As the world’s population grew more mobile across the millennia, and as strong nations worked to fulfill whatever domineering global destiny they imagined, the countries of Asia would become immersed in a culinary melting pots of sorts, embellishing their own dishes with tastes from abroad, embracing (and adapting) “foreign” dishes as their own.
As a result, the cuisines of most Asian countries are irreversibly mingled, and in some cases, hopelessly complex. An Indian curry bears some resemblance to a Japanese curry, but they have diverged from one another so greatly, they’ve become two distinct dishes. And Chinese expats in India would nurture a cuisine with elements of both cultures that is still beloved today.
Perhaps no country illustrates this cross-border melding as well as Malaysia, where colonization and location helped drive a startling range of not only Asian food, but food from around the world. Here, you will find influences from India and China, from Holland and Portugal, and even wisps of a British accent.
And, of course, there are those moments when Asian food is married—sometimes in an effort to woo ambivalent customers—with good ol’ American and even Latin American standards: Cheesesteak egg rolls. Sushi rolls with Philly cream cheese. Korean tacos. The results can vary, but the spirit is laudable, and the concepts are usually sound.
It truly is one great big, beautiful world.
With gathering momentum, Americans are making clear their preference not for just Chinese food or Japanese or Thai, but a restaurant that successfully combines the best elements of each. In Delaware, we find a few stunningly successful marriages—Japanese with Chinese, Thai with Vietnamese, Malaysian with Indian—along with a few that are more eyebrow-raising than inspiring.
A crowd-pleasing mix of sushi, maki and Thai classics never strays too far afield, but comes blessed with enough sense of fun to make the evening seem like an adventure.
1030 Forrest Ave., Suite 116, Dover, 678-0111; 1151 E. Lebanon Road, Dover, 538-5214; 1724 W. Newport Pike, Wilmington, 543-6362 • website
Sushi is only the start on a menu that veers pleasantly toward Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and China, focusing all the while on the bright and snappy flavors inherent to each. The buzz: filet mignon and shrimp stir fry with snow peas ($20).
3618 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 479-5618 • website
Kalbi seems best suited for something more than super casual. Its lunchtime boxes are a real deal for workers seeking something more than the ubiquitous sub-and-pizza shops of the area. The buzz: Topokki (a.k.a. tteok-bokki), absolutely addictive rice cakes slathered with chili sauce ($15-$20).
2011 Kirkwood Hwy., Elsmere, 998-4310 • Facebook
There’s a place in our hearts for Thai-Japanese-Chinese delights that run right up to the edge of authenticity, then ease back gently to suit suburban sensibilities: Chilean sea bass with salty, snappy black bean sauce; Peking duck with plush little pancakes and sweet plum sauce. A deep, but appropriately cautious sushi menu further validates Kenny’s good concept.
1255 Quintilio Drive, Bear, 838-1725 • website
A very cozy room can’t cramp diners’ style when they get to grill their own beef—and ribs and pork belly, and eel. But make sure you ask before you order, or the food arrives already grilled. Be sure to try a few non-grilled specialties, from soups to stews to the pork stir fry called jaeyook bokum ($13.95).
3 Liberty Plaza, Kirkwood Hwy., Newark, 455-9100 • online menu
Past the mix of Thai curries, Chinese stir fries and (of course) sushi, sashimi and maki, LeShio finds the sweet spot where Asian sensibilities mingle with Western notions of upscale dining. It delivers in such dishes as Long Island duck with black bean sauce ($16) and the awe-inspiring Sumo Selection: filet mignon, lobster tail, scallops and shrimp ($33). The buzz: Stone Grill Sushi Kobe Beef “sushi” ($25).
2303 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 888-0145 • website
This Malaysian-Japanese hybrid isn’t winning accolades for ambiance, but that’s beside the point for diners who crave their sushi and roti canai served casually and affordably.
308 Fox Hunt Drive, Bear, 838-6274 • website
The Malaysia-meets-Japan menu is intriguing, especially when so many non-sushi items are so interesting. There are curry-and-meat clay pot casseroles ($13-$18), noodle stir fries ($9), nearly 20 rice-and-meat dishes ($8-$11), sizzling platters ($12-$16), and much more.
218 Louviers Drive, Newark, 368-2298 • website
With a daring local rivals must envy, Potstickers melded Asian flavors and Western entrées into what it calls Euro-Asian cuisine, one that delivers such temptations as wasabi-crusted filet mignon and Thai-style Colorado lamb, all served in a sleek-yet-soothing room.
1247 New Churchman’s Road, Newark, 731-0188 • website
Malaysia might be the focus, but the bright flavors of Thailand, China—even India—gracefully infuse this menu with fulfilling creations and a homestyle honesty. The buzz: Try the lobster fried rice (market price) and roti telur ($8), an Indian-style pancake filled with egg and onion served with curry chicken and potato dipping sauce.
1601 Concord Pike, Suite 73 (Independence Mall), Wilmington, 543-5286 • website
Rice has done an amazing thing: It took an everyday sushi menu, tacked on a humdrum Chinese menu, and managed to create something far larger than the sum of those parts: a buzzy, dependable little strip-center restaurant where the kitchen truly cares.
45 Greentree Drive, Dover, 678-1328; 2015 Limestone Road, Wilmington, 999-7423 • website
Beachy sleekness adds to a menu that stands knee-deep in pan-Asian hipness, from its Thai curries to hibachi to Chinese-American classics to noodle dishes (and 10 different salads). The buzz: Hailed as the home of Rehoboth’s best cosmo.
18814 Coastal Hwy., Rehoboth Beach, 645-2818 • Facebook
A few Vietnamese dishes such as phó and bánh mì can’t conceal that the affordably priced and frill-free Southeast Kitchen is Thai in its soul, especially after trying its sautéed basil stir-fry (Pad Kar Prow, $10-$12); som tum papaya salad with shrimp ($10); and char-grilled beef salad ($10).
1901 Delaware Ave., Wilmington, 691-7728 • website
The breezy-cool ambiance encourages long, cocktail-infused evenings, and the deliberately unfocused menu playfully mixes and matches global flavors. The buzz: Braised beef cheek with roasted carrot purée, pickled kohlrabi, queso fresco and caramelized cauliflower ($22).
59 Lake Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-6476 • website
The limited Korean barbecue selections give way to a fair assortment of Korean specialties (bibimbab, hot pot stews), Japanese dishes (teriyaki, tempura) and a sushi menu that should satisfy most cravings.
865 N. DuPont Hwy., Dover, 734-4100 • Facebook