|Penang fashioned curry puffs with potatoes and chicken.|
More legal migrants from Malaysia have arrived on the shores of Australia in the past three years. Perhaps this echoes the growing dissatisfaction over the quality of socio-economic and political life back in their home country. What is Malaysia's loss is the gain for Australia, especially immediately in the perspectives of cuisine! Although more Malaysians, ex and current, settle in Melbourne than Sydney, there has been an increasing number of so-called Malaysian food outlets around the greater Sydney area, some of varying quality. So I was happy to check out a recent one at Campsie in Sydney city's outer south-west.
The label of Malaysian cuisine may be a misnomer, really there are sub-categories like Indian, Malay-Indonesian, colonial, Chinese, Straits Chinese, Eurasian and some that arise from regional hubs. The Kopi Shop specialises in Penang cooking, with the owner-operator Alan, hailing from the suburb of Air Hitam. Many a visitor to Penang island's George Town, currently hailed as one of the top foodie places in the world, would be smilingly familiar with the menu at the Kopi Shop.
|The classic Char Koay Teow. Photo Credit - Mr W H Tang|
My first choices sampled here are the durian shake as a quick drink and the curry puffs for a snack. It was an unexpected quick drop by with some colleagues. The pastry for the Penang styled curry puffs can be different from samosas and related puffs from southern Asia. You can notice that the pastry is more flaky. Here the recipe utilised is by preparing two separate types of dough. The buttery dough consists of self-raising flour and butter; the other dough's plain flour, caster sugar, a dash of salt, soft butter, self-raising flour and water to mix. The stuffing inside is first cooked as a chicken curry with small cubes of potato. I gave the Kopi Shop version of the Penang curry puffs a thumb of approval!
If you have a gathering with relatives, mates and others, you may want to have a banquet.
What goes well with steamed rice are stir fry prawns with the chili and shrimp paste based Sambal; beef Rendang, a signature dry curry from Malaysia and well known in the the Australian mainstream community; and the Straits Chinese fish yellow curry brewed in a claypot, laden with okra (also known as ladies fingers in Penang), eggplant slices and tomatoes. (No fish heads though in the Kopi Shop)
Ask Alan for the type of fish available that day, he is accommodating and can even tailor make dishes on your request when he can. This is an intriguing option not available in most restaurants.
The Kopi Shop also offers ethnic Malay dishes of tomato flavoured rice served with the Ayam Percik. Pickled slices of hard veg (Acar), Sambal condiment, sliced hard boiled eggs and southern Indian crispy bites (Papadums) are accompaniments - Penang street food has many sides that enhance and uplift the taste in their dishes. Straits Chinese and Malay Acar are finely cut vegetables like carrots and cucumbers sprinkled with sesame seeds plus ground peanuts and infused with a sourish-chili hot sensation on the tongue.
I am a fan of Mamak lamb curry, swirling with different spices and texture, and best eaten with steaming white rice! The lamb is cooked tender and easy on the palate.
Belacan Kangkung is only available according to season. This popular stir fry in Malaysia uses the water spinach and the dried shrimp paste plus chili concoction called the Sambal. It can be appetising, stirring and tasty. This is also a standard fare of many places labelling themselves as Malaysian restaurants.
Otak Otak is the Malaysian version of the Thai Homok, as popularised by Spice I Am in Sydney city centre, consisting of steamed fish pieces in a spicy custard mix. You can consume this by itself but I reckon it is best served with some steamed rice. The flavours can be subtle or sharp, depending on which part of the Otak Otak you have - I like the aroma when it is freshly prepared , steamed and served. The creamy stuff often sits on banana leaves or the Daun Gaduh. I am aiming to try this at the Kopi Shop next!
|Wall display at the Kopi Shop.|
If you are after street food, here are my suggestions available at the Kopi Shop.
Hawker dishes well known on the streets of Georgetown on Penang Island include the Char Koay Kak, sautéed radish cubes accompanied with chives, bean sprouts, shredded egg omelette, shrimps and pickled vegetables. It can look like full of carbohydrate but has a unique taste not the same as the classic Char Koay Teow, perhaps Penang's iconic dish. My cousin Susan makes a really yummy version of this CKK!
