7/206 Bourke St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
03 9663 1138
Despite endlessly speaking about Singapore food since December, there are still many more local hawker dishes to bring to life. I think if I carry on with my holiday food posts, fatbooo will cease being a Melbourne-based blog. That would be such a travesty!
|Jalan Alor’s walls are quite colourful|
I’ve decided to start sprinkling Melbourne posts with my Singapore/Melaka food posts. This way, I can continue being up to date with eateries in Melbourne whilst talking nostalgically about the comfort foods I’ve had back in Singapore.
Spending time with my family was really great. I hung out with my cousins and visited relatives. Dad, mum, and even grandma were more than happy to help along with my efforts to document local food. Grandma would buy Nyonya kueh home for me to take pictures of. Mum and dad would go durian hunting for me even though it’s off-season and insanely overpriced. “My son can’t come back home and not eat durian!”
In Singapore, I find it much easier to hang out with friends just with one spontaneous SMS. They don’t sleep at 10pm the way Melbournites do. I even enjoyed ordering food and drinks at the hawker centre, watching the mannerisms of the hawkers and listening to the speech of the Malay aunties and Chinese uncles. It just feels sooo very heartwarming.
So yes, this year’s cheap food theme is essentially a cunning plan to save more money so that I can travel more and possibly visit home more often. I’m sure mum and dad would like that. : )
Service was casual friendly. Of course, fact that I’m Singaporean helped because I spoke effortlessly with the staff on what dishes were good, even down to the specifics of whether the fish curry is spicy or milky, or if the sugarcane juice was freshly pressed. Manglish and Singlish are very similar, I can’t tell the difference to be honest. When I asked “what’s good here?” the friendly Malaysian guy told me “The important question is what YOU feel like eating. Something soupy? Spicy? Noodles? Rice?”. So true… He also told me that the cooks here are from Ipoh and Penang in Malaysia. Sounds good!For a moment, I felt very much like teoh teoh when he was ordering our makan (Malay: food/eat) at the Teochew restaurant in Melaka, trying to make sure what we ordered will be good. I should do this waiter-customer chit chat more often. Waiting staff should know what’s popular with diners so they technically should be able to give great recommendations.
So here’s our authentic drinks. Swell’s hot barley water was pretty good. Thicker than the cold version I had at Chilli Padi Mamak Kopitiam. Koji’s fresh whole coconut was an old fruit though. The flesh on the insides of old coconuts is too hard to be scraped out, so old coconuts don’t make good beverages. The sugarcane juice wasn’t freshly pressed. But I guess I can’t expect the eatery to possess that big sugarcane steam-roller contraption thingy just to make fresh sugarcane juice for me, lol!
We ordered three hawker-style mains to share, I’m so very glad that my ang moh (Hokkien: red head – colloquial way of saying ‘caucasian’) friends have no qualms about sharing food. Morph the shopping arcade we were in into an open-air street, turn the tables and chairs dingier and I’d feel we’re right there in Jalan Alor KL, eating hawker fare.
I am well familiar with this robust and flavourful prawn noodle soup. We call this dish Hokkien mee back home and it is almost identical to this version. Very good dish, Swells really really enjoyed it. What makes or breaks this dish is the broth, and over here it is authentically rich with prawn stock. We were given both egg noodles and thin rice vermicelli in the dish, which is the exact combination that I like having. We had 2 whole prawns, half a boiled egg, fish cake slices and some choy sum.
For me, what’s missing in this dish is pork slices, chilli powder and kang kong (water convolvulus). The soup could also be slightly less salty and a few grades spicier. I’ve eaten good har mee at other Malaysian eateries in Melbourne and this stands up well with the others.
