When I came back to work yesterday, Monday 29 November after a 2 weeks holiday in Penang including a weekend in Bangkok, there was 75 emails in my Inbox. Not many compared to my partner, who had over 200 emails! One of the email in my Inbox came from a Malaysian colleague. She is a real fanatic about food. She only talks about food when she sees me. Her email was brief. She told me that there is a new Malaysian cafe in Collins Street. She tried it and thought it was good, as close to a Malaysian food one can get in Hobart. I had to try it.
I went there today for lunch. The name is Sawak Cafe. Located at Collins Street at the main entrance of Chickenfeed. That place has changed hands at least 3 times since I have moved to Hobart 7 years ago. I remember it was previously an Indian cafe, then a Chinese cafe and an Italian sort type cafe.
My first impression of Sawak Cafe – cheerful, red wall on one side, a couple of colourful picture prints on the wall, a nice clean white menu board with limited choices, nice high wooden bar stools, high back wooden bar stools along the front window looking out Collins Street, red square low stools with round white table top, a couple of outdoor seats and tables. It is clean and bright. There are a couple of Bain Maree – one stock with fresh sushi, the other with hot food such as curries and Malaysian snacks like curry puffs and spring rolls.
I ordered the Nasi Lemak – fragrant coconut rice served with fried chicken wings, hard boiled eggs, fried anchovies, fried red skin peanuts, sliced cucumbers and topped with chili paste, which tasted more like chili chutney which was sweet and not spicy. I have never had a Nasi Lemak that was served with fried chicken wings. I asked the staff at the counter who is the chef and understand he came from Sibu, a town in Sarawak, East Malaysia. That is probably where the name “Sawak” came from the state of East Malaysia, “Sarawak”. I have never been to East Malaysia, which is divided by South China Sea from East Malaysia (also known as Peninsula Malaysia).
The Nasi Lemak that I know, one of the most popular national street food meal in Malaysia, is traditionally serves with a spicy curry seafood (like, prawn or fish) or meat (like, chicken or beef) with “sambal belacan”, fried anchovies, fried red skin peanuts and cucumber on the side. The version I had at Sawak Cafe was definitely different, with fried chicken wings. It may be the chef’s own version or it may be how Nasi Lemak is served in East Malaysia. I can’t be sure. But what I do know is – it is good.
The fried chicken wings were perfectly battered with nice crunchy skins and moist tender flesh, the fragrant coconut rice was utterly delicious – probably the best in town, the fried anchovies and red skin peanuts were crisp and crunchy and the chili paste was sweet and aromatic, not spicy. I would have preferred a traditional Malaysian sambal belacan with the nasi lemak, but I supposed the chili paste went well with the deep fried chicken wings. It was very well priced at $10.50 for the plate.
The place has been opened only 3 weeks, and already had a good flow of customers walking in and out while I was there. It is a nice addition to the west end of Collins Street, nearest to Harrington Street – a growing micro-cosmopolitan cafe lunch scene of multi-ethnic food.
I wish Sawak Cafe well, and hope it will be there for a long time unlike its predecessors at the same premise.
I will definitely be back to try the Malaysian Nasi Ayam, Mee Goreng and Char Koay Teow next time.