The dark soy sauce stir egg noodles with soy sauce ( Kon Loh Mee) is my childhood favourite, a comfort food. Here at the Kopi Shop, it can be requested to be served with curry chicken, Hainan steamed chicken or Cantonese styled barbecue pork slices with red edges (the Char Siew) or pork stuffed wanton dumplings. These diverse options are usually not available at other related places in Australia.
|Roti Canai served with chicken curry and Sambal condiment. Photo Credit - Ms. Zoe Yu|
Familiar and not so familiar.....
Oh yes there is also the ubiqutious curry laksa from Kuala Lumpur, offered in prawn, vegetarian, chicken, various seafood and combo versions. Nowadays across Australian capital cities these are as common as Lebanese kebabs, Italian pasta, Vietnamese Pho and Aussie styled meatballs. In Sydney, Malay-Chinese Takeway, currently at Hunter Street, consistently comes up with perhaps the most popular curry laksa.
Clay pot Bah Kut Teh are pork ribs simmering in a herbal tasting soup that also include meat balls, sliced mushrooms, pork belly slices and bean curd squares. This may have medicinal nutrition benefits but always assure a warm feeling inside especially on a winter's evening. The BKT was formulated by Chinese immigrants in Malaya and Singapore, talk of innovation, localisation and transformation in cuisine! The regional city of Klang holds the record for producing the best BKT in Malaysia though.
Tamarind juice infused Laksa (Assam Laksa), I often believe, is one of the best dietary street food items around, with lots of herbs, fish stock, a stimulating soup base and slippery rice noodles. It can be an acquired taste but do try this once in your life. An original concoction from Penang, it reeks of influences from Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia itself. I have yet to test this version from the Kopi Shop and see if it fares better than the version from the Hawker restaurant in Sydney CBD.
|Penang styled Lobak. Photo credit - Ms. Zoe Yu.|
Another acquired taste dish is the use of salted fish in a fried rice version garnished by chicken strips and a stir fry marinade. Most southern Chinese and south-east Asians have no problems with this dish - and it is good to recall that the Norwegians and Portuguese also have an impartiality towards salted cod. Maybe the European colonials introduced the greater use of salted fish in cooking to parts of Asia, an ingredient which can cause an affront to the noses of unassuming neighbours in increasingly higher density blocks in Australian capital cities.
I noticed the southern Indian Mee Rebus, one of my weaknesses, simmering with a rich and flavourful potato based gravy, laden with yellow Hokkien noodles, garnished with lime juice, shallots or spring onions and soaked with deep fried cubes of bean curd, sprinkling of bean sprouts and hard boiled egg slices. I am going to try this definitely and compare with that dished up by Temasek Singaporean restaurant in Parramatta.
|The durian shake, yummy and fulfiling. Perhaps this is another acquired taste?|
For starters, Lor Bak contain pork cubes (with a bit of fat) seasoned with Chinese five spice powder and stuffed into bean curd sheets with chopped up ground onions and leek. These tightly packed rolls of around six inches long are then deep fried in woks and served with tasting condiments consisting of sesame chili sauce and pickled ginger. Ex-Malaysian Chinese across Australian capital cities are comparing the relative taste of such Lor Bak from different emerging outlets. In the greater Sydney area, one can think of those from Sambal in North Ryde; Hawker in Sydney city centre; Peranakan Place in Auburn (where they do a related version called the Ngor Heang); and Albee's in both Kingsford and Campsie itself.
|My curry puff starters.|
The young female staff attending on my first visit was enthusiastic, communicative and helpful. Diners may also get a free dessert of Gula Melaka if you click like on Facebook. GM is essentially steamed pearl sago pudding drizzled with coconut milk and brown palm sugar.
In summary, dropping by the Kopi Shop is like visiting a food court back in George Town. Seating is amply provided in a modern setting in this restaurant. Vehicle parking can be a challenge in the suburb of Campsie unless you re willing to walk or take City Rail. Campsie itself is a colourful place to visit, with Australian multiculturalism flowering at its best. At the other end of the same Beamish Street is the well known Albee's Malaysian, owned by a family from Sarawak on the island of Borneo, but which is still part of the Malaysian Federation. In between these two ends are a multitude of variety on retail commercialism, ranging across discount wares, fruit and veg markets, computer accessory outlets and cuisines across the Asian sub-continent. The food scene can be lively going in to the evening hours - and Sydney Airport is not far away.
The Kopi Shop is located at 108 Beamish Street, Campsie opposite some Canterbury Council buildings and on the far end away from Earlwood.
Telephone: 02 9718 2988
Open every day except Mondays from 11am to 10pm.