Friday, October 14, 2016

Sunday Hawker Feast at Okra (by invitation), Hawthorn East by Bilby Blue

I love Malaysian food. Over many, many visits to Kuala Lumpur I have eaten a goodly amount of the local specialities, in particular the hawker-style dishes that are available everywhere, from the swankiest hotels to the humblest of street vendors. So Benny and I were very excited when we were invited to the Malaysian hawker feast at Okra (available only on Sundays, for both lunch and dinner).

chicken and beef satay
The epitome of hawker food...the satay...

Okra has a tiny street frontage, the restaurant extending back in a long narrow space, decorated in a modern style with lots of exposed timber. It is quite comfortable, although large groups may want to take advantage of the extra space in the upstairs function room.

After 15 years in Hawthorn, Okra is quite an institution, with a regular menu offering a mix of Malaysian, Indonesian and Thai dishes. Even more remarkable, Michael Tiu – recently awarded one hat by the French restaurant guide, Gault & Millau – has been the head chef over that entire time.

But our evening was all about the hawker feast!

cassava chips
Crisp cassava crackers were provided to nibble on while waiting for our feast to begin. And if you wanted a bit of pep, you could spoon on some fresh chilli sauce or a mix of sliced chillis and garlic.

poh pia
First up was hand-rolled poh pia. This was a thin crepe rolled around a filling of julienned vegetables, including tofu, carrot and mushroom. Think of a plump spring roll, but not deep fried. It was quite pleasant, if a little bland – it needed a drizzle of the accompanying hoisin-type sauce. We were told that the poh pia are very popular and so pre-ordering was recommended in case they sell out.

No Malaysian hawker feast would be complete without some satay skewers – we were served a mix of chicken and beef (see first pic). These came with chunks of cucumber and red onion and of course with peanut sauce. The skewers were excellent – perfectly cooked and the meat was beautifully tender. But I missed the cubes of compressed rice (nasi imput), which traditionally accompany your skewers.

har mee
The har mee – prawn noodle soup – was chock full of thick hokkien and fine vermicelli noodles, with some leafy greens and topped with a jumbo prawn and a hard-boiled egg. Excellent depth of flavour, it was Benny’s highlight of the evening.

roti chanai
Okra’s roti chanai were magnificent, beautifully flaky and golden, and served alongside a tasty chicken curry with a rich coconut gravy.

yong tau fu laksa
And then we had yong tau fu laksa, a coconut curry soup which seems to be a less common version of laksa. This included two types of noodle – thick hokkien and thin vermicelli – as well as fish balls, various vegies stuffed with prawn meat and fried bean curd skin. It was really good, but a bit mild for my taste.

nasi nemak
Nasi lemak is often called Malaysia’s national dish. While it is traditionally served at breakfast, it can be eaten at any time of day. Okra offered a good traditional effort, with coconut rice accompanied by a couple of curries, acar (pickled vegetables), ikan bilis (dried anchovies), cucumber, pineapple and a hard-boiled egg.

char koay teow
Malaysia’s national noodle dish is char koay teow – flat rice noodles stir-fried with seafood. Okra’s version had just the right amount of smokiness and slurpy texture, and was very tasty.

hainanese chicken
Okra’s menu lists two types of Hainan chicken rice – one with steamed chicken and the other (which we had) with crispy fried chicken. The chicken was very tender and juicy and was served with Hainan rice (rice cooked in chicken stock), minced ginger, chilli sauce and cucumber. While we both prefer the steamed version (it is excellent comfort food), this one was still pretty good.

dessert platter
For a refreshing finish to the meal, we had the dessert platter, which included black sticky rice with a layer of custard, sago pudding, sliced fruits and as a special treat, durian ice cream (not normally part of the platter). The ice cream is made in-house, and had a strong hit of fruity funkiness from the durian – while we enjoyed it, durian is not something that appeals to everyone. The fruits included cantaloupe, kiwi fruit, apple, lychees and jackfruit.

While the appetisers and the dessert platter were well suited to sharing among our large group, things became a bit more problematic with the mains. Hawker dishes are typically complete meals, comprising a selection of goodies – meat, seafood, vegetables, whatever – with rice or noodles. It therefore became an exercise in politeness as to who in the group scored the sole jumbo prawn in the har mee (Benny), or how to divide an okra stuffed with prawn between six people. Unless your dining companions are super friendly, best for each person to order a main for themselves so everyone gets a chance to have some choice pieces.

interior okra

exterior okra


We really liked it
We really liked it.


The authentic flavours of the hawker-style dishes had great appeal, with special plaudits for Okra’s roti chanai. As many of the dishes were much milder than what you would eat in Malaysia, it is an excellent choice if you are sensitive to chilli heat or want to introduce a newbie to Malaysian food. If you prefer a bit more heat, simply stir in some of the fresh chillis or chilli sauce provided.

Find it at

159 Camberwell Road
Hawthorn East Vic 3123
Telephone: (03) 9813 1623

Okra Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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