Tuesday, September 28, 2010


This wondrously warm weekend just passed saw the 20th Malaysia Festival (or MFest) in Darling Harbour, organised by Malaysian university student from all over NSW. The promise of scrummy food and colourful entertainment was not broken, while the heat and traditional music set quite the realistic atmosphere.

Dancers perform at Malaysia Festival, Darling Harbour, Sydney
I was thoroughly impressed with the number of stalls, all well spaced and most with a proper kitchen set-up behind the stall too. The crowds came out to take advantage of the superb weather on the lush green grass of Tumbalong Park and it was enticing aromas every which way you turned in the busy round park.

The crowds fill Tumbalong Park at Darling Harbour
The queues varied in length and time of wait throughout the day, although the wait was almost never too long. A quick walk-by the stalls showed the prevalence of traditional Malaysian fare: nasi lemak, satay skewers, roti, mee goreng as well as a number of regional delicacies, sweets and drinks.

Satay chicken from Jimmy's Recipe
We start on the nearest and shortest queue we could find at the time, Jimmy’s Recipe. Now I’m not sure how people were managing to eat laksa at an outdoor festival, but we opted for an easier route with satay chicken skewers to start – requested to be drenched in satay sauce.

The sauce is more red and much less lumpy with peanuts than I’ve come across before, but with rich and nutty creaminess offsetting the gentle heat. The chicken was rather lukewarm and our skewers varied wildly in sizes, but it was a satisfactory start.

Otak otak from Jimmy's Recipe
Inside otak otak
I’m not entirely sure what texture or flavour otak-otak is really meant to be, but I’m assured that this variation is not quite on target. Nonetheless, I’m a fan of this light fish paste; almost mousse-like yet firmly so. Wrapped in banana leaf and grilled, the otak-otak is redolent with lemongrass and quite subtle where I was expecting a bigger chilli hit.

Roti making at the Mamak stall
We should be accustomed to queues for Mamak by now, although I wonder what it really is that people are willing to wait 20+ minutes in hot sun. The roti show; the brand; a new level of value-eating? In any case, there were constant long queues here and I suspect there will be at their new soon-to-open Chatswood store too.

Roti canai from Mamak
I line up for the roti. My perennial favourite is the plain old roti canai, and it’s a beauty just like it would be in the store. Perfectly puffed into a ball and served with two curry sauces and a sambal, it’s flakey on the outside and just a little softer than I expected on the inside. As ever, one of the curry sauces is like a little kick in the throat while the other is significantly more subdued; the sambal heavy with belacan (shrimp paste), chilli and oil and perfect for the alternate dip.

Roti telur from Mamak
We also have the roti telur with the same dipping sauces and sambal. Served flat with egg cooked within, it’s a slightly more substantial serve equally soft inside and blistered brown on the outer surface – all best eaten with fingers.

Cans of 100Plus
The summery day meant the $1 cans of 100Plus were very popular. An isotonic drink which, I’m told, is like the national drink of Malaysia and bought by the pallet load. With the heat and consequent perspiration in that hotter climate, it’s no surprise. It helps that it’s not too sweet in its citrussy flavour.

Rojak from Aseana Food Village
Before this, I had only ever tried rojak at Mamak, and looking at the dish presented by purveyors of the curiously named ‘Milo Dinosaur’, Aseana Food Village, it’s apparent that there are many varieties of the mixed fruit and vegetable dish. This mostly fruit offering was doused in a dark, thick, sweet sauce that had unexpected (for me) hits of chilli and belacan, and was topped with a wealth crushed peanuts.

I liked the sauce combination with cucumber, fresh pineapple, pineapple, bean shoots and green apple but not so much with the very sweet pear and the hardened yau ja gwai or yu tiao bits – the Chinese fried long dough sticks commonly eaten with congee.

Muar chee from Aseana Food Village
On sample and frontline production here was muar chee, a glutinous rice cake that starts in a long strip and is quickly chopped and coated in crushed peanuts and sugar – almost like an easier, inside-out version of a Chinese sweet called cha gwo.

The 'tank' of Malacca cendol from Sydney Kopitiam Restaurant
Malacca cendol from Sydney Kopitiam Restaurant
After the semi dessert of the rojak, dessert proper followed with an all-round favourite of cendol – pandan flavoured noodle worms swimming in a gigantic tank of coconut milk, ice and liberal additions of palm sugar syrup. The latter rendered the drink/dessert extremely sweet, but not quite to the point of toothaches; more to the point of wanting another serve.

Cassava cake from Sydney Kopitiam Restaurant
We also picked up a couple of pieces of cassava cake – a not entirely attractive, slightly gelatinous cake made with cassava starch, palm sugar and desiccated coconut. After these slices, there was no more heading back into the fray for more food despite after-lunch specials – the sugar had finished the job.

Other stalls at the Malaysia Festival were Abang Sam (a great, casual place in Kensington) and Café Katsuri – both with halal offerings; Chinta Ria; Hometown Recipe, Jackie M Malaysian Cuisine, Kaki Lima, Penang Hawker, Sydney Kopitiam Restaurant and Wan’s Ayam Percik. Shame my stomach wasn't big enough to fit in something from every stall.

Satay at Abang Sam
Nasi lemak at Jimmy's Recipe
Traditional karipap (curry puffs)

Gorgeous, perfect buns from Papparoti
As the afternoon sun continued to beat down, the afternoon's entertainment was a good way to wind down the festival. The colourful traditional dresses and smiling dancers were a sight to see - and they all looked like they were enjoying themselves - especially the guys.

Dancers performing in the afternoon
Such vibrant outfits
Congrats to the organisers on such a great event - I think we'll all be looking forward to next year's with eager stomachs. Click here for the festival website.


Simon Food Favourites said...

great to see what they were serving up :-)

Tina said...

Hi Simon - There was so much more...!

Trisha said...

Oh man I missed out! I'm now craving or some Mamak roti :(

Tina said...

Hi Trisha - Join the club - I'm always craving Mamak roti :D

tori said...

Congratulations- a great blog and great photos... just moved to London and am missing mamak so much- thanks for the vicarious visit!

Tina said...

Hi Tori - Thanks; feel free to continue living vicariously!

Julie said...

omg so much yummy foods :(! I'm so depressed i missed out!

Tina said...

Hi Julie - Oh, you did miss a great event - but there's always next year?!

Anonymous said...

I was at the event there too. The crowd was huge and the atmosphere very festive. @Tina, i tried the Aseana's Rojak. Being a singaporean, i love it because it is exactly what it is like back in Singapore. We do put you tiao in Rojak, heard not the same in M'sia tho. Looking forward for next year.

Tina said...

Hi anon - Interesting...! I rather expected the Malay style at the festival, but being such the melting pot I guess Sing styles are included too :)


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