Last night my family got together for dinner in a Chinese restaurant. We were celebrating my sister’s hubby’s birthday, saying farewell to Koo Ma who’s returning home to Adelaide, wishing my brother a safe business trip to the US (he leaves tomorrow morning and will be gone for a couple of weeks), but also having a family dinner in honour of Mama. One of Mama’s wishes while she was in hospital was that the family went out for dinner together – her shout – to celebrate her birthday. We hadn’t done this though – I guess we didn’t really like the idea of going out for dinner while she was in hospital, and perhaps we also hoped she’d get well enough for us to celebrate together.
Juji suggested a restaurant she’d been to recently and really enjoyed – Hawker’s Cuisine in Northbridge. This photo shows the menu, which is quite extensive. It’s a multi-paged booklet and provides delicious reading. I’d love to have one of those menus in the pile of magazines we have in the loo.
The restaurant is BYO-alcohol. Here’s Juji’s glass of white wine. It’s an almost artsy sort of shot, eh?
They offer a range of Asian-style beverages, like lychee drink, longan drink, Horlicks, kopi in various configurations, and Ribena with lemon. The glass on the left shows how the Ribena with lemon is served. The glass on the right shows what it looks like when it’s been stirred. The Ribena was immensely strong. Back when I used to drink Ribena, I never drank it so dark red! But I have noticed that in Ribena ads they always show Ribena really dark red. And in cordial ads, they always show cordial made up way waaay stronger than most people drink it. Sorry, I didn’t write down any of the prices, and they don’t have any takeaway menus – by the time I realised I should’ve written the prices down, we were on our way out.
Thinking about the strong Ribena reminds me of one of my high school Theatre Arts teachers. She was from Tasmania, and one day she happened to mention that in Tasmania they called cordial “fifty-fifty”. This of course prompted one of my friends who was particularly fond of (1) arguing for the sake of it and (2) wasting class time, to start up this long discussion about how calling cordial “fifty-fifty” was just ridiculous – my friend argued that it should be “fifteen-eighty-five” or some other more realistic ratio than “fifty-fifty”. My friend did have a point, I suppose. For some reason I’ve never forgotten this stupid discussion/argument.
My brother had a lychee drink. When I was a teenager, on a hot summer’s day I convinced one of my parents’ non-Asian friends who’d never seen tinned lychees before (or even heard of lychees) that they were eyeballs. You should’ve seen his face (torn between horror and politeness). I know, I know, it wasn’t a nice thing to do.
When everyone had received their drinks/poured glasses of BYO wine, we had a toast in memory of Mama, wished JM a very happy birthday and bon voyage to Koo Ma and my brother.
After much deliberation and input from the hungry hoards around her, Juji ordered the dishes, which of course included a big, big bucket of rice.
We started with chicken and beef satay (ten sticks of each – you can order the satay in lots of five or ten sticks), which came with a bowl of sauce, rice cubes, onion chunks and cucumber. The chicken was more tender than the beef, but I thought they both had a very authentic flamegrilled flavour. The sauce was very peanutty and on the sweet side, but tasty enough.
My chicken satay – I ate some of the chicken from the top of the skewer, then speared a cube of rice and a piece of cucumber and dipped it into more sauce.
Birthday bloke JM had selected two of the dishes – the first of his choices was salt and pepper pork rib. The pork pieces were superbly seasoned and really tender, presented with sliced fresh red chilli and chopped fried onion and garlic. I ate a lot of that garlic just on its own, picking it off the pork-less dish before it was cleared away- it was soooo good. If you order this dish be very careful not to chomp down too enthusiastically, because (1) some of the pork pieces have bones in them, and (2) some of those bones are not readily visible to the naked eye. Juji’s boyfriend J-S bit down very hard on a bone, and boy did it hurt! As we ate, JM told us how he knew this girl who liked eating her toast cold (I don’t know how this came up – I just came in on the cold toast part) – which led to my sister-in-law admitting that she likes her toast cold too – not just cooled down from freshly hot from the toaster, but stone cold. I thought this was quite interesting. Any of you like cold toast or have unusual food preferences you’d like to share?
My first bowl of rice, topped with salt and pepper pork rib.
The token vegetable dish was garlic kai lan (also sometimes written as gai lan). I absolutely loved this. The kai lan was really young and both the leaves and stems were beautifully tender, no stringiness in sight. And of course, the garlic was fantastic.
The first time Juji ate at this restaurant, one of the dishes she really enjoyed was the Marmite chicken. Yep, Marmite, as in …Marmite. The chicken pieces were battered and fried and coated in a lovely savoury Marmitey sauce. Really moreish. I didn’t think the Marmite flavour was that strong – but then maybe I don’t really remember what Marmite should taste like – it’s just a delicious, savoury chicken dish. Definitely worth trying if you like battered chicken dishes (don’t try it and then complain to me if you’re not into battered chicken!). I hadn’t heard of Marmite chicken before, but apparently it’s quite popular in Penang, Malaysia. Anyone from Penang reading this, feel free to correct me or provide more info!
I didn’t even ask for ma po tofu! It just happened to be one of the dishes we agreed would be nice to order – yay! It was very saucy indeed, looking almost like a chunky soup. It was very good – though I must admit my heart (or stomach) belongs to our local Chinese home delivery ma po tofu, which I’ve featured many times on this site. I did enjoy this though. After all this time featuring ma po tofu here at the site, I don’t think I’ve ever directed you to the origin/translation of the name of this dish – so here it is, the Legend of the Pock-Marked Old Lady.
