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Friday, March 04, 2011

Chilli Cha Cha, Haymarket

Somtum Pu papaya salad with fermented crab $11.90

You can smell a great papaya salad even before it arrives at the table. It's the strong whiff of fish sauce, the tingle of chilli, and for full flavour seekers, the salty pungency of fermented crab.

Diving into this birds nest of papaya salad is guaranteed to awaken the palate. Crunching your way through a tangle of shredded papaya, crunchy snakebeans and bruised tomatoes will give you an adrenalin rush of chilli, cloaked in a heady garlic and fish sauce dressing that will linger on your breath for hours. The fermented crab – pounded down into shattered fragments – is the best part, the wall of salty intensity like being suddenly dumped by wave, then re-emerging into sunshine and salt spray again.

Thai tea

Today we're at Chilli Cha Cha, a bright and modern space with white plastic chairs and red padded banquettes along the wall. We can see straight into the kitchen from where we're sitting, watching the crew steadily working the woks, or pounding som tum in a traditional Thai mortar and pestle made from clay.

Suki Hang with chicken $9.90 lunch special includes Thai tea or soft drink
Vermicelli and vegetables stir-fried in spicy suki sauce

Lunchtime specials start at $9.90 during the week, served with your choice of soft drink or a Thai tea that's so sweet you can almost hear it ripping open a cavity in your tooth. The papaya salad is off the a la carte menu, fiery with chilli but perhaps not as briny from the fermented crab as I would have liked.

Where the Som Tum is crunchy and fresh, Suki Hang is soft and soupy, a thick huddle of vermicelli, Chinese cabbage and chicken drenched in a spicy and sweet gravy that is strangely cloying. 

Kanar Moo Krob $9.90 lunch special includes soft drinks or Thai tea
Chinese broccoli and crispy pork belly stir-fried in oyster sauce

The Kanar Moo Krob had been my contribution to the order, chunks of crispy pork belly stir-fried with gai lan Chinese broccoli. Chilli is again used liberally in this dish, with sweetness provided by oyster sauce. The pork skin is soft on some pieces, but there are occasional precious finds of crunchy crackling.

A mound of white rice is perfect for mopping up the oyster sauce, and also provides some relief from the chilli.

Not quite a cha cha as we leave the restaurant, but I reckon there's a market out there for crackling krumping.

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Chilli Cha Cha on Urbanspoon

40-50 Campbell Street, Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney
Tel +61 (02) 9211 2025

Opening hours:
Monday to Sunday 11am-2am

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9 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/04/2011 02:53:00 am


  • At 3/04/2011 6:34 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    I thought I'd seen the name of this somewhere before realising it's in Campbell Street. With Chat Thai so close, I guess people come here if Chat Thai is packed out.

  • At 3/04/2011 10:18 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Super sweet tea doesn't sound like a good complement for food that's usually sweet.

  • At 3/04/2011 11:04 am, Blogger MeatPeatandTeat said…

    The lunch special here is good. The soup offering includes boat noodle or fragrant beef noodle soup - you can ask for the sweet to be turned down and the sour to be amped up. The jelly like iced lemon tea transports me straight to Thailand where they like it super sweet.

  • At 3/04/2011 1:38 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Helen, oh Helen. Your first photo made me want to dive head-first into the screen...

  • At 3/04/2011 9:44 pm, Blogger A cupcake or two said…

    I do love Chilli Cha Cha's. Especially the curry soft shell crab. I have to go back for lunch again soon.

  • At 3/05/2011 11:06 pm, Blogger the letters i wish i'd written... said…

    This post made me think it was not entirely unreasonable to jump on a plane to Sydney and fly the required 26 hours for a plateful of these delights...

  • At 3/06/2011 2:08 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Love your description of the Papaya salad - I could almost smell it off the computer screen!

  • At 3/07/2011 4:04 pm, Blogger susan said…

    I have yet to try that crunchy pork dish from a thai restaurant. It seems the restaurants in Canberra don't serve that dish...

  • At 3/15/2011 9:45 am, Blogger thenarrowroad said…

    I may be bordering on "over-eaters anonymous" but I found their lunch special servings kinda small. I think my lunch special dollar now goes up the road on pitt street to Thanon Khao San



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