The best meal in Cabramatta

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

OK, I realise that this article is subjective, and really, it should be called ‘My favourite meal in Cabramatta’. But in this world of attention grabbing clickbait, you’re lucky this isn’t a top ten list of Cabramatta related hashtags and GIFs that will inspire and shock you.

Cabramatta is one of my favourite places to visit in Sydney. It’s the first place I’ll try to take visitors to, and some friends who have come with me multiple times will groan when they get there because they know that I refuse to sit down for just one meal. I can’t do it. Every visit to Cabramatta is like a strange three hour long holiday where I need to walk up and down John St, stopping to eat, drink and shop along the way.

Over the next four weeks I’ll be highlighting some of the spots that I eat at almost every time I’m in Cabramatta. There will be some obvious picks (Tan Viet is coming up) and others less so, but I thought I’d kick this off by writing about three small spots that collectively contribute to my favourite meal in Cabramatta.

Let’s call this the Cabramatta Happy Meal – consisting of roast chicken banh mi from KK Bakery, a large fries from Red Lea Chicken and a sugarcane juice from Thu Phung N. If you want the complete package you can buy a cheap knockoff toy from one of the variety stores nearby.

The heart of this Happy Meal is the banh mi. I’ve eaten rolls from all of the banh mi joints in Cabra, and most of Sydney. In my banh mi adventures thus far, I’m yet to find a pork roll better than the one you find at Marrickville Pork Roll, but my overall favourite banh mi in Sydney is the roast chicken banh mi from KK Bakery. KK Bakery is hiding inside one of the many arcades that stem off John St. Each of these arcades houses a fruit market, a fish monger, a butcher and fabric store, but only one has a bakery!

What makes the roast chicken banh mi at KK special is the meat. Usually a chicken banh mi means dry chicken breast that’s been sitting in the fridge all day – at KK they only use marylands, roasted in a masterstock and then kept warm. They shred the super soft chicken to order and stuff it inside a fresh bread roll, with a huge spear of pickled daikon, carrots, pate, mayo, chilli, coriander and maggi seasoning. It’s a bold combo that burns its way through its flimsy paper bag faster than you can eat it, and will only cost you $4.

Next, walk over to Freedom Plaza where you’ll find Red Lea Chicken, the Cabramatta outlet of a franchise mostly found out west. You’re not here for the fried chicken though, you’re here for the best box of chips in Sydney. I was first recommended these chips by Dan Hong, who grew up smashing boxes of them after school, on his way to Thanh Binh, the restaurant his mother opened down the road. The crunchy Red Lea chips are covered in a bright red seasoning that’s a little spicy, very salty and will stain your fingers. How much can I write about a box of chips? They’re crucial to the Happy Meal and an easy inclusion at just $5 for a large.

Completing the Happy Meal is our drink, which can be acquired about 100 metres down Park Rd at Thu Phung N. There are a lot of places offering sugarcane juice in Cabramatta, but Thu Phung N does it best. The long sticks of sugarcane are juiced as soon as you order, flowing into a pit of ice and cumquats, which give the juice an awesome citrus kick. Cold, creamy and insanely refreshing, Thu Phung N’s sugarcane juice is also the cheapest, with a regular setting you back only $3.

Take your sandwich, fries and drink to a bench near the Friendship Arch (if you didn’t bring friends to share lunch with you’ll be at the best place to make some new ones) and enjoy your Happy Meal in the sun. It’s a great introduction to the incredible (and cheap) Vietnamese food on offer in Cabramatta. If you go get it within seven days, you can spare some room for the other essential meals from Cabramatta I’ll be writing about next week. See ya then.

