Nyonya cuisine has a long and rich history dating back to the 13th century when Chinese sailors intermarried with local Malay women. Also known as Peranakan, it is a deliciously fine-tuned fusion of Malay and Chinese cuisines with influences from the local Indian community.
Kari Claypot Barramundi. Photo credit: Ho Jiak Media Team.
I've been going to the original branch in Strathfield Plaza since it opened in 2014, when Chef Junda and business partner, William, turned their passion for Penang's famous cuisine into an eatery. The Haymarket restaurant is slightly more formal than the Strathfield branch and prices reflect the more upmarket feel.
Chef Junda in action! Photo credit: Ho Jiak Media Team.
I especially appreciate the complimentary condiment station with mini takeaway pots at the front of the Strathfield shop. There are big vats of sambal, freshly cut chilli in vinegar, pickled green chilli and chilli oil, etc. It's chilli heaven.
Calling all chilli fans! The condiment Station at Ho Jiak, Strathfield even has small takeaway tubs. The help yourself chilli stand feels generous. Photo credit: Ho Jiak Media Team.
The Strathfield branch is in the shopping mall which is next to the train station and the Haymarket branch is around the corner from Emperor Garden cake shop in Chinatown. Both are convenient for when a Malaysian food craving hits.
Grandfather's Congee. Photo credit: Ho Jiak Media Team.
Ho Jiak means, 'good eating' in Hokkien and the food matches the name. The experience starts with the setting. The restaurant walls are painted to look like the chef's childhood street. The decor is reminiscent of old-school Penang. You get a sense of the colonial terrace houses of Georgetown with glossy red doors, colourful pastel walls and rickshaws.
The ambience of old-style Penang at Ho Jiak, Haymarket. Photo credit: Nicole James.
Upstairs there are black and white family portraits on the walls from the Qing dynasty era. The decor harks back to a bygone era and the food stays true to traditional methods, such as using fresh ingredients and not cutting corners.
Ho Jiak Haymarket. Photo credit: Ho Jiak Media Team.
For starters, we tried the Pai Tee (crispy 'top hats' filled with shredded vegetables) which were entertaining to make and fun to eat. There is a choice of prawn or crab meat or vegetarian. We went for the veggie option. They were tasty little morsels of cooked cabbage in a crisp casing. They were so crunchy I think the people at the next table could hear the cracking sound when we bit into them.
Interactive eating. My friend didn't like that we had to make them ourselves, but her daughter enjoyed 'cooking at the table'. Pai Tee. Photo credit: Nicole James.
The only let down was the Loh Bak. It couldn't compete with my Mum's which has water chestnut in it for texture. I think it is by design because I have ordered this dish twice now, but the meat is very fatty and for me, and the inside filling was altogether too soft.
They also have other classics such as Malaysian Curry Chicken with Roti, King Prawn Char Kway Teow, Sambal Morning Glory and Sa Hor Fun. For those averse to spice, a warning that the Char Kway Teow noodles set my mouth on fire. Chilli fiends will love it. Every dish is sizeable and you won't leave hungry.
Clockwise from top left: Malaysian Chicken Curry with Roti, King Prawn Char Kway Teow, Sa Hor Fun and Sambal Morning Glory. Photo credit: Ho Jiak Media Team.
Let's not forget the magnificent nyonya kueihs (cakes). A lot of my Western friends are not huge fans of Asian desserts. My husband is from Britain and doesn't immediately love all Asian desserts like I do. However, he really seems to love kueihs; that and durians, but that is a topic for another day.
Left to right: Kueih Serimuka. Chef uses natural dyes such as fresh pandan leaf for the green colour, pea flower for the blue colour and coconut cream, Kueih Bengka (tapioca and desiccated coconut) and Kueih Lapis (a steamed rice flour and coconut milk layered cake). The pink one was sweet and rubbery and I loved the texture. Image credit: Nicole James
Every time I have been to Ho Jiak, the service has been friendly and I've left feeling like I want to return.
TIp: If you sign up to their VIP club (free and it basically means you are on their email distribution list), you get a free bottle of wine on your birthday and a free Nyonya Kueih plate if you dine within one month of joining.
A platter of kueih! Top one is Pulut Inti, a traditional Nyonya dessert of steamed glutinous rice with gula melaka sugar and desiccated coconut inside. The kueih selection on offer rotates every few months to keep the menu fresh. Photo credit: Nicole James.