For me, one of the greatest powers of food is the ability to transport you to another part of the world. Any time I eat a Gyro I immediately am taken back to the streets of Athens; while eating at Ho Jiak I was invited into a world I have not yet been.
Ho Jiak is burrowed in a small hawker style stall inside the Strathfield Plaza. The unassuming tunnel-like stall sees people flocking in and out for quick bites to eat and take away, seeing a steady turn over. For the owners William and Junda, the stall is based on a typical North Malaysian style of food, and the restaurant has been outfitted in such a way as to transport diners to the streets of Penang.
The shop is fronted with a Malaysian food truck, and the inside of the restaurant with images of the streets of Malaysia. Roasted chickens hang in the kitchen and ingredients typical of Malaysian cooking like ketjap manis and coconut milk cover the kitchen’s interior. Pictures of assorted dishes hang just above eye level tempting the eyes and the stomach. Inside you can see all levels of preparation, from chefs skewering chicken to chefs tossing large woks of Koay Teow.
It is 7pm and there are no free tables inside, a line is constantly forming for take away. Waiting for a table, we wander through the extensive menu of curries, noodles and mains. Seeking the best of the best we ask one of the chefs for the low down. “Any of the Signature Dishes,” we’re told, which I guess makes things easy for everyone. Having never been to Malaysia I am keen for an authentic Malaysian experience and am curious about how Ho Jiak distinguishes itself from other regional Malaysian cuisine. The clear difference is the flavour intensity in each dish differs from the chicken, to the pork, but we are also informed, “even though there are differences, being small, there are lots of cross overs.”
We start off with a Roti Kosong served with curry sauce ($8.80). The roti itself is crisp on the outside with a soft and buttery interior and is even better when dragged through the thin curry sauce that doesn’t wait a moment to hit you with a good bit of spice.
The Satay chicken skewers (4 for $8.80) are classic, as you would expect. They have a BBQ smokiness to them and are accompanies by a perfectly peanuty sauce as well as some Spanish onion and cucumber.
As the Special Sauce Pork Ribs ($18.80) arrive I let out a gasp and have a full moment of realising I have made the right decision. Before me is a mound of glistening ribs, bathing in sticky, sweet sauce and covered in sesame seeds (and vegetarians avert your eyes because this may be hard to resist). The sauce has a caramelised flavour which accompanies the heavy porkiness that can only come from being on the bone. It is safe to say these are my favourite of the night and I happily dive in with my fingers and rip every shred of meat off that I can.
The struggle was real in choosing a signature dish, so I did what any person should do, and chose my two favourites vowing I would finish it all. Worst case scenario I’d have left overs which you take for work lunch the next day (now that’s what I call a win-win!) We opt for the authentic Penang Fried Koay Teow ($12.80) a typical Northern Malaysian spicy rice noodle dish, with pork lard, seafood, bean sprouts and Chinese Sausage. For me the highlight was the Chinese sausage, which has a tart sweetness to it, not unlike pineapple. The flavours were strong, a porky intensity that was topped off well with extra chilli sauce.
Seeing the chickens hanging from the racks in the kitchen it is hard to pass up the Signature Roast Chicken with Dry Egg Noodle ($12.80). The noodles have a mellow honey sweetness, while the chicken has a thin crispy skin and crunches next to the soft flesh that pulls off the bone.
All the meals go down a treat, especially with the iced teas. The Teh O Limau ($2.50) is a Malaysian style black tea with lime. It is refreshing and zesty, well matched with the spicy food, as is the Teh Tarik ($2.50) a pulled milk tea with condensed and evaporated milk. It is slightly creamy and has a heavy tea flavour which I love.
That concludes my little trip to Penang via hawker style stall Ho Jiak; the Northern Malaysian flavours were bold, spicy, and most of all, delicious.
Shop 33, 11 The Boulevard, Strathfield, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9008 8020
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Ho Jiak