Six am in Malaysia is a busy time. Before the air gets thick and heavy and the sun becomes vengeful, the streets are lined with food carts. Local builders and workers pick rice-packed banana-leaf pyramids, bags of curry and fried hunks of chicken for their lunches, while locals tear into rotis and chat over syrupy coffees or frothed teas.
There’s one place in Sydney to have the same experience: Albee’s Kitchen. Every morning at five the restaurant’s small front room is flooded by Malaysian construction workers and contractors (some of whom come from as far as Hurstville or Strathfield) for takeaway containers of eggy noodles, rich chicken curry, grilled fish and congee. By half past seven the takeaway trade calms and Campsie residents file in to have a traditional Malaysian breakfast.
It’s been open for the best part of a decade, but Albee’s only started doing breakfasts this year, after the restaurant’s eponymous owner got swamped with requests. “My customers were asking for many years,” laughs Albee Thu, the restaurant’s matriarch. There’s a huge menu and many more breakfast dishes that aren’t on it. For the most classic example of a Malaysian breakfast, there are three things you should order.
The first is nasi lemak, a coconut-rice dome surrounded by an archipelago of varying condiments, probably including fried anchovies, roast peanuts, fresh cucumber and sambal. In Malaysia it’s often wrapped in a banana leaf with anything from a sambal-smothered egg, to bony chunks of ayam goreng (fried chicken), a sinewy pool of rendang or sambal roasted fish. “We do sambal prawns and squid as well but normally you’d have fried chicken in the morning,” Thu says.
The next is roti canai, a grilled flat bread served with dhal, curry and sambal, which, like nasi lemak, is one of the few dishes that regularly transcends Malaysia’s Chinese/Malay/Indian cultural divide. Thu says that both the dishes (and almost every breakfast item) is enjoyed with teh tarik, a syrupy frothed tea or coffee with sweetened condensed milk.
For the unacquainted it might feel heavy or overly rich, but that’s of little concern to Thu. Every year she returns to her hometown of Kuching to make sure what she’s cooking is comparable to what’s being served in Malaysia. “Nobody [here] will teach me the authentic ones,” she says. “I learn from the old people in Malaysia. I will ask my brother to look at the good restaurant and I buy their recipe.” She takes three days in each restaurant to learn how to make the dish she wants, spends a few days relaxing and comes home again to cook. In February Albee’s Kitchen will be moving to 297 Beamish Street where it will provide a more extensive menu and breakfast buffet.
282 Beamish Street, Campsie
(02) 9718 8302
Mon to Sat 5am–10pm
Local Knowledge is a weekly Broadsheet series shining a light on the unassuming, authentic Sydney restaurants that are worthy of appreciation beyond the neighbourhoods they serve. See the rest of the series here.