Five years ago serving an Asian breakfast at a Sydney cafe was radical. That’s mostly still the case; eggs, muesli and avocado still dominate. Milan Strbac is one of the chefs trying to change that. His South-East Asian-inspired restaurant Sugarcane has just started serving cafe fare on the weekend as an experiment. “[Different breakfast cuisines are] growing a lot but this is a quite conservative market here. It's just one of those things that's going to take time.”
He has lots of ideas of how to explore South-East Asian food in an Australian cafe context but here’s what’s on the table now.
64-degree egg, sautéed mushrooms, roti
Every town and city suburb in Malaysia has its own hawker stalls and kopi tiam (snack-dealing coffee shops). Here Strbac has attempted to merge the two. From the hawkers, he’s taken two roti irons, with which he and head chef Tristan Balian make their own roti. From the kopi tiams comes an appropriation of kaya toast (a thick-cut sandwich slathered in coconut spread, generally served with runny eggs and coffee). At Sugarcane, there’s roti and sambal instead of toast and kaya spread. “The idea is to dip the roti into the egg yolk and sambal, then add a bit of lime,” he says. The mushrooms are there for extra flavour and texture.
Wok-fried eggs, bacon, chicken sate, avocado and sourdough toast
“This is our take on a big breakfast,” says Strbac. With wok-fried eggs, thick toast and almost as thick bacon (which is made in-house), it’s reminiscent of something you’d find in a Hong Kongese coffee house. Aside from the sate (satay), sambal and avocado. “We use an avocado relish with lime, pepper, soy sauce, salt and eschalot through it, then we have a cherry tomato sambal on top.”
Homemade pork sausage, crunchy rice, Japanese mayo, soft tortilla
Strbac calls this the “banh mi burrito”. That description is confusing as it doesn’t particularly taste like a banh mi nor does it have any stereotypical burrito ingredients, besides a tortilla. “We were using Vietnamese bread but it was so crunchy and messy it was hard to eat,” he explains. Inside there’s curry-paste mixed crunchy rice, Japanese mayo, shallots and Thai-style fermented pork sausage. “We make the sausage and leave it under the combi [oven] for two or three days, until you can smell the sourness. We don't push it too far. The Thais would make it five or six days and it would be really pungent,” says Strbac.
Balinese fried rice, chicken sate
This is easily the most recognisable dish on the menu. “It's like a nasi goreng,” Strbac says. “We make a basa gede paste with chilli, turmeric and a whole heap of other stuff. Then we put in snake beans, shallots, corn, and fry it all with rice.” Sate skewers sit on top and there’s fresh lime on the side.
Sugarcane is currently open for breakfast on Saturday and Sunday, from 8am–2.30pm. More days are likely to be added.