It doesn’t take much to get me back to Ho Jiak. I’ve got a lot of time for this Haymarket restaurant and the way owner Junda Khoo is working to raise the profile of Malaysian food to the heights of popularity enjoyed by other Asian cuisines here in Sydney.
Banana Leaf Rice ($25/person) is Junda's latest initiative. It’s a neat way to transport your workday lunch somewhere exotic in the space of an hour. Banana leaf rice is actually a traditional South Indian way to serve a meal, but with the migration of South Indian people, it’s also popular in the places they immigrated to, which includes Malaysia.
Built at the table right in front of you, the meal, which is served on a banana leaf, is based around a mound of white rice.
Filling up the rest of your environmentally-friendly, disposable plate, telur masin (salted duck egg) comes next with a bright orange-red yolk in a half-shell that you peel away by hand. From the series of white lidded pots set in front of the busy kitchen, the friendly floor team scoop out sayur kuning, a yellow turmeric-based mostly cabbage dish and add it to our growing collection.
Dotted with shiny ikan bilis (dried anchovies) kentang goreng, or fried potatoes, are next. Acar, lightly pickled vegetables, adds some freshness to the dish; while a handful of kulit ikan - fried fish skin – gives your lunch some crunch.
A glistening chicken drumstick, ayam belachan, is the final adornment.
With just a scoop of spicy curry gravy, your lunch is ready to eat.
Banana leaf rice is traditionally eaten with your hands. Ho Jiak will let you eat it bare fisted, with gloves, or with cutlery if you insist - though cutlery is generally not advised, as it can damage your fragile plate and make a mess of your meal. My dining companion and I get stuck in with clear plastic gloves and enjoy the experience. If you’re starving, top-ups are possible on the basic elements, with extras like the crunchy fish skin, chicken drumsticks and eggs attracting a small premium.
We punctuate the spiciness with big icy drinks from their colourful collection. Rose syrup turns Ice Sirap Limau ($5) bright red against balancing lime. The more popular Gula Melak ($5) might be brown, but with soy milk and palm sugar, it sure is soothing on tingling lips.
At the end of the meal, your plate is folded up and taken away. It’s considered polite to fold it towards you, but here at Ho Jiak, you can let your server take care of the mess.
NOTE: You can read previous reviews of this restaurant HERE, HERE or HERE.
92 Hay Street, Haymarket
Ph: (02) 8040 0252