In the last two years, the popularity of Malaysian food has seen a proliferation of Malaysian restaurants popping up around Sydney CBD.
This is great news because choice is becoming so extensive these newer restaurants are beginning to introduce popular but lesser-known Malaysian fare to differentiate themselves.
Street food such as nasi lemak, laksa, char kway teow, roti canai, Ipoh hor fun Hainanese chicken rice just to name a few are being done to death by Malaysian restaurants because they are so popular among Malaysian food lovers. Like most cuisines, there are accepted norms of what constitute good Malaysian food.
But no matter how good a laksa or char kway teow is, some of these popular dishes will not satisfy everybody especially fussy Malaysians who will invariably have their own version of flavours that constitute “authenticity”, which in itself is highly subjective and personal.
But we are at Petaling street Malaysian hawker food today and its menu is by far the most extensive I have seen. This Melbourne Malaysian chain has now hit Sydney just like how Mamak has opened its first outlet in Melbourne.
It is heartening to see dishes other than popular Malaysian hawker food on the menu. Even dishes like a kam heong lala or clams with chilli, spices and curry leaves (See cover image above) is making its debut. This dish is usually found in “tai chow” (literally big fry-up in Cantonese) restaurants that only open at night in Malaysia.
The evident trend of these newer Malaysian restaurants is also the longer opening hours that stretch past midnight during weekends.
I believe this trend would generally suit Asian diners who are accustomed to late night feasts.
Street food stalls and restaurants in Asian cities like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong are always packed with diners at midnight and it looks like restaurants around Haymarket in Sydney are heading that way too.
The option of being able to find a char kway teow at 1am in Sydney would be enticing to any Malaysian food lover. Petaling street’s interpretation is pretty good in my books – good, strong wok aromas with beansprouts, egg, lup cheong, cockles and crispy pork lard.
At $10.80, it is food court prices and a fairly large plate too.
This is an indication of just how good and competitive Malaysian food has become in Sydney.
A wat tan hor fun or Cantonese style stir-fried rice noodles has most of the usual characteristics of an eggy sauce with bits of seafood and vegetables.
But this dish is surprisingly lacking in the smoky wok aromas unlike the char kway teow before us.
A Malaysian style roast chicken comes in its golden brown skin which is characteristically soft and wrinkly.
Not to be confused with Chinese style crispy skin chicken, this chicken is drizzled with a blend of soy sauce which soaks the meat and gives it more flavour.
In Malaysia, these roast chickens hang enticingly alongside poached chickens in chicken rice stalls. They are usually marinated with pepper, ginger and spices in their cavities before going into the oven.
At Petaling street, you have the option of either the traditional style Hainanese white chicken or roast chicken to go with chicken rice. For today, we have chosen to just sample roast chicken on its own.
The meat is juicy and succulent and a good dose of chilli, ginger and shallots sauce is pretty spot on in transporting me back to some of those stalls in Malaysia and Singapore.
It would not be difficult to have this entire plate of chicken to myself.
When I see kam heong lala or clams with chilli, spices and curry leaves on the menu, my first thoughts are that Malaysian food has really come of age in Australia. “Kam heong” literally means “golden fragrance” in Cantonese and is a pretty apt name for this dish.
I doubt if any Malaysian restaurant in Australia is serving this lesser-known dish of clams that is stir-fried with a blend of birdeye chillies, curry powder, bean paste, dried shrimp and curry leaves.
To me, this dish is Malaysia’s answer to an Italian style vongole or Belgian style mussels except it is the tastiest of the three. Western style clam chowders or bouillabaisse are usually complemented by fresh bread or sourdough to mop up the soup.
For this kam heong lala, there are already bits yu tiao or deep-fried bread sticks that act like sponges to soak up the sauce which is an explosion of taste sensations from the combination of spicy chilli with the gentle fragrance of curry powder and curry leaves.
One up for Malaysian food. I would return to sample the extensive menu, perhaps during midnight next time just for fun.
Petaling street is conveniently located at the junction of Ultimo road and George street in the heart of Sydney’s.
It has two levels of dining space where staff shuffle up and down the stairway bringing food from the kitchen which is located on the upper level.
L: Roast chickens hanging on display R: Petaling street Malaysian hawker food
So dear readers, are you a regular hour diner or do you fancy hunting around town for a midnight snack and if so, what is your favourite food at that ungodly hour?
Petaling Street, Malaysian Hawker Food
760, George street, Sydney
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9280 1006
Sunday to Wednesday 11am to 11pm, Thursdays to Saturdays 11am to 2am