Malaysian Mouth Invasion

The upper-middle-class suburb of Tustin, Calif., isn't the first place that comes to mind when craving fresh roti canai or heavenly Hainan chicken, but it should. Belacan Grill Malaysian Bistro may not be the Malaysian cooking of your mom's in Penang but, really, unless you're Malaysian, whose is?

Belacan is located in a very suburb-esque shopping center off of the 55 freeway in South Orange County. However, once you walk in, there is a subtle transformation of place that happens. It's not an over-the-top exotic atmosphere, but something less intimidating and more welcoming. It's not exactly Malaysia, but it's definitely not Tustin either.

Starting a meal by cleansing your palate of the day you just left behind is always a great idea. A freshly opened coconut brimming with cool, detoxifying coconut juice with delicate slivers of white coconut flesh is like a chance at being reborn.

For a fuss-free taste of Southeast Asia, the lychee ice beverage (made of lychee pulp, lychee juice, and crushed ice) is a nice treat that's not too sweet. This drink is what a Slurpee wishes it could be when it grows up.

The roti canai at Belacan is one of the flakiest and chewiest I've had. When used as a scoop to grab a mouthful of the fantastic Malaysian chicken curry, it's a flavorful combination with myriad textures. Roti canai is a very similar to the Indian unleavened flatbread known as paratha. Belacan's roti canai is highly habit forming and can lead one to overload on the carbs even before the first course arrives, thanks to a super-tasty curry dipping sauce with just the right mix of spicy heat.

I love greasy Asian noodles. Chow fun is one of my favorite Chinese noodle dishes and pad Thai is a standard Thai fave. Belacan's char kway teow would be as if chow fun hooked up with pad Thai and begat this tasty noodle plate. The flat rice noodles reminiscent of chow fun noodles combined with the pad Thai components of chicken, shrimp, bean sprouts, and scrambled eggs result in great tastes from mom and dad.

Crispy curry leaf shrimp is cooked like many Asian shrimp dishes are — prepared with the shell on. This makes for crispier texture and deeper flavor. The curry flavor is not overwhelming since it is sautéed with curry leaves, but you can taste it. The heat from the chiles is also subtle. It's easy to keep eating these shrimp and lose track of exactly how many have been gobbled.

A sweet meat dish with heat called daging kecap manis contains supremely tender stir-fried pieces of beef thick with a sweet soy glaze. It really is almost like candy with an afterburn. Top it on steamed rice and it's perfection.

Hainan chicken and rice are popular Malaysian dishes that were created on China's Hainan island. The chicken-flavored rice that is commonly associated with the chicken dish is available all over Malaysia, especially as a fast food at hawker stalls and in cafes. In Malaysia, chicken rice balls are more typical than a bowl of chicken rice.

Belacan includes a bowl of chicken rice with any order of Hainan chicken. The chicken rice has a gentle flavor with a light golden hue. It's not as oily as some traditional chicken rice. I would've preferred mine with more chicken oil and flavor.

Hainan Chicken itself is always presented at room temperature. This fact can bewilder or turn off diners who aren't familiar with the chicken. At Belacan, chicken breast is poached instead of boiled so the meat is quite tender. There are three sauces that accompany the poultry — a ginger sauce, sweet chile sauce, and a special soy sauce. The finely grated ginger sauce is what purists use and is delicious. The sweet chile sauce makes the chicken that much more flavorful and exciting.

And it can be honestly said that Belacan Grill makes Tustin and South Orange County that much more flavorful and exciting as well.