Omnivore - Man eats several molecules of dead-shrimp sauce

Buford Highway remains paradise for people who like ethnic cuisine. One of my favorites has long been Penang (4897 Buford Highway, 770-220-0308). I've frequently taken friends who are not adventurous here and they've usually turned into regulars. We hit the Malaysian spot this weekend and had a mainly great meal.

Our server played the usual game of discouraging us from ordering some dishes, especially penang rojak, a fruit salad with shrimp-paste sauce. As usual, we took this as a cue to order the dish. For once, I wish we'd followed the server's suggestion. It was unpleasant enough that the "salad" was a plate full of mainly unripe mango, pineapple and daikon, along with fried tofu. But the sauce was inedible to me.

Wayne, ever determined to be nice about everything, told the server that he liked the dish, whereas I didn't. Then he resumed barely brushing the foul sauce on the fruit. I'm sure you could count the molecules he actually applied to the fruit. There's an herb used in Vietnamese cooking that we call "Death in Your Mouth." I think this sauce goes even further.

Our other starters were delicious. We had a plate of achat, pickled vegetables, and pandan ayam, deep-fried chicken wings wrapped in screwpine leaves.

The server also tried to dissuade us from ordering yong tau fu, a special featuring okra, tofu, bean curd skin, bitter melon and hot peppers (left). The latter and some of the okra were stuffed with minced fish. Very tasty. I ordered kari undang besar, sauteed jumbo shrimp in a rather Thai-like curry of lemongrass, chili paste and coconut milk. Advice: Order the shrimp cooked with the shells off. I think shrimp cooked in the shell usually tastes better, but it was a messy nightmare trying to eat this dish.

Malyasia marks its 50th year as an independent nation this month. The Malaysia Association of Georgia will celebrate at the Sheraton Atlanta downtown Saturday, Aug. 11. A bazaar begins at 5 p.m., followed by a family-style dinner at 6:30. For more information, visit the association's website.

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