Another dish Juji had enjoyed previously which we were keen to try was the butter prawns. We ordered the prawns in their shells – you can order the prawns with or without their shells. I must say this dish was nothing at all like what I’d have expected something called “butter prawns” to be like. The prawns were cooked whole in their shells (I ate most of my prawn shell) and were covered in a very sweet, sugary fried coconut mixture. Yummy, but the butter in butter prawns must be like the toad in toad in the hole.
JM’s second choice of dish was the XO clams. XO as in XO sauce, which is a spicy seafood sauce. I am not a fan of shellfish – I like prawns and scallops but do not usually eat clams, mussels, cockles or oysters. But last night I decided to try one of the clams. The XO sauce was yummy – though if you don’t like the stinky smell/flavour of dried shrimps (ha mai) you’d best stay away from XO. I thought the clam itself was chewy and didn’t taste like much, but I enjoyed sucking every bit of XO sauce off the shell and my fingers. It’s funny, but I can’t write about XO sauce without thinking of Belongum‘s partner, known on his blog as XO! I didn’t mind the clam, but it hasn’t converted me – I haven’t become a clam eater overnight, I don’t think.
Say “Bye-bye”, clam. Prawn, you’re next.
So we ate our way through those dishes, and we really enjoyed them. But I must confess that we then all agreed that more dishes and another bucket of rice were required! The individual dishes weren’t quite big enough for sharing between 12 hungry people! Mum grabbed a menu and accepted our suggestions for Round Two. Koo Ma thought the kerabu fish might be nice, so Mum ordered it. The dish that arrived was very nice indeed, but according to Koo Ma it wasn’t really kerabu, which should be more like this. It was a lovely sweet and sour fish dish though – the fish was moist and delicate with a light crisp batter, and the sweet and sour sauce had pineapple chunks in it, which I love.
It was a unanimous decision that the Marmite chicken should make a second appearance! Yeah, really! This was Marmite chicken Number Two, enjoyed as much (or even perhaps more) than Marmite chicken Number One.
We also had salt and pepper squid. Like the pork ribs, the squid had a gorgeous flavour – and it was nice for a change to eat the tender, flat pieces of squid rather than tentacles, which can get quite dry, or rolled up fancy-criss-cross-cut squid.
The last dish was beef rendang. Mum and Koo Ma felt the rendang was a little too “wet” (it should be a drier curry), but the beef was extremely tender – we’re talking tender enough to not need a knife (which was good, seeing as we all ate with chopsticks!) – and the flavour of the curry was lovely. Authentic or not, it went down very well, but by now, my tummy was telling me to stop, please – really soon!
For dessert, Mum had iced red bean (sorry, no photo). My two older sisters and J-S ordered ice kacang. Juji and I ordered goreng pisang (fried banana fritter) with ice cream to share – but we were most disappointed to be informed that they were all out of bananas. :( Juji ended up sharing J-S’s ice kacang. Juji complained that the ice kacang had been made with corn kernels instead of creamed corn, but she appeared to enjoy sharing it all the same, racing J-S for the atap chee.
Overall, it was a delicious meal and I will definitely return to Hawker’s Cuisine so I can try more dishes from that extensive menu (and have more Marmite chicken!). I reckon Jac would love it too. However, there were a couple of criticisms which I think must be mentioned:
1) When my sister rang to make our booking she did so for 14 people – originally my cousin (Koo Ma‘s daughter) and her hubby were going to come to dinner too. When we arrived it became painfully clear that the restaurant did not have the facilities to support a group of 14 people. The table reserved for us only had ten chairs around it and the waitress had to get more chairs. As it turned out, we ended up with 12 people and were able to squish up around the one round table, but had all 14 people turned up, there was no possible way we could’ve fitted 14 chairs (let alone people sitting in the chairs) around the table. None of us is remotely fat or plump – but if any of us had been, we may not have even been able to fit the 12 around the table, which was after all, designed to comfortably seat 10. There was a square table for 4 next to our table, but splitting the group into two (which of course would not have been ideal or acceptable) was not even an option, as they’d reserved that table for another booking already. I’m glad it all worked out and we all had a delicious dinner, but part of me (the trouble-making, point-making part) wonders what would have happened if all 14 people had come to dinner. If you can’t accommodate a certain size group – make sure whoever takes bookings knows this – and does not take bookings for groups of that size!
2) I wasn’t impressed with the service, especially from one particular waitress. I thought she was noticeably short (attitude/mood, not height!) towards my mother when Mum was ordering Round Two of food. Sure, us having more food meant more work for her – we weren’t leaving in a hurry – but we were by no means particularly higher maintenance than the average customer, not rude or rowdy. J-S said she was surly because it made no difference to her whether we ate more or not – she’d still get paid the same wages. All I know is when I was a waitress I never showed attitude or rudeness like that to customers who were dining, having a good time and causing no trouble – customers who were just being customers – that’s what you pay for – to be served with courtesy and efficiency while eating food someone else has cooked. I don’t think that’s too much to expect.
Hawker’s Cuisine is located at 17/66 Roe Street in Northbridge. The easiest way to find it is to go into the Old Shanghai Food Hall on James Street and walk all the way to the back and turn left. Of course, as you’re walking through the Old Shanghai you might be tempted to just stop there and have something to eat!
Family can log into Flickr and check out people photos too. Juji pulls some good faces, I must say!