It's big. It's bright. It's Hawker. Behind it is Mamak, the Chinatown success story that spawned outlets in both Chatswood and Melbourne with the same signature queues night after night. Now Mamak has opened Hawker, taking up residence where Kofoo Korean Food used to be near the corner of Liverpool and Sussex. Most of us still remember that spot as the former Regal Restaurant site.
Penang rojak $14
Where Mamak is said to be more Indian-influenced Malaysian in cuisine, Hawker represents a shift to a style that is more Chinese-Malay. That means classics like popiah ($8), a crunch-fest of jicama yam bean with tofu and cucumber wrapped up like a fresh spring roll, or chien oyster omelettes ($16) and deep fried lor bak five-spice pork rolls ($12) served with prawn cakes and taro fritters.
Where the rojak is Indian in style at Mamak (fried tofu, boiled eggs, prawn fritters and potatoes in a thick peanut sauce), the rojak at Hawker is the Chinese-Malay fruit rojak. That means chunks of green apple, green mango, cucumber and pineapple tossed with fried Chinese bread (yu tiao) in a syrupy sauce made from shrimp paste, sugar and chilli.
It may seem like a strange idea to eat shrimp paste with fruit at first, but the sweet, salty, sour and spicy combination is the first thing I turn to when I hit the humidity wall in Malaysia. I was left wanting for more shrimp paste in the dressing, but it was the simple omission of toothpicks - usually about half a dozen are stabbed into the dish for finger food snacking - that prevented the flood of fond Kuala Lumpur street food memories.
Barley ping $4
and kat chai suen mui calamansi lime and preserved sour plum on ice $4
The drinks menu has a whole new range of options here too. Don't expect teh tarik, the strong sweet tea that is poured from a great height to create froth. Do look forward to cham - the half tea / half coffee hybrid adored by Malaysians, barley water and calamansi lime with preserved sour plum. The latter is noticeably sweeter than we expected. They do strong and sweet Malaysian coffees, tea and iced Milos too.
Char koay teow $14
Is it possible to talk about char koay teow without talking about wok hei? Wok hei means "breath of wok" and is all about the hungry flame-licking action beneath the wok that imparts a smoky char to its contents.
Cockles in the char koay teow
There's not a great deal of char to the noodles, but the slices of lap cheong Chinese sausage get a delicious level of caramelisation. It's also a treat to find cockles added to the mix, an essential component that's so often lacking in Sydney versions. We find about half a dozen, some super fat and juicy, making up for the fact that the portion size isn't particularly large for $14 (at Mamak, the mee goreng and Maggi goreng noodle dishes are significantly bigger and go for $12).
KL hokkien mee $14
KL hokkien mee may look a little ominous at first but it's not as intense as you'd think. The hokkien noodles are bathed in a dark soy sauce that balances saltiness with sweet. There's a treasure hunt of plump prawns, cabbage, fish cake and pork in among the darkness. The Kuala Lumpur (KL) reference is to distinguish this version (char mee) from the hokkien mee served in Penang (har mee or prawn noodles).
Crispy pork fat on the KL hokkien mee
The best bit about KL hokkien mee is the garnish of crispy pork fat on top. Picture the fat between the meat and skin on a slab of pork belly. Now imagine that being deep-fried until crunchy. Think about a crouton made entirely of fat and you're halfway to imagining the joy of this stuff.
Usually you'll only score half a dozen cubes across the top but we scored a bounty after Suze asked for extra pork fat. We didn't get charged extra either but figure this might change once everyone starts asking for more of that porcine happiness.
Ikan bakar grilled stingray $16
Grilled stingray is another Chinese-Malaysian favourite that's leapt to our shores. It's a much heftier piece than what you'll find in Malaysia, a result of different cutting techniques in Australia we hear. It does mean you get maximum bang for your buck. Stingray is an incredibly succulent fish, cooked on the grill here with a spiced marinade.
Goreng durian $8
There are no fried breads at the moment. They're still waiting for their dough-making machine to arrive. That means we'll all have to return for their ham chim peng fried sweet buns ($3) with five spice, kap chung fried sweet buns with sticky rice ($3) and hua chi fried sweet bread sticks with sesame glaze ($3).
Musang king durian inside the fritter
They do have banana fritters ($6) and durian fritters ($8) for dessert. The durian fritter is light and golden on my first visit, but the banana version is heavy and oily on a follow-up visit a few days later. They use a musang king durian here according to the menu, one of the premium durian varieties prized for its size and fragrance.
There's no mistaking that bad boy when we cut open the fritter. It's satisfyingly intense in flavour with a slight bitter aftertaste. A scoop of vanilla ice cream is the perfect palate cleanser on the side.
Apam balik with creamed sugar and peanuts $6
Creamed corn, crushed peanuts, sugar and butter in the apam balik
Making these in their special copper moulds is a process that takes about twenty minutes for the kitchen. That's why the kitchen tends to make these in advance and stack them ready-to-go. Unfortunately it means ours has gone a little soggy in parts, the thin crepe more saggy than crunchy where the creamed corn has been dabbed.
Apam balik with peanuts and sugar $6
If you have issues with creamed corn however, ordering one without it will guarantee you a fresh version off the stove.
Crispy apam balik cooked to order
It makes a huge difference. Our apam balik is noticeably thinner. It breaks easily into sharp shards sending sugar and peanuts everywhere. We don't complain. On a second visit, we asked for a creamed corn and peanut apam balik cooked fresh and staff happily obliged. We didn't have to wait that long either - about ten minutes before it arrived.
Cooking the apam balik in brass moulds
The apam balik station is right in the front window. There might not be roti at Hawker, but everyone still gets a pre-dinner show.
Lifting out the apam balik
Apam baliks cooked and ready to serve
Smoothing the top of the batter with a metal cup
Apam balik station next to the grill
Hawker Malaysian Street Food
Shop G02, 345B-353 Sussex Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9264 9315
Open 7 days
Lunch 11.30am - 2.30pm
Dinner 5.40pm - 10pm
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1/11/2015 04:44:00 am