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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Sydney Kopitiam Malaysian Cafe, Ultimo

Belacan buncis beans with spicy prawn paste
Belacan buncis $8.50
Green beans fried with spicy prawn paste

I often receive emails from Grab Your Fork readers, eager to disclose their latest dining find. Kopitiam was one eatery that had been mentioned on more than one occasion.

It's not quite located on my regular travels though, down the road from the Powerhouse Museum on Harris Street, and a couple of doors up from the popular Hannah's Pies, rumoured pie provider for the Sydney institution Harry's Cafe De Wheels. At the back of my mind there were intentions to visit, but it's rather cluttered back there and I kept on forgetting!

The memory bank finally kicked into action, and I headed there with Rebecca--it only took me about 18 months to get there!

Kopitiam cafe

It's not that busy when we first arrive at 12.15pm, but soon the place is full and conducting a rapid turnover. It looks like your general cheap-eats eatery: utiliarian chairs and tables, blackboard specials and a laminated eat in / takeaway menu.

We spend considerable time over the extensive menu. It runs the gamut of Malaysian, Indonesian and Chinese cuisines, from nasi lemak (coconut rice with sambal, chicken curry, egg and fried anchovies) to char kuay teow (fried flat rice noodles) to honey king prawns and sweet and sour pork.

Teh tarik frothy milk tea
Teh tarik $3.00 cold ($2.80 hot)
Authentic Malaysian milk tea frothed by pouring it from mug to mug

Rebecca and I are both drawn to the more traditional Malaysian dishes; I often go for any dish that isn't translated into English on the basis that it must be authentic! Belacan and teh tahrik both jump out at me: I remember that both have often been spoken about in religious fervour on Asian food blogs.

Teh tarik translates as "pulled tea". It is made from a mixture of strong black tea and condensed milk, which is poured from glass to glass at great height to create a capuccino-like froth.

The cold drink is a little on the painfully sweet side for me, but it has a pleasant foaminess to it and is cool and refreshing.

Roti canai flatbread with curry sauce
Roti canai $3.50
Freshly made Malaysian flat bread with curry sauce

We share a roti canai with sauce. The traditional Malaysian flat bread is deliciously flaky, torn off into bite-sized pieces and dipped until smothered in the creamy coconut curry.

Hakka style pork
Hakka-style pork $13.80

I order the belacan buncis, Rebecca orders the Hakka-style pork, which we share like all good foodbloggers do.

Belacan, or fermented shrimp paste, is a common ingredient in Malay, Thai, Indonesian, Filipino and other South East Asian dishes. Stir-fried with fresh crunchy snake beans, the belacan buncis is aromatic, salty and addictively spicy. There's a fair bit of heat, but the contrasting texture of juicy sturdy beans, salty shrimp sauce and deep fried shallots is irresistible. It's the kind of dish I could happily eat on its own with plain boiled rice.

The Hakka-style pork is equally more-ish. It arrives in a picturesque mini-wok and the wafting aromas are strong and reminiscent of a Chinese herbalist shop . Indeed at first mouthful, it immediately conjures vague memories of dishes my (Chinese) Grandma used to make. There is star anise and cassia bark and the stock is dark and thick like a Chinese medicinal stew.

Thick chunks of pork belly are lined with fat and come with skin. Soaked in the thick gravy are soft chewy curtains of dried bean curd. Frilly fronds of wood's ear fungus provide a squeaky slippery crunch.

It is comfort food at its finest; I can feel the nourishment and grandmotherly goodness with every delicious mouthful.

Despite the "I'm full" signals from my stomach, I cannot help but continue eating from sheer and pure greed. But even when I finally give up, I don't feel bloated and ill from an overly rich meal.

There are other dishes here which I'm keen to try: Ba Ku Teh is one, a pork bone soup which often comes with offal. Their Hainanese chicken rice is also famed, a Sunday-only special that reputedly sells out with unbelievable speed.

The drinks menu is delightfully endearing as well. In addition to teh tarik, they have malacca chendol, ice kacang and hot and cold Milo and Horlicks too.

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Kopitiam Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sydney Kopitiam Malaysian Cafe
594 Harris St, Ultimo, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9282 9883

Open 7 days
Lunch 12pm-3pm, Dinner 6pm-10pm

This has been included as an Intrepid Eat on Grab Your Fork's Top 10 Sydney Eats for Tourists. Read the entire list here.

Related GrabYourFork posts:
Sydney Kopitiam Malaysian Cafe (Apr07)

Cafe Kasturi, Haymarket
Malay Chinese Takeaway, Sydney, April 26, 2007
Malay Chinese Takeaway, Sydney, April 3, 2007
The Malaya, Sydney
Tan's Malaysian, Ultimo
8 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Anonymous on 4/15/2006 10:28:00 pm


  • At 4/16/2006 12:40 am, Blogger Adrian said…

    Oh - you should go back and try the nasi lemak! That's the dish that's the true test of any Malaysian hawker restaurant - oh man that stuff is great. The dried anchovies, the egg, the coconut rice, the sambal - that's the best stuff. They eat it for breakfast in Malaysia...

  • At 4/17/2006 5:28 pm, Blogger ChocolateSuze said…

    teh tarik?!?! my all time favourite drink!!! dude im so going there just to drink like 2L of the stuff and wow its been a while since ive had horlicks!

  • At 8/18/2006 7:05 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Tried the teh tarik last night and discovered that the froth is created using the espresso machine not "Tarik", I am so disappointed. The nasi lemak is pretty good except for the curry chicken that comes with it. Back in Singapore, we have fried chicken wings instead as curry which contains coconut milk like the rice, will cover the fragrance of the rice.

  • At 8/30/2006 10:37 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Fried Kwetiaw is my favorite. I take away for supper. It's really satisfy my tummy before head to bed. You should try it. Yummm.

  • At 11/07/2006 2:54 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hmm are the food really indigenous to Malaysia? I seen them in great abundance when on my visit to Singapore.

  • At 11/07/2006 2:57 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hand pulled teh tarik have distinctively large bubbles, your picture looks like those done by machine.

  • At 12/29/2008 8:47 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi there, I know this is a 2-year-old post but I'd like to clear things up a lil' bit on anonymous' comment "Hmm are the food really indigenous to Malaysia? I seen them in great abundance when on my visit to Singapore. "

    Well, Singapore used to be a state of Malaysia until 1963, thus the similarities between the food.

    Most Malay cuisines you find in Malaysia are derived from Indonesia, that's because Malaysia (then known as Malaqa/Malacca) was under the Palembang rule (15th century if not mistaken).

    And then there are the Chinese influence in Malaysian cuisines. Bak Kut Teh, for example, is founded in Malaysia when Chinese laborers were imported to help the tin mining industry. When these Chinese immigrants came, they brought along with them some Chinese herbs and cooked pork with them, the dish now known as Bak Kut Teh.

    Roti Canai is thought to be from the Indian immigrants from Chennai, roti=bread, roti canai would mean breads from Chennai.

    Although in 1963 when Singapore had seperated from Malaysia, Singapore still share alot of cultural and food similarities with Malaysia, and that is why you can see alot of Malaysian food in Singapore.

    p/s:I'm a Malaysian by the way ;)

  • At 1/22/2009 1:03 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Xuenn - Wow, thanks for all the info. I love that there are so many cultural influences in Malaysian food, just as I'm sure many other cuisines have adopted and adapted itself to other influences. It makes for even more delicious eating :)


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