Ommi Don flies under the radar amid the sensory overload of Broadway. But look down a narrow arcade and a glowing neon sign and tangerine-orange facade beckons diners to a cheerful takeaway counter representing the culinary history of Taiwan.
“People always ask me, ‘What is Taiwanese food?’” owner and chef Omar Hsu tells Broadsheet. “I say it’s like Australian food; it has a lot of influences. We used to be a colony of Japan and we’re close to China. What makes food Taiwanese is the ingredients. There are mountain vegetables, beautiful seafood and a great street food culture.”
If Taiwanese cuisine is the result of waves of colonisation and migration, Hsu’s menu represents his own personal experience of Taiwan: growing up in a hospitality family, and eventually migrating to Australia to learn Western cooking at some of the country’s best restaurants. “I was sous-chef at Matt Moran's North Bondi Fish when I was offered a job at Aria. It was at the bottom of the ladder, but at one of the best restaurants. I took it. For six months, all I did was make the mashed potatoes that are Aria’s signature,” he says, smiling.
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The skills he learned over a decade working in fine-dining kitchens inspire the side dishes at Ommi’s, which include creamy waves of potato salad topped with crisp seaweed and a jammy egg, or edamame with master-stock-glazed shiitake mushrooms. There’s hot spring eggs, “smacked” cucumber and a delicate silken tofu, too.
Japanese is a clear influence on Ommi’s well-priced menu, with five categories of “don” (short for donburi, meaning rice bowl). Braised Wagyu beef, mushroom chicken in sticky black pepper sauce and lu rou fan (slow-cooked pork) are served with rice, some with pickles or kimchi. This is a Korean influence, although Hsu’s golden kimchi is uniquely Taiwanese. “The colour comes from carrots, and the creamy texture is tofu. It’s vegan, and we don’t ferment it the same way as Korean kimchi, so the flavour is less intense.”
Hsu’s golden-brown curry also looks traditionally Japanese, but the additions of fermented small-batch soy sauce and apple give the dish a Taiwanese edge. Surprisingly, apple comes up regularly as Hsu describes the menu: it’s in the house-made red kimchi, curries and Taiwanese sausages accompanied by vegetables.
The space is compact considering so much of the menu is made from scratch. It’s handy, then, that Hsu has a commercial kitchen in Summer Hill, also the home of Ommi’s Food, which he opened with his wife, chef Josie Yuan, during lockdown. The catering business does kimchi and sausages for local markets and lunchbox-style meals for pick-up and delivery. Currently, you can pre-order a range of delightfully packaged, delicate mooncakes to celebrate mid-autumn.
When Hsu was made a permanent resident in 2019, he found the perfect venue for a business, but when he tried to share the news with Yuan, she told him she was pregnant. “I decided it was too risky. Then Covid happened and we started Ommi’s. This place represents me and the skills I’ve learned in Australia. I want to grow and open more.”