The congee that'll cure all ails

Sometimes, particularly towards the end of a long week or a busy day, going out for dinner just seems like too much of a hassle (yep... even for me!). Which is a bit silly, because - really - where's the hassle in someone narrowing down your list of food options, cooking it, putting it down right in front of you, cutting it into bite size pieces (if you ask nicely... maybe), and then cleaning it all up for you?

Nevertheless, at some stage most of us will have said to a friend/partner/family member  "it's too much hassle to go out - let's just stay in and cook something or get takeaway instead". And invariably, we'll all have our own reasons for saying it - and for me, it generally just comes down to one thing for me - time

Don't get me wrong - it's not that I think I'd be doing something super productive and world-changing instead going out for dinner. And you still have to eat, so the time driving to and from the restaurant would be similar to going to the shops and picking up ingredients, and the time in between ordering and getting your food is probably about the same amount of time you'd spend cooking. But I know that when I'm tired, there are two parts of the meal that can feel like they take forever:

  1. the time in between sitting down and ordering (particularly at a busy place); and

  2. the time in between finishing up and paying the bill (although now that credit cards are PIN-only, more places seem to have the option of sorting out the bill at the front counter).

As with a lot of 'cheap and cheerful' Asian joints, Mother Chu's Taiwanese Gourmet in Haymarket thankfully does away with both of these time-consuming periods! They seem to have a sixth sense for when you're ready to order (and it helps that for a smallish place they're always well-staffed), and you pay right after ordering so there's no waiting period at the end - you can just get up and saunter out the door once you've finished your last shred of pig's ear (more on that later).

I've been to Mother Chu's Taiwanese a few times now (not to be confused with Mother Chu's Vegetarian Kitchen, which is just a few blocks away on Pitt St), and I've always enjoyed it. For me, it's a reminder of a lot of the food I had growing up, and it's also great comfort food. So on a slightly hungover Sunday a couple of weeks ago, a late-afternoon trip to Mother Chu's was definitely in order!

The menu has about 8 pages worth of goodies - from Taiwanese side dishes, to different types of congee and noodles, a range of stir fried dishes, and their pork buns and dumplings (which you can also buy individually to take away from the front counter). But despite the huge range to choose from, we invariably end up getting similar things every time - some side dishes, dumplings, congee, and noodles. I guess it's sometimes nice to know exactly what to expect when you order!

Today we start things off with a couple of bubble milk teas ($5 for a large one) - taro flavoured for me, and coconut for Miss T. Both have a nice sweetness to them, and the tapioca pearls are soft and chewy. My only gripe is that the drinks could have been a bit colder, but perhaps this is last night's wine talking!

Taro Bubble Tea ($5)

Coconut Bubble Tea ($5)

Pan Fried Pork Dumplings ($9.80 for 12pc)

First out are the Pan Fried Pork Dumplings ($9.80 for 12pc) - as always, they have a nice crispy bottom (don't you hate it when you order pan fried dumplings and they're only slightly browned?) and a juicy pork filling, and the wrappers have a nice bite to them as well.

I know I've mentioned this before, but growing up in a Chinese household, you tend to eat a fair bit of offal - and a lot of it comes from pigs (think tripe, intestines, trotters). After I moved out of home, I didn't get the chance to have any offal for about 6 or 7 years, so now I get stabs of excitement when I see it on a menu. I'm still making up for lost time, so today calls for a serve of the Braised Pork Ear ($5).

It probably sounds weird to be eating ears (there's not much to them, right?), but the Chinese way of preparing them turns them into a great side dish - they're typically braised in a soy marinade (soy, vinegar, sugar, sesame/chilli oil) for a few hours so the outer layer turns tender and gelatinous and the inner cartilage softens a little, then sliced very thinly so you get a nice cross section of the ear, and served cold with some chilli sauce. Mother Chu's gets it right - so if you've ever wanted to try pig's ears, it's only a $5 investment...

Braised Pork Ear ($5).

While it might not win any awards for having the best product name, eating the Vegetable & Ground Pork Sauce Noodle Soup ($9.50) is like getting a giant hug from a panda bear wrapped in cotton balls. The egg noodles are great, there's some nice chunks of pork mince, but here it's all about the broth - it's not nearly as thick or intense as a ramen tonkotsu broth, but it's got a rich flavour, is infinitely comforting, and will definitely warm your insides.

Vegetable & Ground Pork Sauce Noodle Soup ($9.50)

Lastly, we have the Taiwanese Style Pork Intestines Congee ($9) with a serve of YuTiao ($2.80), which are super addictive deep-fried savoury doughnuts. In Cantonese, we call them 'yau char gwai', which directly translates to 'oil fried devil', and it's a reference to a much-loved General during the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD) who was wrongly executed for treason. This pastry was created in memory of the General, and is usually fried with two strips joined together - one to represent him, and the other for his poor wife.

History lesson aside, yau char gwai (or yutiao) are often eaten plain for breakfast (or wrapped in a sheet of rice noodle as you sometimes see at yum cha), but its texture and 'hollowness' also makes it perfect for dipping - whether it be in condensed milk or kaya, chilli sauce, or of course - congee.

Despite just looking like a strip of fried dough, there's actually a fine art to making yau char gwai in terms of how you make the dough and how you fry it, as you want a crispy, golden outside (with the oil blisters that you can see in the photo below), with the inside almost hollow but for a few strands of the dough. Something best left to the experts, I think! And thankfully, Mother Chu's does a great job with it.

So there you have it - one of my favourite places in Sydney's Chinatown. It's delicious, cheap, quick, and there's no unnecessary sitting around. What more could you want? :)

  • 86-88 Dixon Street, Haymarket (Chinatown), Sydney

  • (02) 9211 0288

  • Open 8:30am-8:00pm, 7 days

Mother Chu's Taiwanese Gourmet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato