The award-winning Banana Leaf (and Tropika) restaurants pretty much have a monopoly on Vancouver when it comes to Malaysian food. Banana Leaf Malaysian Cuisine has four locations in Vancouver, and their colourful decor and good prices attract many customers. The restaurants are so popular that they have been voted “Best Malaysian/ Best South East Asian” in The Georgia Straight, Westender, Where Magazine, and Vancouver magazine – just to name a few.
Satay: Chicken, Beef, Pork, Lamb ($7.00) – This signature hawker food item consisted of grilled marinated meat skewers with spiced peanut dipping sauce on the side. There was actually quite a lot of meat on these sticks, and the peanut sauce was good but very oily.
Gado-Gado ($7 .00) – Originally an Indonesian dish, this warm salad contained cooked bean sprouts, tofu, potato, cucumber, topped with a couple slices of boiled egg and drenched with satay sauce. Gado-Gado is usually served with prawn crackers, which adds a lovely crunchy contrast – but the crackers were lacking on this Banana Leaf dish.
Papaya & Pineapple Green Salad with Crushed Peanut ($7.00) – Fresh pineapple and papaya chunks resting on a bed of green leaf salad with crushed peanuts and grated coconut drizzled with a house lemongrass vinaigrette. This was an interesting fusion dish, more along the lines of Cambodian/Vietnamese/Thai (than Malaysian) – except green papaya is traditionally used.
Nasi Lemak with Sambal Seafood ($13 .00) – Coconut rice served on a banana leaf with dried anchovies, cucumber, egg, peanuts, rendang beef, sambal fish, prawns, and squid. A bolder dish where we felt the kitchen didn’t hold back (like the other dishes we ordered) in terms of heat-level.
Singapore Laksa ($11 .00) – Rice noodles in coconut milk soup base made of dried shrimp, chili, garlic, lemongrass, turmeric, topped with bean sprouts, cilantro, tofu, egg, chicken, fishcake, squid & shrimp. This laksa had the basic ingredients but its execution was lackluster: bland, hollow flavours, lacking spice.
We’ve heard people describe Banana Leaf as ‘watered-down’ to appeal to western clientele. To us, some of the dishes had marginally authentic flavours, but others just tasted very ‘Chineseified’ – like the ‘Malaysian’ dishes served at Hong Kong style cafes. Vancouver’s blessed with an excellent variety of Chinese restaurants, but is severely lacking when it comes to great South East Asian cuisine – specifically Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian. It’s rather disappointing, especially for someone like me who adores the multidimensional flavour explosions of this fantastic fare.
If you’ve never been to Malaysia, then you might enjoy Banana Leaf. However, if you want authentic Malaysian cuisine in Vancouver, head to Seri Malaysia–Jamal, the owner/chef is actually Malay (born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, just across the bridge from Singapore) and he whips up tasty traditional Malaysian cuisine.