You often hear about how Sydneysiders tend to keep to their part of the city - whether it's the Eastern suburbs, the Lower North Shore, the Northern Beaches/insular peninsula, the Shire, the Inner West, or the not-so-inner-West. I guess it makes sense - each of those areas more or less have everything you'd need to live happily, and getting from one area to another can be a bit of a b!tch and chew up some valuable personal time.
Having said that - before I moved to Sydney earlier this year, I never really understood why you wouldn't want to venture out and explore other parts of the city, particularly given how diverse the food scene is west of the CBD. Plus - wouldn't you get bored hanging around your 'hood all the time?
Well, fast forward 9 months, and I'll put my hand up and say that I've spent at least 80% of my Saturdays and Sundays this year in either Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, Potts Point or the CBD. Shame on me. I can even count on one hand the number of times I've been further west than Camperdown (mostly to get New Star Kebabs and El Jannah), and don't even ask me how many times I've had Thirsty Bird.
So in an effort to get out of our bubble of inner-eastern suburbs, Miss T and I decided to head out to Strathfield for a quick midweek meal. Rather than hit up one of the many Korean BBQ restaurants littered around The Boulevard (we'd already had Japanese BBQ at Rengaya the week before), we headed into Strathfield Plaza and settled on Ho Jiak, a small Malaysian eatery just inside the Oliver Brown entrance.
Ho Jiak, which loosely translates to "good food", has been around since 2014, serving the same authentic hawker food you'd find in Northern Penang. The rustic fitout and styling reflects the street food vibe - not enough to make you feel like you're sweating through a 90% humidity night on the streets of Georgetown, but certainly enough to make you forget you're in a shopping mall for an hour (which is almost always a good thing!).
The menu at Ho Jiak is kept fairly simple - a selection of roti, rice and noodle dishes (such as Nasi Lemak and Hor Fun with Egg Gravy), Curry Laksa bowls, and signature plates (think Hainanese Chicken Rice and Nasi Goreng). It's simple, traditional, and hunger-pang-inducing as you browse through the dishes.
The drinks menu keeps the hawker theme going, with a selection of kopitiam-style beverages. I'm particularly keen to try the Michael Jackson, which contains soya milk with grass jelly (which, if you haven't had it or don't get the MJ reference, is black....), so I opt for the AIr Mata Kuching ($2.5), which is a refreshingly sweet drink made with dried longan and wintermelon, while Miss T goes for the good old Teh Tarik ($2.50).
We kick off the meal with a serve of the Chee Cheong Fun ($7.80), which are steamed rice rolls (rice noodles rolled up into a roll, and sliced thickly) with dried beancurd and fish balls. Chee Cheong Fun can be served dry (pan fried), or wet, which is more common in Penang. I normally prefer the dry version as the noodles crisp up on the outside and have a bit more texture, but I quite enjoyed this version. The rice noodles were soft and a little bouncy, and the sweet black sauce (similar to hoisin) provided plenty of flavour.
I'm a sucker for any sort of wok fried rice noodles (particularly as I no longer have a gas burner and can't cook them on my electric stove to save my life!), so I make sure I order a serve of the Penang Fried Kway Teow ($12.80) with chinese sausage, shrimp and bean sprouts. And I'm glad to say - it doesn't disappoint. The wok hei flavour is present throughout the entire dish, the noodles are cooked perfectly, and the three of us agree (my little brother had joined us by this time) that the whole plate is just damn tasty.
The Bah Kuh Teh ($13.80) is next, with the pork ribs, pork belly and broth served in a bowl, accompanied by a separate plate of rice and fried dough (known as yutiao in Mandarin or yau char kwai in Canto - not sure what they're called in Malay or Hokkien). Bah Kuh Teh literally translates to 'meat bone tea' - not because the broth contains any sort of tea, but because tea is sometimes served alongside the dish to break down the fattier pieces of pork.
Speaking of the broth, it's the real winner in this dish, and perfect for alternating with spoonfuls of rice.
Our last main is a plate of Nasi Lemak with Fried Chicken ($11.80) - you can also it with a fried egg, curry chicken/beef, sambal prawn, satay chicken, or without any protein. The rice has a welcoming coconut fragrance (and taste) to it, but the real flavour begins when you mix it with the hot chilli sauce and dried anchovies. It's simple and super satisfying. For me, the fried chicken could have had more of a batter or coating (maybe I'm getting too used to Thirsty Bird!), so I'd perhaps opt for the curry chicken or beef next time.
It seems appropriate to finish a kopitiam-style meal with Roti Kaya ($8.80). The serving is quite generous - a large crepe-sized piece cut into 6 - and it's a great way to finish the meal. The thin, flaky layers of the roti are buttery and crisp, and the sweet kaya spread is
Whilst it's a small hole-in-the-wall style restaurant, Ho Jiak is no hidden gem - with a non-stop stream of food-lovers coming up to the counter to order while we were there. If places like this are our reward for venturing out of the city, I dare say we'll be doing a lot more of it soon. Good food - or Ho Jiak - indeed.
Shop 33, 11 The Boulevard, Strathfield (inside Strathfield Plaza)
Open 10am-9pm, 7 days (open until 9:30pm from Thu-Sat)
I dined as a guest of Ho Jiak, but all opinions are my own.