At the end of Sydney’s 107-day lockdown in 2021, it occurred to Sharon Kwan that she’d be in real trouble if she lost more staff.

And then one of her best left. The replacements weren’t able to keep up with the pace. The owner of Sharon Kwan Kitchen went from running a successful Malaysian eatery in Petersham, going through 20 kilograms of rice noodles a week just for her beloved char kway teow, to cooking during the day on her own, and washing dishes at night.

“It’s so hard to find good people, especially for Asian cooking doing stir-fry in the wok,” she tells Broadsheet. “In February I lost one of my best staff members and I realised it wasn’t going to work anymore. I was getting stressed out. I had a decent-sized menu, and I’m very particular about the quality I want to produce. I didn’t want the wrong hires to affect the reputation of my food.”

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A food truck seemed like the best option for managing with fewer staff and to keep cooking her classic Malaysian food.

“I had started doing the food truck earlier in the year using a friend’s truck, and it gave me a taste of what food truck life was like,” she says. “I came to a point where I wasn’t happy at the restaurant, and I decided I was going to close and just do the food truck.”

There’s no wok on the truck, so there’s no more char kway teow. Instead, Kwan’s outstanding curries are the star of the show: a deeply flavourful, turmeric-yellow chicken curry with chunks of potatoes; falling-apart, fiery beef rendang; tender morsels of pork belly; and chickpea masala (the only vegetarian option). Each curry is served in a roti wrap with a tart slaw, making what Kwan calls a “Malaysian taco”. Chicken curry or beef rendang also appear with the nasi lemak – fragrant coconut rice with accompaniments including chicken wings, achar (mixed vegetable pickles), house-made sambal, boiled egg and ikan bilis (a crunchy mixture of salted, dried anchovies and roasted peanuts).

Frequenters of the old restaurant will be pleased to see the sago pudding on the menu, made by caramelising coconut milk and coconut sugar to the edge of burnt, and pouring it over a mound of chewy orbs.

The food truck can be found at Erskineville Bowling Club, The Beer Bar at Alexandria and the Peakhurst night market, among other locations. Kwan is catering for a Punjabi wedding of 200, and brewery owners are contacting her to park in their beer gardens.

“The food truck industry is still in its infancy in Sydney, and a lot of trucks do burgers. There isn’t much variety. I’ve been approached by a lot of breweries that tell me while burgers are good, people are getting sick of them. They’re looking for something different.”

Will we ever taste Kwan’s char kway teow again? She has no plans to install a wok in the food truck, but when she’s got the hang of the new enterprise, she might do a monthly event out of her old Petersham diner, which she still uses as the commercial kitchen for the truck.

“Down the track I might have a special once a month where I do a couple of dishes – people can order and come pick it up.”

Until then, keep an eye on social media to see where she pops up next. “I miss my regulars, but I’m lucky – the people who miss the restaurant, they come and find me and the food truck.”

Check social media for upcoming locations and hours. @sharonkwankitchen.

sharonkwankitchen.com.au