Images
Al Kalyk

Where
KK Bakery, 2/85 John St, Cabramatta
Red Lea Chicken, 57 John Street, Cabramatta
Thu Phung N, 49 Park Road, Cabramatta

When
Mon-Sun, 8am-7pm

How much
Roast chicken banh mi, $4
Large fries, $5
Regular sugarcane juice, $3
Happiness = $12

REVIEW: Bay Ngo, Bankstown

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

Everyone’s got their favourite banh mi spot. That magical place that can feed you a football’s worth of meat, carbs and vegies for less than five bucks. For mine, the best pork roll can be found at Marrickville Pork Roll and the best chicken banh mi is at KK Bakery in Cabramatta. But the best all rounder? Is that something that any sane person should care about? Probably not, but I will fight anyone at my height or shorter who tries to tell me that Sydney has a better overall banh mi spot than Bay Ngo in Bankstown.

There are three factors that give Bay Ngo the edge over the competition, and will present those factors now like a passionate public school debater. Factor number one is the range. You could visit Bay Ngo ten times and still not have tried the extent of their banh mi menu. There’s almost ten kinds of pork on offer alone, plus chicken (hot or cold), meatballs and hot fish, something I’ve not seen anywhere else in Sydney. They’re all top notch, thanks in part to the second factor, vegetables. Too often a banh mi is brought down by an uninspired mess of grated carrot, onion and, at the worst of spots, iceberg lettuce. You can see Bay Ngo’s counter from outside, a colourful collection of fresh slices of cucumber, sping onions and coriander. Best of all is the mix of pickled carrot, daikon and red onion, which do their best to outweigh the chillies that you’ll toughly agree to when asked if you want them on your roll, before cowering in pain and getting white boy hiccups. Totally worth it.

Overlooking equally important factors like a well stocked drinks section and some impressive takeaway desserts, the third factor that really lets Bay Ngo kick the dick of the competition is the price point. All their sandwiches are $3.50. Next time you wanna spend $100 on a fancy lunch, get a Silver Service cab (ooh la la) to Bankstown and back. You’ll have just enough left over for a banh mi and drink.

Where
49 Old Town Plaza, Bankstown

When
Mon-Sun, 9am-5pm

How much
$3.50

REVIEW: Nhu Y Juice Bar, Bankstown

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

“I remember when I drank my first avocado”, I’ll say to my grandchildren 30 years from now, sipping a cold green beverage through a gigantic straw from styrofoam cup. “Back in my day most of us used to only eat avocado in guacamole, or we’d pay nine bucks for half an avocado smooshed onto toast with a bit of lemon drizzled over the top! Nobody even imagined it could be a dessert.”

Eating avocados is just one of the many things they do better than us in South Asia. Never will you see a thin smear of avocado hidden beneath a few layers of cheap ham. Instead an avocado is a decadent dessert. In the Philippines it’s common to slice one in half after dinner and fill the hole left by the seed with condensed milk. Simple, sweet and rich – this combo is made even better when blended with ice and poured into styrofoam, as is done on the streets of Vietnam, Thailand and Bankstown.

An avocado shake is one of the smoothie options available at Nhu Y Juice Bar but if half a litre of thick green caramel seems a bit much, maybe selecting four different fruits to be buzzed until they become a fun shade of browny pink is more appealing? My go-to fruit combo is strawberries, rockmelon, lychees and pineapple, and you’ll be pleased to see that there’s no kale in the mix. They keep smoothies fun at Nhu Y.

Where
45 Old Town Plaza, Bankstown

When
Mon-Sun, 9am-5pm

How much
$4.50

The Darling Jerky Co.

I once sat in the passenger seat of a car driving from Sydney to Canberra one night and watched the driver demolish two bags of Jack Link’s BBQ beef jerky before we even got to Goulburn. An hour out of Canberra, we made a pitstop at a Caltex where he was disappointed to find that they only had bags of teriyaki beef jerky left. He bought two anyway and they were empty by Queanbeyan.

It’s easy to snigger at the word ‘handcrafted’ on The Darling Jerky Co’s labels, but when word association immediately links ‘jerky’ to ‘service station’, you’ve gotta work a little harder to let people know that your product is something special. Desperate measures have to be taken, and we should be glad that the word ‘artisinal’ doesn’t feature on the label as well.

