Malaysian food can be broadly broken up into its three main ethnic groups, Chinese, Indian and Malay. In Sydney almost all the Malaysian restaurants are Chinese-Malaysian. Ikhwan Cafe is one the only ones that’s Malay owned, operated and orientated. This means it’s also one of the only ones to be totally Islamic. For the local Malay community this is hugely significant.
Shaidi Reginald, the restaurant's manager, runs the Ikhwan Cafe with his sister and his wife, Syafinaz Mihd Zain and Salcinah Reginald. The recipes here are all from the family.
Malay cooking is typically defined by the heavy use of spices, coconut and belacan (fermented krill paste). The most popular dishes here among Malays are beef rendang and ayam masak merah (a casserole-like dish for which chicken is fried and then stewed with tomato, kaffir lime and chilli).
The rendang here is different to most in Sydney. Unlike the sinewy Indonesian version, this is almost soupy and sweet from lots of palm sugar and coconut. Reginald says his mum’s twist is to fry desiccated coconut and mix it in with the finished curry to add texture and flavour.
Another famous Malaysian dish, chicken rice, is different here too. Instead of using the usual Hainanese method of poaching the chicken, here it’s fried after being poached. This gives it a crisp, golden-brown skin. Nasi lemak, a more-widely-recognised staple, is served with a particularly belacan-heavy sambal, fried chicken, crispy anchovies, fresh cucumber and a boiled egg.
On the weekend, you'll find specials such as ikan bakar (banana-leaf-wrapped fish roasted over charcoal). The rest of the daily menu, mostly filled with more-recognisable Malay dishes, also includes more esoteric, regional dishes such as nasi kerabu (rice cooked in butterfly-pea juice) and ikan asam pedas (a sour fish stew with tamarind and chilli).
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