BEST CHAR KWAY TEOW: MALAYSIAN HAWKER
“Mild, medium or hot?” It’s a question experienced noodle slurpers love hearing when placing an order. Then again, plenty about this food court’s star tenant inspires confidence, from the steady queue of diners to weekend-only specials like nasi lemak (coconut milk rice) and a properly pungent Penang-style assam laksa. Malaysian Hawker’s Kim Ang has a reputation for some of the state’s truest tastes of Malaysia, including Perth’s finest char kway teow. Whereas so many collapse into soggy, unidentifiable heaps, this benchmark version shines with definition: the crunch of the bean sprouts; the lushness of thin, glossy, locally made rice noodles; the way experienced hands impart just enough smoky wok hei – ‘the breath of the wok’ – to the finished dish. Studded with seafoods and sweet nubbins of lap cheong sausage, it’s a picture of Malay comfort, more so if you pay an extra $1.50 for the secret cockle supplement. Cambridge Forum International Food Court, 350 Cambridge Street, Wembley.
BEST RAMEN: NAO
Good things come to those who wait. It’s a mantra worth keeping in mind when visiting this cosy bento box of a Japanese restaurant. While ramen might be food-kind’s flavour of the month, Nao has been championing the wonders of the dish for more than a decade: long enough to develop a rock-solid reputation for some of the realest Japanese noodles around, long enough to ensure lunchtime queues are pretty much a given. But those who persist won’t go home unrewarded, starting with a taste of some of the city’s best noodles. Made in-store each day, Nao’s wheat noodles thrill with a pleasingly bitey mouthfeel that makes them perfect flavour vessels for the restaurant’s deep, complex broths (in addition to a standard-issue noodle, diners can also opt for spinach-and chilli-infused varieties). Then there’s the heady array of menu power-ups and condiments that allows diners to customise their order to the nth degree. Feel like building your own Sapporo-style ramen? Start with a miso base then add some sweet corn and butter to your bowl. Feeling particularly hungry? More meltingly tender chashu (Japanese-style roast pork) it is, then. 117 Murray Street, Perth.
BEST WONTON MEE: GOOD ONE BBQ
Never mind what you’ve heard or read on the internet: Good One BBQ is Victoria Park’s Chinese barbecue house to beat, not just by dint of its longevity (the restaurant opened its doors in 2004), but because owner Wah Fung understands how to coax the very best out of the beasts and birds he roasts. While our man’s gamey roast duck and wobbly pork belly has its admirers, Good One’s gloriously fatty char siu is arguably its standout protein, especially when enjoyed as part of this mighty Cantonese meal for one. Follow the lead of advanced eaters and opt for the ‘dry’ wonton mee over the ‘soup’ version. Not only does serving the broth separately to the rest of the dish ensure the egg noodles remain springy as, but it also sees those golden strands tossed in an addictive, sweet and salty dark soy sauce. On their own, those soy-coated noodles are delicious enough to eat by the trailer-load, but paired with frilly wontons and the aforementioned barbecued pork, you’re looking at a combination powerful enough to topple nations.
808 Albany Highway, East Victoria Park.
BEST LAKSA: SARAWAK HAWKER CUISINE
Not all laksas are created equal, nor is there such a thing as a typical laksa. From the stock base and noodle type to the choice of toppings, this spicy soup noodle varies considerably from country to country, and even city to city. Most Perth laksas tend to be riffs on the rich, curry laksa model powered by coconut milk (bits of fried bean curd flotsam are another giveaway) although many suburban eateries serve a brighter, more refreshing assam (sour) laksa on weekends. Western Australia’s laksa to beat borrows from both styles by combining the creamy richness of the former with a tamarind-spiked seafood stock to create an addictive blend of power and freshness. The accompanying lime and smear of house-made belacan (shrimp paste), meanwhile, makes it possible for control freaks to further fine-tune their order. In Sarawakian laksa tradition, strips of egg omelette and bean sprouts join prawns, fishcake and finely shredded chicken in the bowl, along with snowy white strands of bee hoon (thin rice noodle). The result is a dish that’s by turns silky and sour, homely and luxurious.
Shop 3/41 Burrendah Boulevard, Willetton.