Beneath the label are thick meaty chunks of flavour country, dehydrated bars that rehydrate after a few chews, releasing one of two flavours on offer: Original or Pickleburger. Original is a classic smokey flavour with the slight zing of lemon and habanero, Pickleburger tastes like a Macca’s cheeseburger turned into a Space Food Stick. Both are available by the quarter kilo, or together as a half kilo, which would easily last an entire Sydney to Canberra run.

Where
Available online

How much
$40 for a quarter kilo bag

REVIEW: Yang’s Malaysian Food Truck

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

I’ve whinged about the state of Sydney’s food trucks before. Something that should’ve been so easy was made to be so hard, life sucks, woe is us etc. The only food truck we’ve written about in the past year is in the middle of Burwood, surrounded by darkness. On the rare occurrence that I hear about a new food truck in Sydney, my immediate reaction is “ugh! Too hard!”, then I crawl under my desk and eat an entire box of Jatz.

Yang’s Malaysian Food Truck must’ve been reading my LiveJournal, because they’ve started parking out the front of our office and sending alluring laksa smells directly to my desk. You win this round, food trucks.

Where most food trucks offer a bakers trio (four) items, Yang’s tiny truck is a clown car that pumps out ten different dishes and six different drinks. Taking your entire office with you and insisting they each order something different so you can try everything is highly recommended.

Make sure you start with the Hainan hot wings, battered and fried with a side of ginger, cucumber and ginger. Move onto a roti dahl which can be eaten like the messiest taco of your life. Six dollars is an absolute steal for the nasi lemak, a hot box of rice, egg, sambal, peanuts and crisp anchovies. Avoid the Ramli beef slider, a little burger that tastes more like an old sausage and egg McMuffin than it does Malaysian. Everything is cheap, cheerful and served in nutritious styrofoam boxes. Best enjoyed on the grass in Harmony Park while dogs look on with jealousy.

If only all food trucks would make an effort to operate next door to where I am most of the week. Instead of the hard to navigate Sydney Food Trucks schedule, can I suggest the City of Sydney put up our own weekly schedules so that the food trucks have to find us?

Where

Throughout Sydney CBD, see their schedule here

How much

From $5

REVIEW: Mr Gee Burger Truck

Remember food trucks in Sydney? We were all so excited about becoming a food truck city! At the beginning of 2012 I made a pact that I would stop eating at restaurants like a gross old person and exclusively eat meals sold to me from a moving vehicle. Then Sydney council decided to set the dumbest parameters imaginable and my food-truck-only diet was dead in the water before the year had barely started. While there are a gem or two (shout out to the Nighthawk Diner!), a majority of Sydney’s food truck ‘revolution’ offered disappointingly average food or ginormous pictures of Masterchef hosts emblazoned on their walls.

In some of America’s best food truck cities, you can buy a taco from a truck parked in a car wash that’s closed for the day. The car wash washes cars from 9-5, the sun goes down, a truck drives up, sets up some stools and sells tacos until the sun comes up again.

By night, Burwood Deluxe Car Wash is home to Sydney’s newest food truck, Mister Gee Burger Truck. Pulling up on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 7pm, Mister Gee offers a burger, fries and shake on a menu that changes week to week. Last week’s burger was the ‘Truffe’ burger, with beef, cheese and truffle mayo, their fries were ‘dirty fries’, covered with cheese, salsa and mayo and the shake on offer was a baklava flavoured. We ordered all three and took a seat on a milkcrate in the parking lot. It was a tremendous vibe, surrounded by 30 others taking advantage of said milkcrates and vibe.

The Truffe burger was somewhere between a classic Aussie and a classic American, in a soft bread roll, cheesy, meaty and thankfully not overpowered by truffle flavour – instead the truffle added richness to the whole package. On the opposite end were the lightness of the fries/salsa combo, but then we were back in rich town again for the super caramelly baklava shake, sweet and milky with little flecks of baklava crunch. Really awesome.

