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Hawker, Sydney - Penang Street Food

Hawker on Urbanspoon
My best nominated dish - the tamarind laksa - so far as Hawker enters its third week of offering Penang street food to the public.

Michaeline had mentioned to me about this much awaited place - and before Christmas this year, it was all revealed. I like the location, not far with a short walk up from Darling Harbour and down from World Square in Sydney CBD.  The mostly young staff are friendly and seemingly well trained.  The menu is not overly crowded, making sense to non-Asians with a common sense classification of snacks, drinks, noodles, desserts and breads.  Apparently representing the best of Penang street food, what stands out in the Hawker menu are the ban chien kueh in Fujian dialect (here referred to as the apom balik in the menu), plus the banana  or durian filled batter options. The former is a light pancake served with flavoursome peanuts and butter inside the wrap, temptingly cooked in individual burners transparently to the walk in guests. What a marketing genius!  The owners of Hawker I reckon have already achieved a coup in the Australian market by the flapping of roti canai being prepared thorough glass visible to passer-bys in their Mamaks outlets for a few years now.  Now they have transplanted this visual delight of openness in preparing their pancakes. No deep fried ice cream here, it is a Singapore thing originally when Asian cooks thought up of pleasing their British colonial masters in the last century. Instead we have the goreng pisang (deep fried  banana batter) and the goreng durian  (the latter being a rather recent concept and not easily found on the streets of Georgetown Penang itself).

Hawker just before opening at 1130am on a holiday weekend.

A Fujian classic, the thin wrap snack (Poh Pniah) can be healthy, light on the palate and finger sized biting good.

On my first visit to Hawker, I was impressed by the quality of the tamarind laksa, particularly in the richness of the all critical soup, the abundance of fish in the gravy and in the variety of authentic garnishing (Spanish onions, julienned cucumber and fresh mint leaves). The all important fish shrimp paste brought me back true memories growing up in Penang ( The Hay Koh in Fujian dialect).  On the contrary, what was a bit short was in the serving of Poh Pniah that day, specifically with out a light gravy accompanying the version back in Georgetown (think of the version found at the Padang Brown food stalls).  The Poh Pniah at Hawker therefore tended to be on the dry side, although I give thumbs up to the quality of the freshly prepared skin.  There was perhaps too much smashed yellow bean curd and a missing ingredient in the wrap was finely simmered pork bits.

The deep fried lobak - essentially pork cubes marinated with five spice powder, then wrapped in soy skin, offering crunchiness, texture and flavour.  Here served with sides of battered yam and dried shrimp. A street food classic in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

Janice loved the chicken curry laksa - and she is an expert in this dish.   I could sense the rising aroma from her laksa bowl.  There was no overload of coconut milk as may be found in some other places.   The tau hoo pork (soya bean based ) stood up attractively in her bowl.   I informally asked a young man sitting next to our table how his serving of prawn noodles (Har mee) went with him, as I saw many around  me choosing that dish.  He was not too impressed though, saying it was just okay.  I was eyeing the wanton noodles (dry serve, soy mixed and with separate soup) and that will have to wait next time.  We avoided the cholesterol contributors of or chien ( mussels in omelette) until we could find a larger group to share this dish.  The test for Hawker perhaps can come down to the quality of the char koay teow, Penang's iconic street food icon.

There are many variations of chicken curry laksa in Australian capital cities.  The Hawker version is more clean cut and this is on my list already on a next visit.

The drinks list at Hawker, December 2014 - Cham means mix, Ping means served with ice and the mouthful of "Kat Chai Suen Mui" is Cantonese for " Kumquat Pickled Sour Plum". A summery preference is barley, definitely cooling for the inner body and I just wonder why there is no Teh Tarik, otherwise available at Mamak's (Chatswood, Melbourne and Sydney)

Peering through the window whilst lining up before opening times - 1130am and 530pm each day.

The feel of the place is spacious when compared to Mamak's.  The young man attending to payment at the counter asked how did everything go, a sign of welcoming feedback.  The washrooms are clean.   It is a suitable place to bring in mates or the clan to dabble in key Penang street food dishes without doing a stall crawl or between shopping or before attending a concert.  Black coloured chopsticks are provided with serviettes, reducing clutter on the small tables. I noticed condiments are not encouraged like in Thai cafes, but home styled prepared sambal and chili sides come along with certain dishes.  There is a choice of non-spicy dishes (like the Wat tan hor fan, or egg gooey wok stirred rice noodles) apart from the expected south-east Asian spiciness - but no mee goreng, roti canal or rendang curry.  On balance, I reckon an ex-Penangfite would feel at home here!


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