The laksa at Malay Chinese Takeaway in Hunter Street is legendary, as evidenced by the lunchtime queues that snake out the door on a daily basis (contrary to the name, you can eat-in too). The recipe hasn’t changed since Meng Woon opened the casual CBD eatery in 1987, and it’s unlike any other in Sydney.
Orange chilli oil floats on top of the rich coconut broth, and the vermicelli noodles keep their al dente bite – even those lurking at the very bottom of the bowl. The beef, chicken and seafood toppings are generous, and those soft morsels of chewy bean curd act like sponges, soaking up the hot soup. A handful of bean sprouts add a fresh crunchiness to the dish.
When an institution like this opens a second shop, regular customers might wonder: will the laksa be the same?
“The recipe is spot on, otherwise dad wouldn’t have let us open,” says Vicky, Meng’s younger daughter. She opened the new joint last week with her brother-in-law Alex (who oversees the kitchen) in King Street Wharf’s Lime Street, not too far from the original.
If anyone was going to open a sister venue, it was Vicky. She was a baby when Hunter Street launched, so she grew up with the institution.
“We haven’t changed anything,” she says. “Except now we have EFTPOS. We’ve also compressed the menu so we don’t do any of the specials my dad does, like har mee [prawn-noodle soup]. It’s a hard recipe to perfect.”
Service is also the same as at Hunter Street: you order at the till and wait to pick up your soup from a bench that stocks large containers of green chillies and a deep-red house-made sambal.
The sambal is a delicious and dangerous addition to any dish. It adds a slight sweetness to the broth and often leaves splatters of red oil on your clothing. There are two ways to avoid stains though: to eat tidily, coiling a modest chopstickful of noodles into your spoon before adding broth and carefully slurping the spoonful. The second is to buy a bib.
The laksa remains the main event here. It’s creamy and comforting, spicy (but not uncomfortably so), and more-ish enough that you’ll endure a painfully full stomach rather than leave any in the bowl.
After eating it for her entire life, Vicky still loves it. “My favourite is the skinless chicken. I eat it almost every day,” she says.
Hunter Street regulars will immediately notice the differences between the two shops. Because it’s new, Lime Street doesn’t yet have the foot traffic (“It’s hard to gauge, but Hunter Street probably does several hundred laksas a day,” says Vicky), and there’s no tank containing a fish named John (the successor to the bulbous-headed Big Head).
The red bowl of mandarins and oranges is also absent (the perfect end to a heavy meal), as is Vicky’s dad in his navy cap clearing tables and smiling at customers in the busy dining area (all part of his masterful crowd control skills).
Vicky says he’s pleased about the second location: “He’s happy with this place, happy we’re continuing the name. He’s worked so hard, and the shop is his little baby. He really cares about his customers.”
Malay Chinese Takeaway
32 Lime Street, Sydney
Mon to Fri 11am–3.30pm