Jaya Asian Grill @ Denver

For (some) born and bred Southeast Asians who travel to the US, life can be extremely difficultย when it comes to food. Rice is not a staple here, so for people who are accustomed to the notion of “I must have at least one meal with rice every day”, it can get depressing very quickly. And even if you can find Asian restaurants, most of them serve heavily localized dishes and the flavors will make you shed miserable tears.

The few times I have traveled to the US, it has always been with some perpetual rice eaters. To make matters worse, we were staying in Loveland, a small town in Colorado where the Asian population is almost non-existent. On my first trip, I spent a lot of time searching Google for decent Asian food in Loveland and Fort Collins. It was for the sake of the colleague, if it was up to me, I couldn’t care less about the lack of rice and Asian food.

I found a few that had great reviews. We went and tried them all, and left disappointed, every single time. I learned that just because Americans think an Asian restaurant is great, doesn’t mean that it is great for a true Asian. Most of the time, the opposite would be true.

It was in the same manner that I found this restaurant in Denver, the capital city of Colorado, 60 miles south of Loveland. We were headed for the premium outlets at Castle Rock which is further south, so it made sense to come and check this place out.

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Jaya Asian Grill is located in the Boulevard Center, South Colorado Boulevard, just off exit 204 along the I-25.ย The slogan on their entrance is wrong. This is not a South Asian cuisine restaurant. This is a restaurant for Southeast Asian cuisine. Singaporean/Malaysian/Thai/Cantonese to be exact.

From the outside, it looked like a dodgy bar, and we entered with trepidation. It didn’t help when we descended a short flight of stairs and saw this.

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Doesn’t look like your typical Asian restaurant setup, does it? Seriously, we were expecting the worst. After all, it had been 5 disappointments out of 5 visits to so-called “great authentic Asian restaurant in Colorado”.

We were half excited and half amused when we saw the menu. Half excited because instead of General Tso Chicken or Moo Goo Gai Pan, we find familiar dish names. Kangkung Sambal Belacan, Sayur Lemak and Gailan are items that you can easily find in the menus of a typical Malay restaurant..

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Half amused because of the strange spellings on the two tofu dishes. You know, tofu is spelt as Tauhu. Tahu, on the other hand, means know. Tahu Malacca means Know Malacca. ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

If you want to see their entire menu, click here. Yes, they do have a website.

When we waitress approached us, she was surprised that we weren’t… white. When I told her that we are Malaysians, she was surprised and asked me: “ไฝ ่ฏ†ๅ””่ฏ†ๅนฟไธœ่ฏๅ•Š? (Do you speak Cantonese?)”. When I replied in the affirmative, I learnt that she is Vietnamese and that the owner is from Hong Kong. Cool..

Happily, we ordered away. At that point of time, I remember feeling anxiously optimistic. I mean, if they can get the menu almost right, surely the food would not be too bad, right?

The soup came first.

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Tom Yum Goong

My verdict on the soup? Tom Yum my ass! This ain’t tom yum! This is a bloody sweet and sour soup! Bloody hell!

If my expectations was slightly raised when ordering, it was effectively extinguished by the time I had my first spoonful of the soup. We began to prepare ourselves mentally for horribly sweet and unauthentic Asian food.

Then the food arrived, and we got Surprise #2. There were 2 of us, so we ordered 2 fried rice dishes, just like what we would do back in Malaysia. We forgot that we were in America. We forgot that we would be getting American portions!

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Oriental Fried Rice
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Nasi Goreng Ikan Asin (Salted Fish Fried Rice)

I am not sure if it was because we held zero expectations, both the fried rice dishes actually tasted pretty good! I mean, not like better than in Malaysia, but at least they tasted authentic! Especially the salted fish fried rice, there is a very clear hint of salt fish in each spoonful of rice. After almost 2 weeks of having steaks and burgers, it felt great to taste familiar food!

We ordered two dishes to go with the fried rice.

