Our weekly bite explores the city's food trucks, one at a time, highlighting our favorite mobile dishes and snacks.
The Truck: Azalina's Malaysian
The Cuisine: Mamak stall cuisine, a blend of Indian, Malay, and Chinese cuisine
Specialty Items: Fritters, curries, buns
Worth the Wait in Line? At peak dinner time, a total 10 minutes from the end of the line to food in hand.
We may consider our ability to articulate ideas and communicate through language the dividing line between ourselves and our primate ancestors, but to discount the value of our more primitive parts of our brain is foolish. No memory is more powerful than one triggered by scent or taste. Home may be a long way away, but visiting it is as simple as cooking and enjoying a meal.
Azalina Eusope is owner of Azalina's Malaysian and the fifth generation of her family to make a living selling street food, a job she thought she'd never do. Eusope exerted determined effort to elude the street food vendor past of four generations of her family. One would think she'd be safe from that destiny by moving to San Francisco with her American husband who she met in Malaysia. Ironically, when she got here and became homesick, it was the aromas and flavors of cooking the street food she tried to escape that soothed her. Thankfully for us, her culinary séances with the four generations of Mamak street food vendors did more than simply sooth her homesickness; it introduced San Francisco to the specialties of Penang.
The Spring Garlic Curry Laksa ($10, coconut curry broth, fresh noodles, fried shallots, lentil fritter, fresh herbs) eats like a drifting memory: hauntingly pungent with herbs, satisfying with coconut milk, and the scattered bits of texture from the shallots bobbing up here and there like forgotten details. The spices add sweetness and enough sting of heat that your brow beads in a mixture of pain and pleasure, while you ponder and chew the noodles deep at the bottom of the bowl.
The dish is an amalgamation of references of different family members for Eusope. The recipe for the noodles she makes for the laksa come from her father, a man who grew up thinking of himself as Chinese, living in a Chinese community, fluent in four different dialects and noodles. The broth is a tribute to her great, great, great grandmother and her spice-blending prowess, while the chili oil invokes her grandmother who is deftly skilled at combining flavors.
Just like the cuisine of Penang, an island off the western coast of Malaysia, is a mix of cultures, Azalina's Malaysian is evolving the family cuisine by incorporating the foods and flavors of California. "It is definitely a strong rendition of Mamak street food but with [my] Californian twist," Eusope says. "I never claim I am purely authentic Malaysian food since I cannot be authentic from thousands of miles away."
The sweetly fragrant scents of Azalina's Malaysian may not transport you to your childhood, but eating a bowl of her laksa surely conjures all the happiness that she found in hers.