The flesh comes apart in succulent strands.
With a squeeze of lemon juice and pungent sambal
this grilled skate wing is doing a spicy and exotic Malaysian joget in my mouth.
I often hear long-time comrades lament the quality of street food in Malaysia has deteriorated.
It is hardly surprising to me because enforcement of food regulations, if at all any, is poor and dismal. The cost of living has significantly increased because productivity has remained stagnant.
Just as immigration policy has allowed an influx of unskilled foreign labour in the millions into the country, this very policy has also stifled real wage growth in the economy. Fresh food ingredients are becoming increasingly expensive and this does not augur well for street food so dearly loved by the locals.
On the contrary, we have seen the growth of casual Malaysian street food spiral upwards in recent years. It is heartening to see quality operators such as Mamak, Petaling Street and Papparich with their multiple outlets sprouting out all over Sydney among so many other Malaysian eateries.
Competition is intense and restaurants are not just trying to capture volume. Savvy operators are finding their own niche markets to appeal and differentiate themselves from their competitors.
Mamak has done well to capture the Indian-Muslim flavour of Malaysian street food with its chargrilled satays, fiery curries, mee goreng and roti canai. The strategy with their latest outlet is to extend their reach into Chinese street food.
We arrive around 8.30pm on a Tuesday evening. There is no queue and we are promptly ushered to our table.
The set up at Hawker is similar to Mamak. Glass windows showcase preparation of desserts such as apam balik and popiah, one of the most popular street food in Malaysia which is often eaten as a snack.
Stir-fried shredded jicama or yam bean, fresh lettuce, crunchy peanuts, strands of soft egg omelette are laced with hoisin, chilli and sweet sauce. This concoction is then wrapped with tissue-thin tapioca sheets that bring a sweet, spicy, savoury and crunchy mouthful all at once.
Desserts are simple and to the point, showcasing Malaysian favourites ~ apam balik or crispy crepes, goreng pisang or deep-fried banana fritters and goreng durian or deep-fried durian.
The dining room walls are adorned with murals of Malaysian street food scenes.
And diners sit on wooden stools and tables that resemble street hawker centres of Kuala Lumpur. The key difference is that it’s a cleaner environment with eager and enthusiastic service by young Malaysian expat waiters, paper napkins, air-conditioning and clean toilets.
Or Chien or Oyster omelette
Or chien or oyster omelette is gently crisp outside though it can be a lot crispier. The texture inside is creamy, the tapioca flour studded with four or five plump oysters.
Dipped into spicy hot chilli sauce with a slight tangy edge, this omelette relegates many others into banal obscurity. Flavourwise, this or chien still hits the mark as not many Malaysian eateries do this dish well, let alone offer it on their menu.
Ikan bakar or grilled skate
Ikan bakar in Malaysia is almost always grilled skate, a cartilaginous fish that is so cheap, it is usually found behind choice seafood displayed at the Sydney Fish Market.
A skate wing is generously slathered with a paste of curry powder, turmeric and chilli powder then grilled to a gently crisp.
This skate is fragrant and using my chopsticks, the skin peels off like a glove.
The flesh comes apart in succulent strands. With a squeeze of lemon juice and pungent sambal this grilled skate wing is doing a spicy and exotic Malaysian joget in my mouth.
Wat tan hor fun or Cantonese style stir-fried rice noodles
Mysaucepan has a weakness for wat tan hor fun whenever it comes to Malaysian street food.
Hawker’s version comes with rice noodles blackened with dark caramel sauce then seared for a smoky aroma. This initial step sets it apart from so many interpretations where rice noodles look meek and bland.
The gooey sauce is flavoursome and true to tradition with all its eggy goodness. My Cantonese roots tell me this dish is pretty good for Sydney standards. The best is usually found around Kuala Lumpur at midnight when fiery woks render this dish a smoky warfare on a plate.
Char kway teow
In recent years, char kway teow has become a mainstay among Malaysian street food lovers in Sydney.
For me, it’s the Malaysian version of pad Thai except it’s about twelve times better if executed well.
Pad Thai has a sweet tinge because white sugar is added to stir-fried noodles that I fail to understand the rationale behind a predominantly savoury dish.
Hawker’s char kway teow has good wok hei and comes with slices of Chinese lup cheong and the rare addition of cockles.
Although a tad salty and I was hoping to find a few more bits of crispy pork lard in the mix, it still gets a resounding tick in my books for its sprightly beansprouts, eggy goodness, bold garlicky flavour and thinner rice noodles that soak up so much smokiness.
Whether it’s a tad salty or lacking crispy pork lard, who cares when everything else is a lot more decent than what I can get in Malaysia.
So dear readers, there are so many Malaysian restaurants in Sydney at the moment. Which is your favourite one and why?
345 Sussex street, Sydney
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9264 9315
Opening hours: 7 days lunch and dinner