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Kangkung Sambal Belacan

Again, the kangkung belacan caught us by surprise. A good surprise. There was a very strong belacan flavor to the water spinach. It almost felt as good as the ones we have in Penang! Excellent!

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Ayam Goreng Kalasan

The menu says that this is an Indonesian fried chicken dish. I wouldn’t know if it is authentically Indonesian, but it as fried chicken goes, it was properly delicious! Even as I am sitting here now, writing this that happened more than 4 years ago, I can still remember the crispiness of the skin and the tenderness of the meat. And the chili dip.. it really did pack a punch. I can safely declare that it can match any of the chili sauce we have over here!

My verdict? Dodgy looking front, confidence breaking setup, farcical soup, but the rest of the food are properly authentic and delicious enough. And the owner and waitress are Cantonese speaking people.ย If it is authentic Southeast Asian food you seek, Jaya Asian Grill is (one of) your best bet in Denver, and possibly the whole of Colorado.

I am an authentic Southeast Asian, and I have tried about 30 Asian restaurants in Colorado, so I think I am quite qualified to make such a sweeping declaration.

Just make sure that you do not forget that you are in America and the food portions are American portions. Just because the menu has authentic Southeast Asian dish names, doesn’t mean that you have been miraculously teleported back to Malaysia.

Otherwise you will end up like this by the end of your meal..

 

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We didn’t even finish the food. We packed half the rice and half the chicken to go..

But I was mighty glad for uncovering an Asian restaurant serving authentic fare. In fact, this Jaya Asian Grill remains one of my favorite place to grab a taste of home in the US.

 

22 Comments

  1. Hi,
    I lived in Golden, CO (20 mins away from Denver) for 4 years and this was where I would go whenever I needed not-from-my-own-kitchen Nasi Lemak. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Awesome! If you are still there now then you would probably want to try the newer Makan Malaysian Cafe! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. the fried rice really can feed 2-3 person…and i can’t imagine u guys top up with some side dishes summore! mst be full to the brim!

    • That first meal was delicious yet torturous. You know after the meal, I had to drive 60 miles (100km) back to Loveland in a bloated tummy. It was a miracle that I was able to stay awake!

  3. Most Asian restaurants in Australia serving Malaysian/Singapore food taste nothing like they are supposed too…obviously catering to Western palates and it seems like that’s what they are trying to do in the States. Always have the same salty taste :/

    • It’s salty in Australia huh? In the States it is always sweet, very sweet or insanely sweet. I was quite depressed when I went to the first few wrong Asian restaurants. ๐Ÿ˜

    • It took me more than 2 weeks to learn that we should bag the leftovers home. I spent 2 weeks stuffing myself silly every meal. I think I gained about 8 kilos in weight on my first trip to the States!

  4. OMG, you can still write a post about food that you’ve eaten 4 years ago….I can’t even remember what I ate 4 months ago let alone remember what it tastes like! ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€

    • With pictures, it is easy to recall things. And, I have eaten at this place every time that I traveled to the US, so it is really not that long ago! ๐Ÿ˜€

  5. hah.hah..hah… I love that last photo! You looked totally wasted! ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ After reading this post, now I understand what happened at the so-called Taiwanese restaurant I went to in Boston. The food was awful. Their sweet and sour pork was deep fried meatballs doused with some weird tasting chilli sauce. I was astounded. But I saw a few tables occupied by the gwailo and they seemed to enjoy the food. By the way, I like American sized portions ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Yeah, these gwailos, they will suffer if they travel to Asia and find that real Asian food is not like what they enjoy, just like some rice bins will suffer when they travel to Europe or America. Sigh..

      I like American portions too, but mostly not because I look forward to polish them every time. You can eat out and tapao the food for your next meal. That would be a good way to save on food. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I’m laughing at your picture la, you look so cute la, especially your tummy, hehe.. It’s like crying ‘Help, I’m stuffed’.. ๐Ÿ˜€
    Eh when I see the word grilled I always think of bbq & grill, like middle steamboat and grill at the side of it..