Do you own a car wash? Get in touch with a homeless food truck and give them somewhere to live. You’ll be doing Sydney a great service, just like Mister Gee Burger Truck.

Where
55c Shaftesbury Rd, Burwood

When
Thu-Sat, 7pm till they sell out

How much
$10 for a burger

REVIEW: Sydney Kopitiam Cafe

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

File this one under: small Malaysian joints with smaller kitchens that miraculously pump out an almost impossibly large amount of dishes (alongside Yang’s Food Truck and hopefully a growing list as we become Sydney’s premier online guide for Malaysian hotspots).

I’ve walked past Kopitiam a good hundred times and never once thought to go inside, the unremarkable shopfront somehow overpowering the incredible smells coming from within. Maybe I knew how overwhelmed I’d be by the menu, a double sided A4 laminate with no less than 60 dishes on offer. One hot and frothy sweet milk tea was all I needed to calm my mind and focus on the dishes that needed to be ordered the most.

There’s probably not a bad dish on the menu, although the cheap price will effect the quality of certain elements – a ten dollar prawn dish will always taste like a ten dollar prawn dish, but a ten dollar pork belly dish can taste at least double that when stewed with taro and served sweet, sticky and decadent. Nasi lemak, nasi goreng and other Malay staples are on point, celebratorily so given the price point.

Kopitiam is a long running, family owned business and the friendly personalities of the owners shine brightly on the walls, amidst hand written menus and photo collages. This might be Sydney’s only proper ‘dive bar’, and they don’t even sell booze.

Where
592-594 Harris Street, Ultimo

When
Mon-Sun 12-3pm, Tue-Sun 6-9:30pm

How much
$12 a head

REVIEW: Brooklyn Boy Bagels

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

Things that are in Matraville:

-The high school that our former Premier Bob Carr went to
– 100 years of ANZAC history
– Brooklyn Boy Bagels

You may have eaten a Brooklyn Boy Bagel at the markets over the last few years. A labour of love for ex New Yorker Michael Shafran, who decided to fill Sydney’s bagel shaped hole by perfecting a true NY style bagel at his kitchen in Matraville, then selling them each weekend at markets around Sydney, including Marrickville, Manly and Frenchs Forest. After boiling and baking some ten thousand bagels from his boarded window commercial kitchen, Michael installed a shopfront and opened the Brooklyn Boy Bagel cafe earlier this year.

A stencil of Travis Bickle is somehow more welcoming than the anthropomorphic spray can out the front of the shop but once inside the aroma of hot baked goods is all the welcome mat you need. On the shelves are bagels topped with various seeds (when in doubt, always order the ‘everything’ bagel), which can be cut in half, filled with ham, salmon or variations of the word ‘schmear’. There are also pretzels, rye and challah bread, sandwiches, celery sodas and salted caramel babkas: irresistible sticks of dough, sweet and sticky with caramel.

Earlier in the year I’d be hard pressed to come up with many reasons to visit Matraville (and I’m a HUGE Bob Carr buff) but I can think of at least ten reasons to visit now – and all of them come out of the ovens at Brooklyn Boy Bagels.

Where
448 Bunnerong Rd, Matraville

When
Mon-Thu 7am-3pm, Fri-Sun 7am-4pm

How much
Bagels from $4.50

REVIEW: Waterman’s Lobster Co.

A lobster roll? In Sydney? I’ve been burned before and spend most of my nights crying myself to sleep over our city’s inability to cram a bunch of cold lobster meat into a hot dog bun and charge me twenty bucks for it.

Someone’s been listening to my midnight sobbing, as the last few months have seen two new lobster-roll-dominant menus launch in Sydney. One of them has a fun name and will be featured in the future, the other has the considerably less fun name that you can see above.

