Dish Sixteen: Canai Roti at Banana Leaf, 10th and Arch, http://phillybananaleaf.com/
Banana Leaf’s warm gold, brown, and rust color scheme, wood-like flooring, and large stone front-kitchen make it a benevolent Malaysian cavern where you might hide during a thunderstorm if you ever starred in a children’s adventure novel. Hey, I’ve hidden here before! For Aly’s going away party, when she transferred from Villanova to a school in Florida. Six months later we got to have a coming home party when she transferred back. The double-transfer is very common at Villanova—I know at least 4 people who have done it. You think it’s Villanova, and then you realize it’s college in general. (Or maybe it’s you.) And you come back.
After about ten minutes, a friendly woman hands me a fragrant bag containing –I hope—canai roti, and Chow Kueh Teow, a seafood and flat noodle stir fry that she assured me was very popular.
The canai roti pancake has the chewiness and raw flavor of undercooked pancakes, in a likable way. It is a thin sheath of stretchy pancake with that crisps to a fragile golden brown where it touches the griddle. The curry sauce is the gem, the consistency of half and half, bright yellow and speckled with brown, with a piece of potato and a large chunk of tender meat. I slurped down as much curry as the pancake could carry, and then wondered if drinking the rest would result in a stomachache or unmatched satisfaction. I chose not to risk it.
I was very turned-off by the noodle dish. The sauce was a generic brown, the seafood was rubbery, and the texture was bland, improved only be the bean sprouts. I had flashbacks to Aly’s party- “Want to try some?” “Sure- oh, it tastes just like mine.” I felt bad about bunching all of the noodle dishes into the “forgettable” category- the curry sauce with the pancake was so well-proportioned that I would be willing to try another curry on the menu, and then I remembered that nobody was twisting my arm. This isn’t college; I don’t have to try everything that The Man says I have to. Take that, The Man! You may be able to require me to take Ethics three times due to a technicality in switching majors, but you can’t make me eat noodles if I don’t want to. Just to prove it, the next time I go into Banana Leaf, I’m ordering curry. And only curry. And maybe the fried ice cream. Who’s the boss now?