    • I thought that too initially, but it seems that in America, there’s a lot of restaurants that call themselves a Grill. I’m not sure what they mean to be honest.

  7. It was spelt tahu… Tofu is relatively new – it was tau hu – tau or tao meaning beans.

    These Asian places overseas, mostly to bluff the mat sallehs one but some may be good and generally, all would be so expensive even without conversion. Can always buy own ingredients at Asian grocers or Chinatown – cheaper and more often than not, a whole lot nicer…and more authentic though at times, one may need to do without or substitute and ingredient with an alternative.

    • Really? I have never see beancurd spelled as Tahu before, until in America.

      Asian food is not really expensive in America. I mean, you should not expect Asian food in America to be priced like in Asia. They are supposed to be priced like other American food in America. If you get a meal for about $10 then that is standard and not expensive.

      It is difficult for the restaurateurs I suppose. They cannot insist on authentic fare, because most Americans cannot tolerate authentic Asian food that packs more flavors. To them, nicer Asian food means sweeter Asian food. So generally, I would say, if you see a restaurants with multiple “great” reviews by American names, then you should not hold high hopes on those restaurants.

  8. I think you should resign from your job and be a stand up comedian for cracking me up at 1.00am!
    Honestly, very few bloggers are funny with words and clown about naturally. Enough praises ok!
    I totally could understand the stress you went through and I was in the same shoes. I never tasted really good Malaysian or Chinese food in America, no matter how good ratings they earned. I had to travel from Pennsylvania to New York City and the entire California state to feast in many restaurants but none could serve really good Chinese food. Even the HKG owned outlets could not meet up to their HKG standard. I was told that they all had to tune and flavour them to Amrican standard which means sweeter as sour, salty and too spicy is not acceptable. They have to please them as that’s their target markets. I would only enjoy really good Thai and Korean food as they were always near perfect. I had Thai cousins operating kitchens in San Francisco and they were kind enough to feed me for free during my breaks. Oh well, you mentioned kangkong and Najib’s face flashed in my thoughts!
    In the end, I brought back lots of spices after some cooking lessons from another cousin in Oakland to Pittsburgh to cook for myself and friends. I became famous overnight because I put so much msg inside.

    • You are right, the localized Chinese food in America are mostly very sweet, sometimes it is like eating spoonfuls of sugar instead of food! Strange that they cannot tolerate msg but loves sugar. I think both are equally bad for health if taken a lot.

      I haven’t been to New York before, but I think the few famous ones in San Francisco are alright in terms of authenticity. They might not taste like what we have in Malaysia, but then we are talking about Cantonese/HK cuisine and Malaysian ones are not really authentic either. The ones in San Francisco are more HK than the ones we have back home.

  9. I give you a big Like for your photo! Very suitable for what you were saying. Hahahaha!

    Good info for people going to Denver, especially for those who cannot live without authentic rice and dishes from their hometown. I guess their tom yam is not spicy at all is because most Americans cannot stand to eat spicy food.

    You have been to 30 restaurants, wow, you must be really good at searching for a rice place for your friends to eat. My spouse also is like that, go to Las Vegas to eat at Panda Express chain restaurant, I nearly pengsan when I heard that.

    Have you eaten General Tso Chicken? Is it tasty? There is a documentary called “in search of General Tso” where they went to China to find out who exactly is General Tso.

    • Well, I did find another place that serves authentic Tom Yam, but that one is in Fort Collins where there is a large Asian students community, so I guess you are right. And I’ve had more than my fair share of Panda Express hahaha! ๐Ÿ˜€

      General Tso chicken ๅทฆๅฎ—ๅ ‚้ธก is an American invention. You won’t be able to find it in China LOL! I think it was first conceived in New York or something. Well it is basically chicken cubes deep fried until crispy, with a rather sweet sauce. The sauce might differ depending on which region of the US you go to. In some places it is also called General Tao chicken.

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