Sawak Cafe

$   Hat icon
131 Collins Street, CBD
03) 6234 3622
Open: Mon-Sat 11.00am-3.00pm, and 5.00pm to 9.00pm . Takeaways.

Owner/chef, Zye Chong came to Hobart 17 years ago from the Malaysian region of Sarawak, an area well known for its fresh fish and seafood. He opened Sawak Café in 2010 and it has proved to be a popular takeaway/dine-in lunch and dinner spot for many. For others, however, it’s been one of those places where they have had good intentions of visiting, but never quite made it. Which is a shame, for even among the abundance of Asian eateries Hobart enjoys, Sawak offers many Malaysian dishes that the city has not seen since the long gone days of the Malaysian Tea House

The restaurant itself is simple and unpretentious, decorated with Sarawak wall hangings and little else. You help yourself to your napkin, utensils and bottled water and, if not already on your table, there are sweet, hot and volcanic chilli sauces to ramp up the heat in Chong’s otherwise mildly spiced dishes. Your main entertainment is watching Chong and his staff in the open kitchen, their work punctuated by the regular whoosh and flare of the flaming woks.

Malaysia itself is a polyglot mixture of peoples, cultures and foods with culinary influences originating in India, China, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Middle East with regional variations and specialties. Sawak’s menu does a good job in reflecting this diversity, offering an exciting dining experience. On the menu the number of chillies, one to two, indicates the spiciness of the dish and a thumbs-up fist shows the dish’s popularity.

The pick of these dishes, and the reason why it’s widely considered Malaysia’s national dish, is the nasi lemak, a combination of fragrant coconut rice with house-made sambal, roasted peanuts, crispy anchovies, hard-boiled egg and a relieving freshness of cucumber plus, at my request, a side of excellent, Indonesian-inspired beef rendang. It’s one of those dishes where it’s much better to mix everything together so that each mouthful is a play and array of wonderful, delicious flavours

In Malaysia, one of Sarawak’s famous regional dishes is a fish head curry. I’m not sure whether Chong uses fish heads or not, but the dish listed on the menu simply as fish curry is beautifully coloured, creamy and tangy, served with okra and chunks of fish accompanied by steamed rice.

A Chinese-inspired dish, now enjoyed throughout Malaysia, is mee goreng – stir-fried Hokkien noodles tossed through a rich soy and tomato sauce with fresh vegetables and egg. Sawak’s version is a deeply flavoured, authentic option.

A prawn laksa of vermicelli and hokkien noodles in a spicy coconut soup base was as good and creamy as the best around town, while the menu offered four other noodle soups, three fried rice dishes, seven main course dishes and eleven different stir-fried noodle combinations, plus side dishes of dumplings, curry puffs, the original roti canai flat bread, deep fried chicken wings and spring rolls.

So next time you’re town in to buy a book from Fullers or a new doona from Bed ‘n Table, add a little spice and pleasure to your life by dropping into Sawak.

Nasi Lemak $8.00; Fish Curry $13.00; Mee Goreng $10.00; coconut rice $3.00; dumplings $8.00 ten pieces

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