, he finishes the work with an artful lift and landing.
The final result stands in three dimensions. A carbohydrate teepee with varying textures. A bowl of ruddy curry sits next to three of these self-supported breads.
No instructions are needed. Tear off a piece, dip into the curry, then a vertical descent into a gaping mouth.
It would be easy enough to drape these like folded blankets. However the 3D presentation amplifies the excitement, the mystery.
This is finger food meant for sharing. No silverware. No decorum. No fancy protocol. What a fantastic way to tear into the evening.
So the next time you consider a starter for the table, look for the exotic entrance. The splash that breaks down convention and builds up smiling. Like a Jenna Maroney in appetizer form.
Do that and let us know how it went. In the meantime, we will stand at attention.