Asian cookbooks lie. They lie through their teeth. Good, authentic Asian food is damn hard to recreate at home, not to mention the list of specialty ingredients that’s as long as your arm.
As a Singaporean who cooks I know what I’m talking about.
So whenever I feel a bit homesick and want some familiar food, I’m always faced with a quandary – the Southeast Asian food in Sydney simply cannot be compared to the experience of dining on street food (sometimes the risk of food poisoning is just what you need for a little evening excitement), but it’s still better than what I’ve got the energy to make at home. Then what?
My previous visits to PappaRich have been something of a mixed bag. The first visit fulfilled a craving; the second left me wanting like an inconsiderate lover. Maybe third time’s the charm?
On this depressingly rainy afternoon, we jumped straight into the hard stuff. Nasi Lemak with its usual condiments of sambal, fried anchovies, egg and peanuts came with a fried Chicken Maryland so huge you could use it as a weapon. Maybe it’s my Asian sensibilities but the size of the chicken in Australia still scares me.
The most important part (some would say titular ?) of the dish – the rice – was delicately aromatic with coconut cream, and designed as a springboard for the other flavours. The sambal was legit, but like the loud best friend with all the personality, drowned out the flavour of the rice. And I really wanted the rice to be stronger in flavour.
Also on the order, the Hainanese Chicken Rice. Invented by the Hainanese people who migrated to SouthEast Asia, this favourite is truly a celebration of chicken. Rice, sautéed in garlic, ginger and spring onions till fragrant, is then cooked in a chicken broth that has been used to poach whole chickens to silky perfection.
The condiments that come with it also haven’t escaped the chicken treatment: fresh chilli sauce gets loosened with stock and chicken fat, and a chicken/soy dressing lightly coats the chopped chicken.
Vegetarians need not apply.
I’m actually quite happy to report that here, the chicken had passed the quality test. Often overcooked and super dry, the chicken still retained some silkiness, and whatever dryness it might have had was made up with the soy/chicken dressing that most restaurants leave out. The rice could be more aromatic, but not everyone requires their rice to be anointed with as much ginger, garlic, and chicken fat as I do.
Yes, the secret to a good chicken rice is chicken fat. You may begin clutching your chest in fear.
And while you’re doing that, we also ordered a plate of Deep Fried Chicken Skins.
Yeah. And it was good.
What was not so good was the Sambal Eggplant. Usually, this dish involves cubes of eggplant simmered the an ass-kicking shrimp-laced chilli sauce. You get chilli, mix it with your rice, and eat your way into heaven on earth. Instead, we got massive chunks of eggplant covered with a sauce so skimpy you’d think it was showing off at the beach. Not my favourite rendition of this homely classic.
On the dessert front, PappaRich is offering dishes that are designed to really piss of your doctor. But only in the most pleasurable way, of course.
The Roti Bom is the rich cousin of the popular Roti Canai, and it’s not afraid to show off. Thick, flaky pastry is served with a generous dusting of icing sugar, and side portions of condensed milk and granulated sugar for you to dip.
Because crunch is very important when you’re eating condensed milk.
If you feel that it’s important to finish your meal with fruit, then the Banana Fritters with Vanilla Ice Cream might be more up your alley. Banana. Batter. Deep fried. Ice cream. It’s exactly what you’d expect: piping hot fritters and melting ice cream is always lovely, even if technically they’re using the wrong banana. The banana commonly used in Malaysia is much smaller and sweeter, and doesn’t have that hint of chalkiness.
Oh and here’s a tip for you: by the sheer creative powers of my dining partner, we have figured out that the best dessert of all is a mashup of the two. Take a bit of hot banana, place it on the Roti, drizzle some condensed milk on, and finish with ice cream.
You. Are. Welcome.
With regards to the food, I think I’ve figured it out: you just have to be really careful what you order. PappaRich isn’t good at everything, but at its mid-range price point, I think that’s okay. The Assam Laksa still remains a favourite of mine, and the fried chicken wings are pretty good too, even though the Char Kway Teow is consistently below average. It’s a good starting point to the world of Malaysian food, and the little checklist order sheets ensure that no order is lost in translation.
And if in doubt, just order the fried chicken skin to go. You can’t go wrong with that.