On my last trip to Melbourne, which was last Sunday on an overnight trip, I had 3 good and cheap meals. All of which was Asian. Of course, right? What else would I be eating when in Melbourne? I craved and would kill for a good Asian food – whether it is Malaysian, Cantonese, Sichuan, Yunnan, Vietnamese or Thai.
So last Sunday I went out with my nephew after a long day exploring Melbourne city and Williamstown on my sore two little feet. Not a very “Happy Feet” at all by the time I got back to the hotel. You can check out my previous post, Postcard from Melbourne.
My nephew picked me up about 7:00 PM. We were planning to eat at Chin Chin, which I have heard and read so much about from other bloggers’ reviews. I knew it would be busy, but I was hoping that we could get a table since it was a Sunday night. I was wrong. It was packed – full house! We were told it would take an hour before we get a table. I was too tired to bother to wait that long, especially I have to wake up at 6:30 AM the next morning for a 7:30 AM job interview.
There have been a lot of write-up on Chin Chin in Flinders Lane – a newish and one of the hottest modern Asian restaurant in Melbourne. Mostly the reviews were positive from food bloggers, but there were some negative reviews too, not the food but mostly on the service. Anyway, I was not lucky to get a table on this trip. Maybe next time. I have even tried to go back the next day for lunch at 11 AM. That was the Monday. It was supposed to open at 11 AM. But they were still setting up tables. I was told to come back in 10 minutes. When I did, I was again told it was not opened. So why have the opening hours at 11 AM if the restaurant is not able to open on time. I was told to come back at 11:30 AM. I gave up and went in search of an authentic Malaysian food. Hopefully, I will have better luck next time without appearing too eager.
My first meal in Melbourne was a small Malaysian place called “Jalan Alor” located in Chinatown. It was a bit hard to find this place. But my nephew knew the place. Located in one of the arcade off Little Bourke Street in Chinatown, No. 206 Little Bourke Street. The price is cheap and reasonable. The food is mostly authentic Malaysian. At least the dishes that I have tried, except the belachan fried rice. The manager is an ABC (Australian Born Chinese). He has four chefs in the kitchen, all Malaysians. I was told they were originally from Penang and Ipoh, which explained several dishes with “belachan” in the big list of ala carte menu. I was intrigue by the name, “Jalan Alor” which is a famous, small street in Bukit Bintang district of Kuala Lumpur, with rows of hawker stalls, coffee shops and seafood restaurants. An extremely popular night eating places with the locals, expats and tourists. Also a popular red light district if you know where to find! Or maybe this has changed since I was there many years ago. Bukit Bintang is also famous for shopping with several big shopping malls and bargain shops.
Back to our Mr ABC. He told me that the Chinese name of the restaurant is actually not “Jalan Alor” but the restaurant’s Chinese name is pronounced “belachan” which is the Malaysian word for shrimp paste. Sounds confusing, right? Me too and I was trying to understand why not call the restaurant “Belachan” or have the Chinese name written as “Jalan Alor”. Why the English name for the restaurant is so different from the Chinese name. If you can read Chinese, please feel free to comment. The restaurant sign is posted in my postcard below.
The food itself was good. The chicken satay was very good, nicely marinated and grilled. The sauce was thick and tangy with slices of cucumbers and red onions to go with it. The belachan stir fried combination vegetables of okra (lady fingers), snake beans and eggplants was packed with chilies and belachan for an overall complex taste and textures. It was spicy, salty and oily. Love it. My belachan fried rice was served in a coconut with the flesh still intact inside the husk. Interesting. Mr ABC explained to me that as I reached halfway through the fried rice, I will need to eat the rice with the coconut flesh. But, it was awkward to scoop the rice inside the husk. Mr ABC explained with the coconut flesh, the flavour of the rice will be different. But, not for me. In my opinion, there was not much taste left in the coconut flesh. The fried rice with belachan had overpowered the delicateness and sweetness of the coconut flesh. The steam and heat from the fried rice somewhat had reduced the smell or flavour of the coconut flesh. So, in other words, I could hardly taste a difference. I would have preferred the rice to be served in a plate. This will make it easier to eat with the other dishes. My nephew enjoyed his chicken rice. He kept to himself so I didn’t get to taste it.
The total bill came to $61 – Mixed Vegetables Belachan $15, Chicken Satay $7.50, Fried Rice Belachan $13, Chicken Rice $10.50. The balance was the herbal Chinese drinks we both shared. It was quite a reasonable meal.
“Jalan Alor” is not in an ideal location for passing trade. I guess his business is mostly from word of mouth and returned customers.
