Something I struggle with living in Norwalk is having a go-to Asian spot for a quick lunch or affordable takeout. There are plenty of neighborhood Chinese restaurants but they’re mostly mediocre, and I haven’t liked any of them since Red Bean sold their business. Ever since they took their American General Tso’s chicken (and actual Asian specialties) out of my life, I’ve been lost, searching for something halfway decent, even branching out to nearby towns out of desperation.
Cue a Southport newbie, Mama Chow, that’s been open for barely three weeks. I heard about it from CTbites Boss Lady, Stephanie Webster, who sang its praises and insisted I try it. Damn, was she ever on the money with this one.
Mama Chow is a fast-casual Asian street food concept featuring popular grub from Malaysia, Japan, and Vietnam.
The MC at Mama Chow is Kim Pak Chai, a Malaysian-born veteran of the hospitality business, who mentioned he’s always pretty much lived abroad. He spent 25 years in Europe working for Marriott Hotels, where he learned a lot about the industry. Chai also was in charge of all Asian food at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa before opening Mama Chow. “I was happy there and left a lucrative job to come open this small family run restaurant with my wife and daughter,” he said. “We really want to give it that family feel with a dedication to hospitality.”
Chai’s belief is that restaurants are missing that five-star touch. “I want people to come in, be greeted right away, you take off your jacket, relax, and we want to make you feel happy when you leave,” he said.
I think you’ll be happy throughout, and when you leave. The food is THAT good. And you might recognize some of it. KFC Bao, mushroom dumplings, and a handful of pho choices are familiar to fans of Mecha Noodle Bar, where Chai was the opening chef and co-creator of those popular items.
The noodles, even if they seem familiar, are worthy, especially the pho. Each hearty serving is packed with plenty of rice noodles in a rich, beefy, herbaceous broth, achieved from a slow process of boiling aged beef bones from the nearby Custom Meats. Aside from the five pho bowls, there are two types of ramen, Paitain, a chicken ramen, and Spicy Miso with pork belly and pickled mustard greens. Get the pho, pho sure.
But there’s another soup Mama Chow wants to be known for. “Pho and ramen will always be around everywhere, but our target is the laksa,” said Chai.
It’s got soul. And it’s no wonder, laksa is a specialty from Chai’s home country, Malaysia. He takes it seriously. It’s almost orangey bright, there’s a subtle sweetness from the coconut, plenty of heat from the curry, and there’s a fragrant quality to it. There’s a seafood version with scallop, shrimp, squid, and clams, another that’s vegetarian, and one more with chunks of roast pork and chicken.
There’s also a broth-less noodle dish here called Kon Loh Mee (seen at top of article). KLM is a Chinese-Malaysian mashup with sweet dark soy dressed egg noodles, slices of BBQ roast pork, a few pork wontons (cuz, why not?!), bok choy, and slices of pickled serrano peppers for acidity and spice. This was my favorite out of many highlights, so much so that I’d have a hard time not ordering it next time.
He did, however, want it to be something other than a noodle bar, so small plates are prominent. Some have Chinese influences, like the hot oil pork and shrimp dumplings and the spicy garlic cucumber, but Chai didn’t want to go overboard with Szechuan flavors. “It’s a top five style in China, but it’s either too oily or too spicy,” he said. “Most people love Szechuan, or they hate it, there’s no in between since it’s very spicy, almost numbingly so. Our dumplings, for instance, have heat but they don’t overpower the dish.”
Currently, the opening menu at Mama Chow is concise, but soon enough you’ll see an expansion of it and a few changes. We were told that they do roll out specials on weekends, too. They’ve just added bubble tea, and in the coming weeks they’ll unveil cocktails to compliment a booze list that already includes wine, beer, and sake.
There’s a lot to like about Mama Chow, even in its infancy stages. My only gripe is that it’s not a perfect world and Mama Chow is not right up the street from me. A hop, skip, and a jump off Exit 19 isn’t terrible, though, so I’ll suck it up.
3381 Post Road; Southport
(203) 292-3696; https://www.mama-chow.com/