Sydney: A Food Diary

Thursday, July 14, 2011

We were in wintry Sydney for a conference. We enjoyed this working trip cum break immensely. There is a whole lot I would want to say from this trip (including about the influential Hillsong Church) but since this is a food blog, I will stick primarily to that here. This blog is not about the food that others cook but I will make this an exception since this is a rare Sydney visit.

This is my first time in this city. As we were busy with a conference, we did not get to explore a whole lot. We stayed downtown near Darling Harbour and we mostly explored with our feet. I managed to do some cooking but being in a service apartment, there was not much to work with. Walking to the conference venues took us daily through the Chinatown area. And when a group decision on food had to be made, we almost always default to Chinese. Or, sorta Chinese.   

We did have some 'wow' moments and I will blog some of these here.

Firstly, our experience at Mamak. This joint is high up the list on many Sydney food blogs and there are long queues daily. We knew because we passed the place daily on the way to the conference venue at Sydney Entertainment Center. I am not sure which influenced which first, the blogs or the queues. It is a strange sight to see people queuing for roti prata (or "roti canai" as M'sians will call them). And a stranger sight still, of young Chinese men flipping them, not something you will encounter in M'sia or S'pore (unless you are the iEat Prata Man). Nothing very 'mamak' about this!

So curiosity and the smell of curry got the better of us. On one cold hungry evening, we trooped in.

And we were not disappointed.

The Roti Canai was crispy on the outside and fluffy within. It was presented  in "smashed ball mode", a smart move, as the discerning can see that a good prata will fluff up and hold its shape when slapped together. If the prata is too crispy (like a cracker biscuit), it will break. If it is too soft, it will not hold up. It was not greasy. Good technique was used to crisp the prata rather than rely on an "oil bath" to do the work, like a rather famous local prata shop here whose name I shall not mention.

It came with two types of curry, dhall and regular onion curry, and a dollop of sambal chilli on the side: mark of Roti Canai. The curries and chili left us sweating. It was that spicy.

The Lamb "Murtabak" was passable. The bread and stuffing ratio was wrong as too little of the former was left to wrap the latter.  The lamb meat looked blended. If they chopped it up instead, the result will be closer to that found in M'sian mamak stalls. The lamb needs to be fried separately and in separate pieces, not a gluey blob. The "telur bawang" version (egg and onion) was good but ordinary, as to be expected as adding extras to the Canai affects it's special texture. 

The Mee Goreng was good. Nasi Lemak was also on the menu but we did not order that. I saw it on other tables (I glanced, not stared!) and could tell it is the real thing.

Oh well, all nice and spice till I tell you the price - a cool Aussie $5.50 for the plain roti Canai. That could be  mental block for M'sians and even S'poreans. We are used to using coins to pay for our pratas, not paper bills. Given the taxes and cost of manpower and other overheads, this may be understandable. After all, the canai is even better than most in M'sia (fresh wheat flour!)nd a for a great piece of that with finger-licking good curry and sambal chili, it was irresistible. After all, the Sunday Telegraph reviewed this as the "best roti this side of the Indian Ocean." I still think that being an entry dish, they should lower the price (RM$16 for a roti is a bit hard to stomach). Perhaps, the onion curry can be a paid option. But given the long queues and good reviews, we won't see them doing that anytime soon.

In any case, we should of course try out some typical Australian joints. We were impressed with some cafes in suburbs which are off the usual tourists' beaten paths. We had local guides for these.  

Check the link to get to their website

Barzura was a nice discovery for us. It strangely had Nasi Goreng on top of her list of signature dishes. We liked the entree we ordered, Fried Calamari. Nicely fried, not soaked in grease and comes with some cut chili on top (an Asian cook somewhere in the kitchen). Spaghetti Marinara was perfect and the best I had for a long while. And it has a great view to boot (see below).
Fried Calamari with a chili twist
A great Marinara - this pic tells it all.
Take in the views of  Coogee beach as you eat at Barzura
This flat white does not need sugar with it's dessert
companions looming in the background

We were also taken to Shenkin Cafe at Erskineville. The coffee was top notch, accompanied by some great choc desserts. The Brownie is chocolatey, soft and runny on the inside. The Choc Truffle is smooth and obviously, they used good choc to make it. I am not a great dessert fan but these were good. It also serves some good Israeli dishes which we had no room for as it was just a quick tea stopover before church. We wanted to try the siphoned coffee but they were shorthanded that Sunday.

Beautiful choc truffle
Not your ordinary brownie
53 Erskineville Road, Erskineville 2043
Mon-Sat 7am-5pm/Sun 8am-5pm, Closed Tues     

Coming back to Sydney downtown, we were rather bowled over by a French pastry cafe, La Renaissance Café Pâtisserie. The Chocolate Ganache was superb and the Strawberry Passion fruit Mousse stunning. They looked so good that we hesitated for a moment before shoving our forks in.  Getting good desserts in Sydney should not be surprising given the quality and freshness of the dairy ingredients here. The prices are steep though, about S10 per piece.

Chocolate sponge lightly moistened with Grand Marnier layered and covered with a Valrhona ganache cream
Strawberry-Passion fruit Mousse with cute yellow macaroon ears. Just to note - I am not a female food blogger :)
A half-drunk cup: See how the crema sticks to the
wall of the cup, a mark of a good flat white
We had a dim sum lunch at Eight Restaurant at the top level of Market City at Hay Street. We particularly liked the Australian grown Choy Sum and the Prawn Dumpling in Soya Bean broth. I am sure there are some other good Dim Sum places around.The Australian grown vegetables are a class of their own and the Kai Lan was sweet, crunchy and the presentation was simple but unique. Best that I have ever eaten.

Boiled or steamed Kai Lan flavoured with oyster sauce.
Prawn Dumpling in Soy bean broth - superb
I did do some cooking. At the recommendation of a relative, I discovered Korean King Oyster Mushrooms which were in season. I made some local-flavored dishes with it. I may give the recipe details in some future post.

King Oyster Mushrooms: the better ones come with the curves
Fried with eggs and bean sprouts
Prawns added

I am sure some of our other eating encounters deserve a mention except that I could not get good photos of them.

This was not a food or even a vacation trip. That said, Sydney cuisine is great and you should check up on some food blogs if you are making a trip there.

And the good news is Sino-Ma folks can get their occasional fix, even if they have to pay top dollar for it.

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  1. The deep fried calamari looks delicious!

  2. Yay! Looks yummy. I would want to try this at home. Thank you for sharing your Roti Prata food experience. ;)