“You know it’s imported, right” barks a disgruntled Potts Point resident as she walks past my lobster-roll-chomping co-worker, before flying into the night while cackling about the success of the lock-out laws. The lobsters at Waterman’s are sourced from Maine, home to a sweeter lobster than the ones that swim in the Pacific. It’s just one of the many steps the restaurant takes to ensure their rolls are as authentic as possible – showcasing the quality of the lobster meat without overpowering it with the other ingredients. You’ll find just warm lobster, butter and a little lemon in the Maine style roll, while the Connecticut option boasts mayonnaise and celery. Much to the surprise of the others at my table, who spend most of their nights being surprised at boring tidbits, I found the Connecticut style lobster roll to be the better of the two, the creaminess of the mayo allowing the cool lobster meat to shine a little brighter.

Did I wish there was a little more meat on the roll? Did I wish they baked a New England style bun, the perfect buttered vessel? Should I spend less time obsessing over pointless minutae? The answer to all those questions is yes. But! Did I spend that night crying myself to sleep? No. The lobster rolls at Waterman’s are the real deal, and just one of the many marine creatures worth eating on the menu, which includes rolls filled with scallops and pork floss and fish rillettes served with pickled carrots and saltines. Washed down with a truly great spritz from the bar (sparkling wine with peach, orgeat and lemon), and Waterman’s Lobster Co. gives you more than enough reasons to chase down that disgruntled local and cram a lobster roll down her mouth (just ask if she’d prefer Maine or Connecticut style first).

Where
5/29 Orwell St, Potts Point
When
Mon-Sat 12pm-late, Sun 10am-6pm
How much
$18

REVIEW: Burger Liquor Lobster

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

I feel like you’ll be able to buy unicorn dumplings before somewhere serves a proper lobster roll in Sydney. Every few months somewhere new pops up offering their take on the coastal American classic, and these takes can range from the roll containing more potato than it does lobster to a quaint little bun the size of a cupcake.

A lobster roll is simple and can be perfected with just three ingredients: lobster, butter and a hot dog bun. Specifically: fresh lobster meat, slathered in butter, heaped into a warm hot dog bun. If you visit Maine, Connecticut or Nova Scotia, a lobster roll will set you back somewhere between five and ten bucks, with a pickle and some potato chips on the side. If you’re in New York you’ll be able to find the same thing for about double the money. If you’re in Australia you’ll find something completely different for about three times the price.

Burger Liquor Lobster opened last week, in the space above the London Hotel in Paddington. My eyes immediately ignored the first two words of their name. Their menu is divided into three sections, with the lobster portion offering a lobster roll, popcorn lobster, a lobster cobb salad and for some reason, crab and prawn burgers. All the lobster-y options cost $15. I ordered all three of them, because the L in YOLO stands for lobster.

No piercing screams were heard from the kitchen as my three course lobster meal was prepared and after a short wait it was brought to the table. The three dishes each featured salt and pepper lobster – this was deep fried chunks of frozen lobster meat, which I should’ve figured given the price point. On its own, the salt and pepper lobster is crunchy, salty and vaguely fishy. Dipped in lemon aioli, it’s a decent drinking snack. If you’ve ever wondered what deep fried seafood and blue cheese taste like together, try the lobster cobb salad.

The lobster roll features the salt and pepper bites in a hot dog bun with lettuce, onion, aioli and chives. They haven’t been dishonest – it is lobster in a roll, therefore it is a lobster roll. But it’s not the lobster roll that I cry myself asleep about each night, this seemingly simple dish that, due to the cost of fresh lobster in Australia, is anything but.

I realise that Burger Liquor Deep Fried Seafood doesn’t have as nice a ring to it, and that maybe I should just give up on my dream of eating a proper lobster roll in the Southern Hemisphere. Pass the unicorn dumplings.

Where

85 Underwood St, Paddington

When

Mon-Sat, 12pm-12am

How much

$15