Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Moorthy’s Mathai (Subang Jaya, Malaysia)

by Jayna Valen and Ganesh Asirvatham

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Moorthy’s Mathai, I’m told, has been famous since 1969. Their loyal customers from back then recall a stall in Brickfields, run by a very exacting Mr. Moorthy (apparently he takes great care in choosing and preparing key ingredients), resulting in amazing food, notably their signature fried tenggiri fish. I’d never eaten at Mathai’s before this review, but boy did I keep hearing about them from just about everyone. So, my buddy Ganesh Asirvatham and I decided to do some mythbusting and dropped by for lunch on Monday afternoon.

Those of you who know us personally will know what to expect from anything written by us: we tell it like it is. We just went over like any regular customer would, so there was no ‘special treatment’ whatsoever. Makes me miss my good old journalism days when I received ‘gifts’ (not bribes, we don’t really acknowledge such terms in Malaysia, or at least that’s what I’m learning from our leaders) on an-almost daily basis from folks inviting me over for reviews.

My Experience

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Mathai’s USJ 4 is a modest place; a simple corner in an area better known for flashier, trendier stuff. The free parking just opposite the restaurant was an unexpected luxury considering the prime location – smack in the midst of the congested pandemonium that is Subang Jaya.

I avoid meat as I’m gradually moving towards a lacto-vegetarian lifestyle. However, for this review, I tried their famous fried fish to see if all the hype around it was justified. Ganesh and I both ordered the same thing: one ‘standard’ banana leaf set meal with a side of fried tenggiri fish. The banana leaf meal itself was pretty good. The industry-standard three vegetable sides were fresh and served hot. Extras like pickle, salted dried chillies, rasam and pappadam were dished out readily upon request.

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The fried tenggiri did live up to its reputation. It was delightfully fresh, succulent and evenly-cooked. Texture-wise, it was perfect. The guys at Mathai somehow managed to keep it naturally juicy instead of the overcooked, dehydrated fare which is common at other Indian restaurants.

However, the service was something else altogether. After our meal, we ordered some hot drinks and continued chatting for some time like we usually do. I mean, which self-respecting Malaysian finishes a meal with a friend and just leaves? We spoke for about 30 to 40 minutes before a senior waiter abruptly and huffily asked us if we were done. He then proceeded to grab everything off our table and stalk away with the lot, clanking glasses and all. No smile, no nod – just that vibe that he wanted us out of there pronto since we were technically ‘done’. To be fair, the restaurant was getting more packed at the time, so we got the hint and buzzed off.

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In summary, great food though slightly on the pricey side (the receipt was pointless, so if you need to know the exact prices, you have to ask). The fish is a hands-down winner. However, they may not go far with that attitude towards customers, considering the current economic situation and how easy it is to lose business these days.

My Ratings:

Food (General): 6/10
Food (Signature Dish – Fried Tenggiri): 9/10
Drinks: 5/10
General Cleanliness: 6/10
Service: 5/10
Price: 5/10
Location (USJ 4): 7/10
Will I go back again : 9/10

Ganesh’s Experience

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I’m a Klang boy who’s finally transitioned to the “we’re closer to KL!” part of Klang Valley; Puchong.

I’m not really familiar with Subang and tend to use Waze but Moorthy’s in USJ 4 is a straightforward drive. Just keep going on Tujuan and you’ll see it on your right, though by then it might be too late to make that U-turn. Best to Waze the first time if you’re not really familiar!

Unassuming façade as you enter, with the day’s dishes on your right. You have the option of AC or Non-AC but unless you want to come out smelling like the day’s curry, it’s best to sit inside and cool down. The drink du jour for Indians places is typically Ice Mooru (buttermilk with spices and salt). It’s supposed to cool you down and aid in digestion. The effects of spicy food can be countered by taking dairy, so Ice Mooru is one way to go if you think your taste buds are a tad bit sensitive.

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We ordered the banana leaf meal with all the usual accompaniments. The vegetables were decent but nothing really stood out. But we didn’t go there for the vegetables. We went there for the fish!! My dad used to take me to Mathai’s when it was at Brickfields, and even then it was famous for its signature fried fish.

No doubt about it, the fish was amazing! A delicious spiced batter gently coats the chunk of tenggiri, and it is gently deep fried until the outer layer is crispy but the fish retains its moistness. As you slowly pick apart the fish, steam arises from the inner layers. The aroma just hits the spot making you crave for that first bite. And boy oh boy, that first bite makes everything right in the world and you feel like going for more but wait… you have the rice and dishes to polish off.  You calm down, take a deep breath and ration the fish for the end so that you slowly savour each loving bite.

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The fish curry was really good and went well with the pullunga arasi (parboiled rice) that I ordered. All in all I was extremely satisfied with the meal and in fact tapau-ed some fish for the wife a week later. We also ordered a plate of brinjal poriyal which is the best damned Indian brinjal dish that I have ever tasted.

I believe that a piece of fish is about RM7 -8 which is typical of Banana Leaf places. Unlike other places where you get a thinly sliced piece, this chunk of heaven is to me worth it, especially since tenggiri retails for about RM40 – RM50 per kg.

Ganesh’s Ratings:

Food (General): 6/10
Food (Signature Dish – Fried Tenggiri): 9/10
Drinks: 5/10
General Cleanliness: 5/10
Service: 5/10
Price: 5/10
Location (USJ 4): 7/10
Will I go back again : 10/10

Want to try it for yourself? Go on, give them a visit. The tenggiri is worth it.

Address: No.24, Jalan USJ 4/9g, Usj 4, 47600 Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

Opening Hours: 7AM–10PM

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