BEST PHO: HU TIEU THANH LIEM
Technically, pho belongs to the noodle family, but most of the discussion surrounding Vietnam’s famed noodle dish tends to centre on its broth, an aromatic beef bouillon cooked carefully and slowly for hours till rich and deeply flavoured. And so it is with the heaped bowls served at Hu Tieu Thanh Liem, a simple, not-especially glamorous eating house in the state’s Vietnamese heartland. Whereas many local phos rely a little too heavily on cinnamon, star anise and the rest of the kitchen’s spice rack, time and time again this restaurant’s broth hits that sweet spot between spicy, aromatic interest and meaty savour. Prefer your soup with a little more pep in its step? No dramas. A well-stocked condiment aisle (bowls are served with Thai basil, mint, bean sprouts, lemon and chilli) enables guests to tinker with their order as much or as little as they like. Briefly blanched rice noodles lend suppleness to the dish while the beefy all-sorts in the pho dac biet – frilly pieces of tripe! Bouncy beef balls! Gelatinous scraps of tendon! – tick the boxes for texture. Mirrabooka Village, 73 Honeywell Boulevard, Mirrabooka.
BEST SOBA: SHIGE
Soba mightn’t have the same profile as ramen, but it holds a special place in Japanese hearts (and stomachs). Made primarily out of buckwheat flour, these thin, pale-coloured noodles sport a firmer bite and nuttier taste than egg noodles, and are served both cold and warm. Whereas specialist soba restaurants in Japan make their own noodles each day, the position of handmade-soba restaurant in Perth, sadly, remains unfilled (the handmade green tea soba served on occasion at
Senoji remains a rare, treasured memory). Nonetheless, dried soba still has much to offer Japanophiles, not least when entrusted to veteran Japanese chefs like Kozo Shigeyoshi. As one might expect from a cook with a kaiseki background, Shige-san keeps things elegant and traditional via his zaru soba: boiled and chilled noodles presented on a bamboo draining mat – the zaru – and crowned with julienned nori. Accompanying the noodles is a small bowl of tsuyu, a savoury, magic-making dipping sauce that combines dashi (soup stock), katsuobushi (smoked and dried fish flakes) and kombu (edible kelp) to winning effect. Wasabi, finely sliced spring onion and a raw quail’s egg offer additional seasoning options. 1/18 Plain Street, East Perth.
ON THE SIDE
While all of Asia’s major noodle families are represented in Perth, it’d be remiss to ignore the growing number of esoteric, regional offerings available through the city.Who, for instance, could have predicted that Perth might one day boast its very own hand-made Kudai mian restaurant in Mr Bun (148 Murray Street, Perth)? Even more pleasing than Mr Bun’s broad, ‘belt’ noodles is that there’s also a second restaurant – An’s Kitchen (1/305 William Street, Northbridge) – serving these girthy specimens from China’s Shaanxi province.
The state’s dandan noodle population, meanwhile, continues to grow. Hailing from the Sichuan region in central China, this addictive jumble of chilli, spring onion and noodles can be found at restaurants like Kung Fu Kitchen (3/145 Newcastle Street, Northbridge) and Red Chilli Szechuan (865 Albany Highway, East Victoria Park).
Outside of China, intrepid eaters might like to try the mie ayam at Indonesian eatery Bintang Cafe (Unit 11, 910 Albany Highway, East Victoria Park). The eggy noodles are made in-house; the ladle-yourself soup packs flavour, and juicy hunks
of chicken meat bulk things out rather deliciously.
On the topic of handmade noodles, both Sarawak Hawker Cuisine (see p39)
and Kitchen Inn (19/17-23 South Street, Kardinya) do a steady trade in kolo mee,
wavy noodles from eastern Malaysia recognisable for their pork mince, spring onion and lard trappings. Then there’s the quirky new Lucky Chan’s Laundry + Noodlebar (311 William Street, Northbridge) whose $30,000 Japanese noodle machine and very own scientifically blended wheat flour results in some pretty kick-arse noodles. Noodle Forum (Equus Retail Arcade, 580 Hay Street, Perth) also cranks out some fab homemade noodles. Not in the mood to brave the queues? Then at least drop by for a gander at chef Ian Chin as he kneads the noodle dough by bouncing up and down on his giant bamboo stick.
While noodles mightn’t be the first foodstuff one associates with Korea (that’d probably be kimchi), the country also boasts its own noodle-y traditions. Bbox Restaurant (607 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley), for example, is one of the local Korean restaurants that offers japchae, stir-fried noodles made with beef, vegetables and dangmyeon (noodles made from sweet-potato starch).