This is Jalan Alor restaurant’s own creation. Just eating fried rice augmented with pungent belachan (shrimp paste) is good enough for me. But the twist here is it’s served inside a coconut. So as you eat into the dish, you can scrape a bit of coconut flesh with each mouthful of fried rice. And yes, this time it wasn’t an old un-scrapable coconut. But to be honest, the mixture of coconut and fried rice didn’t taste particularly special to us. The coconut’s flavour was subtle and hard to detect amongst all the pungence going on in the nasi goreng. Still, it was a good, authentic dish… very tropical and pretty. I could also taste tiny bits of fried salted fish, I really like salted fish in my fried rice. Finding two large prawns in the dish felt like an added bonus.
I’ve recently had roti prata in Singapore, freshly made from a very congenial prata-man. So you have to forgive me if I sound like a fuss-pot when it comes to having a good piece of roti. I’m used to eating egg rotis where the egg is actually inside the roti. When freshly cooked, the flavour of the egg permeates up your nose with each crispy bite you take… so yum!!
But in this case, the egg was on the outside, it looked as if they stuck a thin omelette to a piece of roti canai. How odd! The roti was crispy enough for me but I couldn’t really taste the egg. But that didn’t matter anyway, because the fish curry more than made up for it. While not as spicy and tangy as the Indian fish curries that I enjoy eating, I was pretty happy with what we were served. My companions liked it too. The stingray pieces were still succulent and not overcooked to death. The curry was thick and reasonably spicy without being overly milky. And it’s got my favourite fish curry veggies: eggplant and okra!
I’ve never had this dessert before. Is it a classic dessert in some obscure Malaysian province? I don’t know. Anyone care to enlighten me on this? Either way, I wasn’t that wow-ed by this dessert. Not as much flavour and texture punch as the next dessert we had. The coconut milk and gula melaka (palm sugar) tasted very addictive though… we slurped every last drop and the ang mohs made a drippy mess of the table.
Oooh this one was good. Granted, I’ve not had many ice kacangs in Melbourne, but I quite liked this version. The boys did too. I should comment that I’m used to seeing tall-peaked ice kacangs with red, green and yellow syrup to give a burst of colour to the dessert. Dark brown gula melaka and whitish evaporated milk might also be poured over the shaved ice to create a beautiful and delicious tapestry of colours.
But here, we got an insipid brown-white exterior hiding a treasure trove of yummies. With my first spoonful of shaved ice, I tasted good gula melaka, coconut milk AND evaporated milk. Mmm.. mmm…
Okay, ice kacang normally doesn’t contain coconut milk, so technically, its more like a fusion cendol. But it works! I loved the ingredients inside. Crunchy (and I think roasted) peanuts is something I’ve never had with ice kacangs, but they went really well in this dessert. Red beans, green ‘worms’, grass jelly, sea coconut and attap seeds are all authentic ingredients that I’m very fond of too. It almost seems like they’ve cleverly omitted all the ingredients I don’t like (sweet corn, coloured agar agar pieces).
|Green ‘worms’ and peanuts|
Just like my mum, I much prefer the firm textured ones.
|Chewy and resilient sea coconut|
|Colours in a classic ice kacang. (Eaten in Singapore)|
We had a pretty enjoyable meal here. Bottom line is, we’re coming back. All of the dishes were good enough for me within the context of Malaysian food in Melbourne. There wasn’t much Western bastardisation going on. In fact, I think some of them dishes were pretty authentic. Aaaah… comfort foods!!
I’ll end this post with a series of pictures documenting the CNY festival in Melbourne CBD. It gets momentarily buzzy for a couple of hours in the afternoon, what with all that “dong dong chiang” lion dance performances. Granted, it’s not quite as colourful and atmospheric as in Asian countries, but it’s nice enough for me. : )
|Chinatown gateway perspective|
|Little Bourke St|
|Lion Dance Troupe
The performances were done earlier in the day. I’ll try to catch it next year.
|Fried Carrot Cake (doesn’t look authentic)|
|Bak Kwa – BBQ Pork Jerky.|
|These auspicious cherubs wishing “gong xi fa cai” are ubiquitous in Chinese restaurant doorways.|
|I have no idea what these are for… good luck charms?|
|Love the colours in this picture|