Ho Jiak is a Malaysian restaurant in the heart of Sydney's Chinatown just off busy Dixon Street. With four days off during the Easter break it was the perfect time to check it out. With colourful murals reminiscent of Lebuh Ah Quee where owner Junda Khoo grew up, it's like taking a quick trip to Malaysia via his family's recipes.
There are four of us in the car. I turn to my parents in the backseat and ask, "Are you hungry?" which is always a common refrain whenever we see each other. "Yes," replied my mother. "No," says my father who has already eaten because he's slightly worried that we'll order food that isn't to his taste. Or in this case with Malaysian cuisine, food that is too spicy.
Ho Jiak means "good eats" in Nonya. The restaurant is broken up into two sections, serviced by friendly staff wearing ear pieces to talk to each other. We wait outside for five minutes before we are directed upstairs. This is the area to go for bright light and it reminds me of being in someone's home with a plenty of sepia toned framed photos of Junda's family.
The menu is long and full of temptations and my Singapore born mother leafs through it but we need help. Service is good and they take the time to make some thoughtful recommendations.
They come by with a trolley full of food from the kitchen. We try three drinks and the most well known is the Milo Godzilla, their version of a Milo dinosaur with plenty of Milo (my love for Milo knows no bounds) and a scoop of ice cream and some more Milo on top for extra excitement. We also try the Ice Kopi Milo which is more an iced coffee which is already sweetened with a hit of Milo to it but this is really more coffee than chocolate. We were also recommended the iced Teh Limau or lime tea. I actually wasn't a huge fan of this as there wasn't much lime to it and it was quite tannic.
The first time I had pai tee was only a few years ago and I remember finding a pai tee mold rummaging through my mother's cooking cupboards once and not knowing what on earth it was for. It's a very thin, crispy shell that you fill with shredded, cooked turnip and crab meat. It comes with two chilli sambals as well as iceberg lettuce cups and it's refreshing, crunchy and tasty.
I have to admit that when my mother asked for the Loh Bak (recommended to us by the waitress) I wasn't really looking forward to it. I've usually found the five spice pork roll wrapped in bean curd skin a bit dry. But here they use juicy and fatty pork and a gorgeous and very viscous sweet, tangy and spicy sauce. It is one of my favourite items.
I wouldn't have ordered this dish unless it was recommended to me. I find dishes like chawanmushi fine but not overly exciting but I'm really glad we ordered this. It's silky smooth, like a savoury flan custard made with steamed century, duck and chicken eggs topped with fried shallots. It's so moreish because of the consistency and this may sound strange but it isn't too eggy (I know, it sounds ludicrous even as I type it).
I adore kangkung, that stringy green vegetable that cooks down to soft with crunchy ends to it. It's done perfectly with belachan or shrimp paste and plenty of chilli.
There are four variations of the char kway teow: normal, duck egg, prawn and crab and we go for the duck egg version. There's plenty of lup cheong or Chinese sausage and slices of fish cake and it is sweet and good. I would have loved a bit more wok char to this though. I also don't really taste anything distinct with the duck egg so next time I think I'd just go for a regular one.
I spied the enormous plate of Nasi Lemak going to another table so we had to order it. This is another favourite dish. I'd recommend getting the jumbo size if there are four or more of you because then you also get a good amount of the fried chicken, chicken curry and satay chicken with the delicious sweet and spicy nasi lemak sambal on the side that goes well with the half boiled egg. The rice itself is well seasoned so that it is full of flavour. Out of the three meats that it came with I liked the bone in chicken curry the best. The fried chicken was nice enough but a bit on the dry side and the satay chicken was nice but the sauce was very, very sweet. And it really is jumbo sized although it's probably hard to tell from the picture.
It's dessert time and a couple of desserts aren't yet available and unfortunately this includes my favourite Malaysian/Singaporean dessert Ice Kacang. Instead we order the pulut hitam, a black sticky rice dessert. It's already sweetened but comes with an extra jug of sugar syrup along with coconut milk. It's comfortingly sweet, the black rice nice and thick in texture.
And then we order some of the kueh or Nonya cakes. These can be ordered by the piece and also come on the high tea menu. There's a Pulut Tai Tai, a steamed glutinous cake coloured blue by the butterfly pea flower that is topped with sweet coconut jam. Then there is the Seri Muka, a glutinous rice, butterfly pea and pandan custard as well as the Kueh Lapis or pink and white rice flour cake. The Ang Ku Kueh is the red glutinous rice flour cake stuffed with sweetened mung bean dubbed a tortoise cake because of its shape. This isn't as sweet as it usually is which is a nice change. My favourite however is the Kueh Bingka, a nonya cassava cake that is moist and sweet, almost syrupy.
My hard to impress mother is happy. The bill is reasonable given how much we've ordered and as a bonus we have enough for dinner tonight.
So tell me Dear Reader, are your parents hard to please in terms of food? Do you like Malaysian food? What do you think of Asian style desserts?
This meal was independently paid for.
92 Hay St, Haymarket NSW 2000
Open 7 days 11am–1am
Phone: (02) 8040 0252