The next day, for lunch, as I have missed out on Chin Chin again, I came across another Malaysian restaurant with a famous street name – Petaling Street. This outlet is located in Melbourne CBD in Swanston Street.
Petaling Street is a famous street in Kuala Lumpur, where Chinatown is located. It is famous for authentic Chinese restaurants, the day market and night market. It is also known as “Chee Cheong Kai” to the local Chinese, which means Starch Factory Street. This street was once a tapioca mill for Chinese labourers, hence the name. The place is always busy and buzzing with locals, expats and tourists alike.
I don’t understand why these two restaurants have to be named after a famous streets in Kuala Lumpur. There is nothing in the restaurants that resemble the two famous streets in Malaysia.
Again, this restaurant has a long list of dishes in their ala carte menu as well. Mostly Malaysian hawker style dishes, and reasonable priced. It was busy with Asians walking in every 5-10 minutes while I was sitting there. And, it was only 11:20 AM. Mostly returned customers, I think.
I ordered the “Lobak” which is minced meat marinated in five spice, wrapped in bean curd skin and deep fried. I also ordered a noodle dish, until I saw the table behind me with the steamed fish dish and rice. The fish done in 4 different ways is on their special menu – steamed and garnished with fried garlic and preserved salted radish or deep fried with chilies, belachan or Thai style. The steamed fish dish that went past my table looked good. I cancelled my noodle dish and replaced with the same steamed fish dish.
The Lobak was good, but I had better one in Penang. It was good enough for me in Australia. It doesn’t come with the usual Penang “Loh” or thick sweet dipping sauce and chili sauce. There were three pieces on the plate. They were a tart too greasy. Two of them were nice and crisp. But the third one was a bit soft. The fish, however, was beautiful, sweet and tasty with the soy sauce and crunchy fragrant fried garlic on top and preserved salted radish. I asked the waiter whether it was a fresh water fish. He didn’t know and went on to tell me that it was some kind of Thai fish. Quite funny I must say. I almost fell off my Asian wooden stool. I decided to ask another waiter on my way out as I paid the bill. He seems more knowledgeable and told me that the fish is “Tilapia” and they get it from Taiwan. He told me it was a processed fish! I replied that what he probably meant was the fish was a farmed fish. He said no, and insisted it was a processed fish. I gave up. It was good anyway. That was all it matters.
The steamed “Tilapia” fish was $12.80 with a bowl of steamed rice. The rice was a bit undercooked and the rice grain was hard. The Lobak was $6 for 3 pieces.
The next restaurant I wanted to try before I catch my flight back to Hobart was a Yunnanese restaurant at 306 Flinders Lane, called Colourful Yunnan. Another unusual and unimaginative name for a restaurant. But do not be fooled by the name. It was actually a very good restaurant and extremely popular with mainland Chinese.
Yunnan cuisine is somewhat similar to its neighboring Sichuan cuisine. The difference, I was told, is that Yunnan food is less spicy and more sourish with the use of more Chinese vinegar in the dishes. But, both Yunnan and Sichuan cuisines used a lot of Szechuan peppercorn, garlic, ginger, onions and dried chilies for their distinctive Chinese dishes famous for being very hot and fiery. Yunnan is also famous for its Yunnan style rice noodle, which is rounded and not flat.
My flight is scheduled to depart Melbourne airport at 7:50 PM. I had to catch the Skybus at 6:30 PM the latest. I was wondering around the city until the restaurant was opened at 5 PM. When I got there, I was told it was not opened yet, and to come back at 5:30 PM.
I went back at 5:30 PM sharp with only 1/2 an hour to eat if I were to catch the 6:30 PM Skybus to the airport. I ordered a cold kelp entree dish flavoured in dried chili oil and vinegar, and a bowl of boiling hot noodle soup served with minced pork, preserved vegetables and Yunnan style rice noodle. I opted for a non-spicy version, knowing that if I had the spicy version it would be too fiery hot for me to finish. It was also a bad idea to rush, chow down the large bowl of noodle, and hopped onto the plane. Just a little precaution to avoid any unnecessary disagreement between the high altitude of my flight with a churning and “boiling” little tummy.
I was really surprised how large the two dishes were, especially the noodle soup dish. That could easily feed 4 people! The soup stock was one of the best I had for a long time. Lots of spices in the stock and very complex and interesting flavour. Reminded me of a good Vietnamese “Pho” stock. But, this I would say is probably better.
The kelp entree cost $6, and the noodle soup cost $8. I will definitely revisit the Colourful Yunnan Chinese Restaurant again on my next visit to Melbourne, and try some of the dishes. They all looked so good as they went past me, as I was sitting next to the kitchen.