“Parramatta Road is a weird place to have a business,” says Sharon Kwan.
Kwan would know. She’s run a wholesale shop making Malaysian food for Harris Farm and independent grocers on the busy road in Petersham for the past three years.
Realising she couldn’t get the scale she needed to make good returns doing wholesale on her own, Kwan did a quick renovation, installed a rotisserie-chicken oven and opened her doors to lunch and dinner trade.
“I thought to myself, if Portuguese chicken does well – and every suburb has a chicken shop that can do well – why can’t I do flame-grilled Asian chicken?” she says.
Her chargrilled chickens come in two varieties: one with a Thai marinade of coriander root, garlic, onion, oyster and fish sauces, and the other with a Malaysian marinade of fried curry powder, galangal, dried chilli, coconut milk and tamarind.
Kwan roasts the chickens for precisely 52 minutes to achieve the perfect balance of crisp skin and juicy meat, and finishes the birds with a healthy serving of sambal. Kwan makes two delicious varieties, plus a Thai nam jim dressing. “I do a medium-spicy and a spicy-spicy for people who want a real kick,” I overhear her telling another table.
Both sambals have heat, but neither is overpowering. “You don’t want it to be so spicy that you don’t taste anything but burnt tongue.”
Although her initial plan was to keep the menu succinct, after a month of trade Kwan realised word of her skill had spread. “People started to come looking for Malaysian food,” she says. “People love Malaysian food, and the closest one to here is probably in Campsie. So I started putting on more Malaysian dishes ... real authentic flavour, no dumbing it down,” she says.
There’s a gravy-thick hearty laksa with prawns or chicken topped with Vietnamese mint. There’s also char kwei teow (a classic Malaysian stir-fried rice-noodle dish), curry puffs and a divine chicken curry. “When it’s done well, Malaysian chicken curry is one of the best,” she says. “In Malaysia, everyone eats it, whether they’re Malay, Chinese or Indian, and I think every family has their own recipe.”
Kwan’s version is at once rich and light, with fresh curry leaves, lemongrass and kefir lime infused into the thick sauce. “I add a bit of tamarind to take away the richness of the coconut milk. Not everyone puts tamarind in their chicken curry,” she says, smiling conspiratorially.
A delicious sago pudding soaked in coconut milk and a dark, molasses-y coconut sugar is the only dessert on the menu, and if you’re too full of chicken curry and nyonya turmeric rice (you will be), take a break until you’re hungry again.
As Kwan rattles off plans to use her new oven to make Malay-style char sui (barbeque pork) and chicken rendang pie, I comment that she seems excited. “I am,” she says enthusiastically. “Because you know I love trying new things out. If I make something that I like, I’m pretty sure a lot of people will like it.”
Sharon Kwan Kitchen
726 Parramatta Road, Petersham
0468 966 858
Tue to Sun 11.30–9pm