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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hawker Malaysian Street Food, Sydney

Diners at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney

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 at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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 and calamansi lime and sour plum drinks at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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 at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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.

Char koay teow with cockles at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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 at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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 at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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 stringray at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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.

Musang king durian fritter at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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 fritter at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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 corn and peanuts at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
Apam balik with creamed sugar and peanuts $6

Apam balik is the final dessert on the menu, a street food treat you tend to only find occasionally at street festivals in Sydney. Hawker has gone for the crispy kind over the thick and caky variation.

Apam balik with creamed corn and peanuts at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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 at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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.

Apam balik with peanuts and sugar at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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 at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
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 the apam balik at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
Lifting out the apam balik

Apam baliks at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
Apam baliks cooked and ready to serve

Cooking apam balik at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
Smoothing the top of the batter with a metal cup

Apam balik station next to the grill in the kitchen at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
Apam balik station next to the grill

Hawker Malaysian Street Food, Sydney

Hawker on Urbanspoon

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

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Malaysian - Mamak, Chinatown

Malaysian - Albee's Kitchen, Campsie
Malaysian - Kampong Boy, Hurstville
Malaysian - Kreta Ayer, Kingsford
Malaysian - Malacca Straits, Ultimo
Malaysian - Pappa Rich, Broadway
Malaysian - Sedap, Regent Place Sydney
Malaysian - Temasek, Parramatta
31 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/11/2015 04:44:00 am


  • At 1/11/2015 6:31 am, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    Oh man, I need to try their KL hokkien mee next. Shame that your CKT noodles didn't get much char but at least the lap cheong turned out well hehe

  • At 1/11/2015 6:58 am, Anonymous Fran @ G'day Souffle' said…

    Oh, those apam baliks look so good. (Maybe I should buy one of those special moulds)! I thought I had just about mastered 'western style' cooking, but now I realise there are so many cooking styles I know so little about. So it's back to the drawing board for me!

  • At 1/11/2015 7:31 am, Anonymous Maureen said…

    You don't realise how much you miss out on foodwise when you live in a thinly populated community. We have a few Chinese restaurants up here on the Sunshine Coast and not much more. I've never eaten this food and it all looks so good!

  • At 1/11/2015 9:34 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    So delicious! My folks have just returned from Penang & KL in the last week and my mum has been taunting me with delicious food on her Facebook posts! Now I know where I can get a proper Malay hit, here in Sydney town. Looks like a great night out, extra pork fat included!!!

  • At 1/11/2015 9:47 am, Anonymous john | heneedsfood said…

    I'm still dreaming of the rojak in Malaysia. So refreshing! And stingray! I've only ever eaten it in Asia so it's great to see it on a menu here. Looks great.

  • At 1/11/2015 10:48 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I need to try apam balik after seeing so many posts on instagram! Thanks for all the tips - to ask for it to be freshly made if it's with creamed corn, or order it without creamed corn! Can't wait to try :)

  • At 1/11/2015 12:28 pm, Anonymous Cyn (The Food Pornographer) said…

    Awesome. I love Mamak, and now Hawker has skyrocketed to the top of my Sydney To Eat list. Extra pork fat, goreng durian, apam balik... now I have major cravings.

  • At 1/11/2015 5:00 pm, Anonymous Cindy (a foodie's joy) said…

    I certainly like the look of the Penang rojak. And that hokkien mee is so calling me! Yum!

  • At 1/11/2015 7:35 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    heh heh extra pork fat ftw

  • At 1/11/2015 8:00 pm, Anonymous Racy_staci said…

    Yum! My mouth watered when I read shrimp paste.

  • At 1/11/2015 9:12 pm, Anonymous Nagi@RecipeTin Eats said…

    Yes yes YES!! I jumped on to read this as soon as I saw the titled - MALAYSIAN STREET FOOD, HIP HIP HURRAH!! Thank you for stuffing your face with food that makes me drool, taking photos and letting me know about it so I can add yet another MUST TRY to my list!!

  • At 1/11/2015 10:20 pm, Anonymous Tania@ MyKitchen Stories said…

    I am really looking forward to trying this Helen. I not yet managed to get into mamak( I know!) but tried all of these delicious things last time I was in Malaysia and cant wait to have them again....soon.

  • At 1/11/2015 10:26 pm, Blogger Keren @passionatelykeren said…

    You had me at Goreng Durian! Oh MY!!!

