Dining Out: Veteran east-end eatery Chahaya Malaysia upholds spicy, savoury standards

Chahaya Malaysia
1690 Montreal Rd., 613-742-0242,
Open: Tuesday to Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., closed Monday
Prices: main dishes up to $18
Access: one step at entrance, washrooms downstairs

On the other side of the window, the temperature was close to -20 C. The wind gusted. Yet somehow, the six of us were happily digging into a big bowl of ice kacang, the Malaysian shaved-ice dessert, its frigid main ingredient sweetly mitigated by condensed milk, red beans, peanuts and more.

To do otherwise would have broken the spell cast by the previous, delicious courses at Chahaya Malaysia. The 33-year-old restaurant, Ottawa’s only Malaysian eatery, left us feeling tropical, not quite sweltering, but notably warmed by spices, and definitely well-fed.

I’m embarrassed that during nearly six years of restaurant reviewing, I hadn’t had a proper meal at Chahaya Malaysia (which my predecessor last reviewed in 2006) until earlier this month. Maybe it fell off my radar because of its low-key nature or its out-of-my-way Montreal Road location. Maybe I took it for granted because of its longevity. Fortunately, I recalled the eatery when my first cousin once removed and his new wife, Grace, who is Malaysian, recent visited Ottawa.

It could only help to have a Malaysian expat eating shotgun, bolstering my take on Chahaya Malaysia, I thought. That said, a complete newcomer to Malaysian food, which fuses Malay, Chinese and Indian influences, would do just fine at Chahaya Malaysia. The restaurant is run by chef Subut Abdullah and wife Margaret, who proudly provides guidance regarding the menu as she takes orders. The food has scarcely changed since the Abdullahs opened their first location in the Glebe in 1985.

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