I love playing masak-masak when I was a kid. In Malay, ‘masak-masak’ is a children game of playing cooking with imaginary food, sometimes with proper play kitchen set of plastic pots, pans and plates; but other times we just used junks that we could find on the street or anything really. I still remember there was this one time we were playing masak-masak at the front of house, my friend found a styrofoam box that we thought was perfect as a kitchen cooktop, then we picked weeds and flowers as vegies, sand was rice, poured water into tiny kettle; but we needed fire to cook the meal.
When there was a will, there was always a way as we managed to steal a box of matches and thought this time we would be able to cook real food! We took a swipe of a matchstick and set the styrofoam cooktop alight… Before we knew it, things went horribly wrong almost instantly. The air was filled with clouds of toxic black smoke, the flame became more and more ferocious, the box was melting away with hot lava dripping everywhere. We panicked and tried to put off the fire by pouring more sand over it, but our effort seems useless as the fire continue to burn. My friend thought would be a good idea to remove the box from the hot spot hoping the fire might die down and he kicked it with a force, big mistake. A projectile of hot lava splattered all over his leg, stuck onto his skin like hot glue, blisters were popping up instantly. His cry in excruciating pain alarmed the whole neighbourhood, our parents rushed out to the crime scene, my friend was carried away and sent to nearby clinic, the rest of us were scolded, bottoms were smacked, ears were twisted and pulled to lead us back home and be grounded. After that incident, my friend was left with permanent scars as a reminder of our stupidity and it was also the last time I ever played ‘masak-masak’ in my childhood.
But thank god we don’t have to cook ourselves here at Masak-masak restaurant in Collingwood, the latest addition to the Malaysian food craze here in Australia.
As we all know every street corner in every suburb of every city in Australia will have a Thai restaurant, fact. There are no other Asian food are as well spread and loved as Thai, but Malaysian restaurants are definitely on the rise and continuously growing. Having said that, not all Malaysian restaurants are doing the food that I grew up with justice, but Masak-masak is definitely one of the stronger contenders.
The restaurant is not that difficult to spot with a massive golden Orang Utan mural on the wall, a smoky grill station right at the front is constantly covered in thick smoke and steam from the charcoal grill and the huge steamer basket right next to it. I’d advise you to dress casually and leave the expensive dress and jacket at home, and prepare to put on Eau de Grease as soon as you walk into the restaurant.
The menu offers an eclectic mix of Malaysian street fare, range from $5 small bites, $9 snacks, $19 larger plates, and there is also meat and seafood grilled to order. They also want to make your life easier by offering set menus so you can sample what they have to offer.
To drink, we go for two Malaysian classics, the Teh Tarik is served warm in a camping enamel mug, not as aerated as I’d hoped for with just a thin layer of froth on top, the tea is also a little sweet; the dried longan and candied winter melon cooling tea is one of my childhood favourites, refreshingly sweet drink filled with rehydrated dried longan that gives the drink a hint of herbal flavour.
Just don’t let my mum sees me ordering six satay sticks for a whopping $14. The mix of chicken and beef satay are grilled on charcoal which gives the meat that smokey flavour, the beef is inevitably on the chewy side but the chicken is well marinated, tender and delicious; condiments of cucumber, red onion and steamed rice cakes are served to take heat off the spicy peanut sauce.
The Lo Mai Gai comes straight out of the steamer and is still steamy out. A yum cha classic in Malaysia, the steamed glutinous rice is sticky and addictively salty in soy and oyster sauce, studded with succulent chicken thigh pieces, plump shiitake mushroom and chinese sausage.
Recommended by Iron Chef Shellie, the slow cooked beef ribs arrives with a big hunk of meat attached to two short ribs, heavily marinated in dark sweet sauce, it is tender but still yielding, but a knife is provided for us to carve the meat into smaller bites. A not too spicy sambal oelek dressing is tangy and sharp to cut through the richness of the beef.
This is the first item we spotted straight away on the menu and is a must-order without any hesitation. The skate (ikan pari bakar) is coated in spicy sauce then grilled in banana leaf, the boneless flesh is a little dry at the thinner wing tip, a sprinkle of fried curry leaves is a nice touch. The fish is already delicious on its own so we find the compliment pineapple and coriander salsa unnecessary and we totally forgot about it half way through the meal.
Do we want more food? Oh yes we do. We order two more dishes in the middle of our meal, and they are kindly enough to send out a complimentary plate of sticky crispy fried anchovies with crunchy peanuts, stirred through sweet kicap menu with a few dried chillies here and there to spike your palate. The typical Malaysian in me is now craving for a bowl of congee to go with it.
The beef rendang here is good, in fact, perfect. It is the traditional dry-version of beef rendang, there are chunks of beef that had been braised until melt in the mouth tender, smothered in a thick sauce that is not overly sweet with the beautiful fragrant of kaffir lime leaves, comes with a bowl of steamed rice to mop up all the saucy goodness.
We leave the theatrical table service till the end. A plate of glorious BBQ pork ribs is served in enamel plate lined with aluminium foil, the waitstaff signals and suggests us to have our cameras ready, he proceeds to set a tiny jug of alcohol alight and pours over the pork ribs to flambe right in front of us. Who said old school is dead?
We prefer the BBQ pork ribs over the beef, this meat is fall off the bone tender, the only way to really enjoy this baby is by using fingers and forget about the cutlery. Despite it is not really a typical Malaysia dish, it turns out to be one of our favourite dishes on this evening.
Masak-masak is only 2 months young and I sense they are still trying to find its food-step with many changes to come, don’t expect any alcohol drink yet. And if you are looking for a sweet menu to cap the night off, then forget it. However, I do notice there is sweet ‘petite four’ by LuxBite included in the set menus but just not on the normal one. Not that we need any sweets tonight after all the food we devoured, but then I could never say no to a bowl of icy Chendul if is on offer.
230 Smith Street,
P: 03 9417 4510