  • At 1/11/2015 10:26 pm, Blogger Keren @passionatelykeren said…

    You had me at Goreng Durian! Oh MY!!!

  • At 1/12/2015 3:05 am, Anonymous Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    I understand the pain of making apam balik in those pans. I have one of those at home and it takes oodles of patience and care to make a perfect pancake then gently scrape it off without ruining it. Which is why I only use a non-stick crepe pan now lol.

    100% agree with you about the rojak - it needed more way more shrimp paste but it still was one of the better offerings.

  • At 1/12/2015 10:09 am, Anonymous ChopinandMysaucepan said…

    Dear Helen,

    Some very accurate observations about the food, are you sure you were not Malaysian in some past life?

    Char kway teow with blood cockles (and not clams), KL hokkien mee with crispy 'kacang' on top and ikan bakar with that plate of pungent sambal belachan, these dishes are looking like the real deal in Sydney. Kudos to Hawker and I'm making my way there soon.

  • At 1/12/2015 5:37 pm, Blogger Jacq said…

    Can't wait to try this place, especially the apam balik and the KL hokkien mee - with extra pork fat of course! lol

  • At 1/12/2015 8:24 pm, Blogger Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said…

    Apam balik is supposed to be delicious I would love to try it :D

    Choc Chip Uru

  • At 1/12/2015 10:45 pm, Anonymous Darryn said…

    My wife is going to go crazy about the popiah. We went all around KL trying to find the perfect popiah. She even made up a song about Sisters Crispy Popiah!

    I just like that the char kway teoh has cockles AND lup chong, a rarity in Sydney. Thanks for the review, Helen, you never steer us wrong.

  • At 1/13/2015 4:11 pm, Anonymous JJ - 84thand3rd said…

    I keep seeing this pop up across IG - great to get a bigger picture of what's on offer!

  • At 1/13/2015 7:07 pm, Anonymous gastronomous anonymous said…

    you had me at durian goreng! that's enough to make me go! YUM!!!!!

  • At 1/13/2015 8:52 pm, Anonymous Gourmet Getaways said…

    Love Asian hawker food. There's just so many to try with different flavours and texture!

    Julie & Alesah
    Gourmet Getaways xx

  • At 1/13/2015 10:55 pm, Anonymous Berny @ I Only Eat Desserts said…

    Woah I've never heard of apam balik but it sounds like my kind of food. Need to hunt this down :D

  • At 1/14/2015 8:50 am, Anonymous Katie said…

    Ive been past this place a few times now and always wondered what the food would be like. Im glad its more chinese-malay as ive never been a fan of the indian influences. I might give this one a try if only to taste sting ray for the first time!

  • At 1/14/2015 9:32 am, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    Gorgeous photos as always Helen! I became addicted to the stingray in Malaysia, one of the few things I could easily get gluten free. You are right, it does look like a hefty piece. I would be in bliss!

  • At 1/14/2015 9:52 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Looks great! How does it compare to Petaling St Hawker Food on George Street? Good to see a few of these places opening up these days.

  • At 1/14/2015 10:22 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    Wow! Your post has made me super nostalgic for Malaysia!

    I totally love apam balik (we call it "Bah Chang Kueh" at home - same thing but apam balik is in Bahasa Malay, Bah Chang Kueh is in Chinese). I'm lucky that my dad makes it at home sometimes, hehe.

    Peanut and sugar is definitely the superior option. ;)

    xox Sarah

  • At 1/17/2015 9:57 pm, Anonymous sarahversuscarbs said…

    Everything looks awesome! Can't wait to check it out soon. Fab pics as always :)

  • At 1/21/2015 1:07 am, Anonymous Su said…

    I haven't eaten much Malaysian food in my life apart from a few Sydney restaurants like Temasek, Mamak and PappaRich, but the food at Hawker looks very different. Probably because of the Chinese influence, like you stated! The food looks interesting and delicious though, I can't wait to try both the savoury dishes and desserts!

  • At 1/23/2015 4:07 pm, Anonymous Amanda @ Gourmanda said…

    Did you say, durian fritters? I'll have to ask my father in law to come along with me, he's the only other person in the family who likes durian!

  • At 1/26/2015 11:32 pm, Anonymous Sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    I am a Mamak fan girl, Hawker may be getting some of that attention now.


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