Written by Brian (@brhinos), Sydney
Have you ever walked past 15 Goulburn St, Sydney at night and wondered what the long queues are for? Short answer – Malaysian cuisine. Mamak all started with a small market stall in Sydney’s Chinatown. Three friends, Julian Lee, Alan Au and Clement Lee, disappointed by the quality of Malaysian cuisine available locally, decided to create the solution by quitting their corporate jobs, joining forces and building what we know today as Mamak. It’s a place I have frequented on many occasions and rate as some of the best Malaysian cuisine in the city.
Walking into Hawker, which is conveniently located two minutes up the road on Sussex St, it seems familiar but noticeably different. It’s bright, it’s spacious and has an up market hawker centre atmosphere. This familiar feeling extends to the menu too. There are some Mamak classics like the Satay, Kangkung Belacan and my personal favourites, the Ais Kacang and Cendol. But the rest of the menu opens up a whole new offering not available at Mamak.
The main differences between Mamak and Hawker is around the focus of the Malaysian cuisine. The three largest ethnic groups in Malaysia are the Malays, Chinese and Indians. Mamak’s Malaysian cuisine has touches of the Indian influence whereas Chinese influences are more prominent in Hawker’s Malaysian cuisine.
The classic Satay sticks are offered in both Chicken and Pork and in a full or half dozen. Pictured is the chicken satay, which has a nice char grilled exterior without being overcooked. The flavours come through and it is only amplified with the sweet and spicy peanut sauce.
Another classic dish, is the Lor Bak (five-spice pork rolls) which is served on a silver platter with Prawn Cakes and Fried Tofu. The tofu was a little on the plain side (maybe best dipped into the accompanying chilli sauce and special sweet sauce) but the Lor Bak and Prawn Cakes were amazingly good, they didn’t need to be dipped in anything.
“What are those amazing looking drinks in the background?” You may ask.
If you’re looking for a typical Malaysian drink and you’re a fan of sour flavours, try the Kat Chai Suen Mui, essentially Calamans lime and preserved sour plum on ice. My friend wasn’t used to the unique flavours but I really enjoyed it and found it refreshing.
It’s important to note that Malaysian cuisine is quite different to your standard “asian cuisine”. Sure they have laksa, fried rice and noodles, but there are also more adventurous ingredients that personally, I wouldn’t order. Take for example fish heads, offal or durian. These have very little appeal to me but are hugely popular to Malaysians.
My friend wanted to try something different so we ordered the Penang White Curry Mee. Egg noodles & vermicelli with prawns, cockles, cuttlefish, blood jelly and tofu puffs, in a milky seafood broth and fragrant chilli paste. This had a lot of ingredients that don’t appeal to me (like the cockles, cuttlefish and blood jelly) so I obviously wasn’t a fan but my friend seemed happy and gobbled it right up.
Next, it was time to test out the Curry Laksa Chicken. Egg noodles & vermicelli served with snake beans and tofu puffs in a light and spicy laksa broth. It’s not the best in town (it’s pretty hard to beat Malay Chinese’s Chicken Laksa) but it’s still pretty good.
Spicy wok tossed rice noodles with eggs, prawns, cockles, Chinese sausage and fresh bean sprouts. A favourite of mine growing up and Hawker does this dish justice. It’s slightly on the spicy side but as someone with an average chilli tolerance, I think it enhances the dish’s flavour.
One of the most used meats in asian cooking, I’ve tried this dish more times than I can count. The sweet soy glaze was tasty, in particular the sections that were charred. This caramelized the glaze further and added more flavour to the marinade.
The crackling on this dish was EPIC! Flavourful and incredibly crunchy, the way all crackling should be! The meat was tender and my favourite out of all of the pork dishes. It was so good, it didn’t need any sauce.
I had high expectations for this one since my parents cook a mouth watering version of it. This was the last main we received and at this stage, we were three pork dishes down. I may have been ‘porked out’ at this stage and following the Siu Yuk is a tough act, but this dish left little impact on me. It had a nice subtle flavour but I feel like I need to return to try it properly.
No meal is complete without a serving of greens to balance the meal out. A popular choice is the Kangkung Belacan. In Malay kangkong belacan means water spinach in shrimp paste. A word of warning. This is a very spicy dish. In my opinion, it was a little too heavy on the chilli and shrimp paste, but other people seemed to enjoy it.
Apam Balik. Crispy ‘turnover’ pancake with crushed peanuts, butter and creamed corn. When I see the word ‘turnover’ I automatically associate this with apples. I quickly had to tell myself this had nothing to do with apples. I haven’t had this dessert before but I like all the ingredients individually so it would make sense for me to like this dessert. And I did. Nice blend of crunchy textures, which may seem dry to start with but mix it with the ice cream and the problem is not only solved but enhanced.
This dish made my night. If there was justification needed to open a new restaurant, this would be it! There was so much going on here for such a simple dish. The crispy batter contrasted against the gooey-ness of the banana, the hot banana against the cold ice cream, the sweetness of the banana. A home run in my books.
A couple of other desserts worth mentioning are the Goreng Durian (Crispy battered durian). Durian is automatically scratched off my list because of it’s overwhelming smell (fun fact: eating during on public transport in Singapore has been banned for this reason), I hear it is quite a popular dessert among the durian lovers. It looks very similar to the Crispy Battered Banana so I imagine if I enjoyed that dish so much, I would probably enjoy this one too if I liked the fruit.
Also worth a try is the Ais Kacang. A concoction of red beans, corn, grass jelly, rose syrup and sweetened milk on a mountain of shaved ice. I took this photo when I was at Mamak but it is the same dish at both restaurants. It’s a fun dessert where you need to dig through the ice to get to the treasure chest of ingredients down the bottom. It’s sweet and refreshing and that’s before you’ve got to the other ingredients. It may seem foreign if you’ve never tried it before but it’s the dessert I order most at Mamak and is well worth saving room for in your dessert stomach.
Returning from a recent trip to Singapore, when I have a craving for Singaporean/Malaysian dishes, the first place I think of to satisfy my cravings in Sydney is Hawker. Being just over a year old, Hawker does a pretty good job overall with all the dishes I tried and overall, seems to be succeeding in achieving their goal of bringing authentic Malaysian cuisine to town.
Twin Discoveries recommendations
Starters & Mains: Lor Bak (Pork rolls), Char Kway Teow, Siu Yuk
Desserts: Goreng Pisang (Battered Banana), Ais Kacang, Cendol
To find out how you can win a feast for two, click here.
Shop G.02, 345B-353 Sussex Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9264 9315
Open 7 days 11:30am – 2:30pm, 5:30pm – 9:30pm (12am close on Fri and Sat)