Florescent lights shine from the ceiling and reflect off the yellow laminated menus sitting at the front desk. Behind the counter, an emotionless waiter is glued to his computer screen and hardly glances at incoming patrons, leaving new customers unsure of their actions for ordering. The style here is self-seating, which the regulars who frequent this quaint eatery have the benefit of already knowing. Customers may choose from six to seven tables that are loosely huddled around the kitchen. The décor in Rasa Ria is simple, wood trim lining the bottom of the walls, and neutral colors on top. Posters of far off Asian destinations give some privacy to the customers.
Rasa Ria is a family restaurant started up about 9 years ago by the Gomes who hail from Malaysia. An Indonesian twist came from a close friend of the Malaysian family. This unique restaurant came about because of simple reasons: there was no Malaysian restaurant in the Kalamazoo area at the time. The restaurant has since been valued for its delicious Asian food. It is located on West Main passed Walgreens and across the street, if you are headed here from Kalamazoo College.
The waiter pauses his play at the computer to sit at a nearby table and take orders. A water pitcher and empty glasses are placed at the table. The customer at Rasa Ria is expected to be very independent. And looking around, that is what you see at this restaurant. This isn’t the run of the mill “American” eatery serving burgers and fries. And, this isn’t where the Smiths will take their 2.3 children out to eat after church. Here you will find the progressive college student drafting a paper, a mixed racial couple and their child, and a husband with a ponytail and a wife with boy cut enjoying their meal. No one here is trying to keep up with the Jones, simply trying to eat at the Gome’s.
And for good reason, the food here is incredibly tasty and affordable. Flavors such as curry, coconut, and soy are a commonality between many of the dishes served. The Tofu Rendang is a delightful dish that encompasses many of these flavors. Served with a side of rice, the main course consists of a soupy mixture of tofu and potatoes resting in a milky broth brightened by curry. The spice of the meal was balanced by sweet coconut milk and lemongrass, allowing the meal to be tolerable without compromising its adventurous qualities. The tofu is spongy and absorbs the flavors of the soup beautifully.
The rice completes the meal, cleansing the palette after the mix of flavors presented by the Tofu Rendang. This meal is a favorite for many of the regulars at Rasa Ria.
For a side order, the curry puffs are a great route to go. From the outside, their appearance resembles empanadas. They are light brown and crescent moon in shape. Right until the crunch biting into the puffs, it is reminiscent of its Spanish cousin, yet this is where the parallel ends. Upon arrival into the mouth, soft shards of chicken, spiced by curry, activate every taste bud. The minced meat is zesty and contrasts the greasy, flaky shell beautifully. A new taster might find themselves with a runny nose on such an occasion; a small price to pay to benefit from the rich flavors.
Two subtler tasting dishes are the Chicken with Black Mushrooms and the Fried Kway Seafood. The Chicken with Black Mushrooms is a stir-fry dish complete with carrots, baby corn, and snow peas marinated in a dark soy sauce. The dish is nothing spectacular, yet can entertain for a night if the consumer is hungry. The vegetables are thoroughly cooked, and remain light despite being enveloped in sauce. The salt in the soy sauce brought nice flavor to the chewy mushrooms. All is just fine for this traditional dish, no extreme risks are taken.
The Fried Kway Seafood is a surprisingly textured dish, however the variation of such texture is lacking. From the shrimp, to the calamari, and flat noodles, everything is just extremely slick. Still, the taste and consistency of the meal is not lacking. The seafood as well as the sauce introduce many flavors, and the range of consistency ranges from easy, soft noodles to the chewy ringed calamari. The Fried Kway is a great entrée for the nautical tasters.
The one mistake of the evening was a drink called Milo. The chocolate malt beverage is served hot in a plastic cup. The beverage would better be served alone to warm up children after a long day in the snow.
Any food bought at Rasa Ria is money well spent, yet consider ordering takeout. The ambience, or lack their of is worth surrendering to a night in the dorm. Similarly, the service is also poor. The dishes may have only taken 10-15 minutes to appear, yet they came scattered making the experience awkward for polite patrons accustomed to eating once every meal is delivered. The dining experience may not be for those looking to spend a night on the town, spurring intense conversations with young intellectuals. Instead, people come here for good food and a casual atmosphere; a hometown diner of a different culture. The selection of food rests primarily on that of Malaysian and Indonesian roots, and maintains a sense of cultural purity. That is the ingredients are consistent with those of the Asian culture, the spicing is for the chef to decide, and the shouts coming from the Kitchen are not exactly English. Even better, the food is affordable. Entrees range from $6-$9 and side orders and drinks anywhere from $1-$2.
Rasa Ria is known as a hole in the wall restaurant, it is simple yet, upon willingness, is able to offer some of the most unique food in Kalamazoo.
There is no reason to make a reservation for a casual night at Rasa Ria. You might catch it closed during open hours, so call ahead of time, it’s worth it.