Monday, April 10, 2006

Kopitiam Malaysian Café

I'm told that 'Kopitiam' is Hokkien for ‘coffee and a snack’ (or ‘coffeeshop’) but the menu at this little café certainly holds more than simple snacks with its extensive list of Asian and Malaysian dishes. The décor is, well, basic and the two rooms are small. Odd assorted bare tables and chairs, a window through to the kitchen, specials mounted on the walls alongside various pictures of Malaysian royalty. However, a full room on a Thursday lunchtime and a constant stream of Asian patrons flowing through the door for hawker-style cuisine confirms that this is no ersatz Malaysian eatery.

I heard about Kopitiam on the grapevine from people who know about such things – visiting Malaysian academics in particular – and have heeded their advice to come down and try it out, along with Helen, who’s always up for an encounter with authentic international cuisine, and who had also heard rumblings regarding their fine food. We sit wedged next to, and facing, a large, unattractive drinks fridge, but the other alternative is looking at trucks go past on Harris St., so we kind of don’t mind. I get the plum view of the Malaysian monarch as well, so I lucked out there.

The menu has about 100 selections and spans Malaysian, Singaporean, and various regional Chinese cusines, enough to cater to whatever whim takes you at the time. No dish is more than $13.80 (most are around $7.00-$9.00) and the $6.80 weekday lunch special comprises chicken or beef with a choice of sauces and boiled rice. There are daily specials as well, and they are apparently famous for the quick-to-sell Hainanese Chicken Rice, served only on Sundays.

We both love Roti Canai and order one with curry sauce to share ($3.50, left). The menu boasts they are freshly made, and they certainly taste as though they are made and cooked fresh on the premises and are light and flaky. The curry sauce is creamily coconutty and not too spicy. In addition we order Belacan Buncis, which the menu tells us are green beans fried with spicy prawn paste ($8.50) and one of the house specials of the day, Hakka Style Pork ($13.80)

I’ve never had either of these dishes before so am looking forward to something completely different. I’m often a bit wary of shrimp paste because I’ve had it in places where it’s been so strong it overtakes everything else in the meal. I ask about the Hakka Pork, but all I can get by way of explanation is that it comes ‘in black sauce’. Oh well – may as well just jump and give it a go!

The beans (left) are wrinkled and studded with a confetti including chilli, garlic, fried shallots and the aromatic fragrance of the shrimp paste hits you first as it wafts from the plate, but then multiplies a hundred fold when you taste it. Intensely hot and salty and sweet all at the same time, the beans are still very crunchy. It certainly doesn’t taste overpoweringly of fermented shellfish, but warmly and pleasantly pungent. I figure this is how it’s supposed to taste and could be one of the reasons so many people have told me this food is really ‘authentic’.

The Hakka Pork (left) turns out to be a Hokkien dish of slow cooked pork belly with black fungus, and what looks like bean curd sheets (Helen assures me they are), in a thick luscious star anise-scented gravy. The complexity and depth of flavour are wonderful and it feels like the sort of food you’d want on a cold wintry night, the smell of it slowly stewing driving you mad all afternoon. The textures are great as well – the slight resistance to the bite of the fungus, the meltingly soft pork. And plenty of rice to mop up the rich gravy. The serving are generous so even though we're both totally satiated, there's plenty to take home for leftovers as a supper snack.
With so many dishes yet to try at Kopitiam I think it will definitely require several more visits and more .. ah.. 'research'. Watch this space.

954 Harris St, Ultimo.
Open for lunch and dinner 7 days, 12-3pm; 6-10pm.
BYO, $1pp charge, no credit cards.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Sue said...

Looks delicious. i Have been to kopitiam before and always thought it quite authentic. The pork looks delicious.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Julia said...

How fantastic! Hear hear about the pork, looks/sounds amazing.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Reb said...

The pork was fab-o! I love those slow cooked Asian dishes! Thanks for the comments!

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Mel said...

I've always wanted to try that place, but never get around to going that way when I feel like Malaysian food! The pork looks great though - so might have to make the 'trek'.

If you want another place to try, go to Sinma Laksa House in Kingsford (near the big roundabout). The curry fish head and KL Loh Mee are divine...

3:42 PM  
Blogger Reb said...

Wow - thanks Mel - will have to go and check that one out. Just based on my small sample it's worth the trek to Ultimo for this one!

6:51 AM  
Blogger tytty said...

as a malaysian, i can vouch that that looks authentic just from looking from the pics. i'm dubious of the roti canai though. looks more like frozen packet ones than the freshly made ones back home.

will have to go to Kopitiam though to make sure. (-:

5:10 PM  

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