Foodie Review: Temasek

Tucked away in a relatively quiet, unassuming corner of Parramatta’s George Street, Temasek  offers authentic Singaporean, Malaysian, and Chinese dishes with warm, friendly, and quick-as-a-flash service. With no website, social media page, or even print advertising to highlight its presence, this local icon nonetheless draws in scores of diners who come in hungry and leave with huge, satisfied smiles. It was this reputation that led me to dine here on two occasions: my parents’ wedding anniversary, and a visit from a Melbourne-based friend who wanted to check out Parramatta’s food scene.

Round 1: Parents’ Anniversary

My family and I can never resist a good laksa, so our first order of the day was the Laksa Singapura with Chicken. It was delightfully fragrant– we could smell the various spices and seasonings even before the bowl was laid on the table.

Laksa Singapura with Chicken
Laksa Singapura with Chicken (Click for larger image)

Upon request, we were provided with smaller bowls for sharing, so everyone could have a taste– and what an incredible taste it was. Rich, creamy coconut milk broth with powerful yet harmoniously blended lashings of savory shrimp paste, lemongrass, tamarind, and of course hot chillies… it left our tastebuds dancing.

Laksa Singapura with Chicken (Click for larger image)
Laksa Singapura with Chicken (Click for larger image)

Next up was Serai Pork: tender little morsels of pork stir-fried with a zippy lemongrass sauce. The meat was delightfully soft, almost buttery. Aside from the refreshing lemongrass notes, the sauce also packed a formidable spicy, gingery punch.

Serai Pork (Click for larger image)
Serai Pork (Click for larger image)

To balance out all the heat and zing, we ordered Hainanese Chicken. It was the perfect counterpoint to the other dishes’ fiery flavors: delicate, almost jelly-like poached chicken with a mellow, slightly sweet soy dipping sauce. (However, it also came with a side of flaming-hot ginger and chilli dressing for true chilli fans!) Not pictured are the side of rice steamed in chicken broth, and the bowl of refreshingly cold, exceedingly tasty chicken broth with bits of spring onion– I gulped down the broth nearly all in one go. Yes, it was just that good.

Hainanese Chicken (Click for larger image)
Hainanese Chicken (Click for larger image)

The portion sizes were quite generous, and we wound up taking home some of the Serai Pork and Hainanese Chicken to enjoy later. Even as I walked away from the restaurant with a full and heavy tummy, I made up my mind to come back another time… which brings us to this more recent foray…

Round 2: Visitor from Melbourne

“I’ve been to Sydney before, so I’ve pretty much done all the ‘tourist-y’ things,” said my Melbourne-based partner-in-crime. “I just want to eat some good Nasi Goreng.”

Challenge accepted!

Nasi Goreng (Click for larger image)
Nasi Goreng (Click for larger image)

Sticky, salty-sweet, and mildly spiced, with just the right amounts of savory shrimp paste, fish sauce and garlic, this was a delightful amalgam of tastes and textures. The soft, yielding rice was dotted with hidden bits of tender chicken, plump and juicy shrimp, and succulent sauteed onions. A sprinkling of finely chopped spring onions added freshness and crunch, while the gooey-in-the-middle fried egg added richness and depth.

As for me, I had the Nasi Lemak. This was a fantastic spread of contrasts: fluffy rice with a hint of coconut cream, surrounded by pickled vegetables, fried anchovies, sliced cucumber, boiled egg with tamarind paste, a little dollop of spicy sambal, and two choices of curry (I chose Beef Rendang and Sambal Prawns).

Nasi Lemak (Click for larger image)
Nasi Lemak (Click for larger image)

I was enraptured with every mouthful. The pickled vegetables, believe it or not, were my favorite part of the dish– they had such an addictive, pleasing crunchiness to them, and just the right amount of vinegary tartness. The Beef Rendang was just the way I like it: tender, well spiced (but not overpoweringly so) and absolutely smothered in thick, fragrant gravy. The Sambal Prawns were also well executed, with delightful notes of sweet, mellow coconut frolicking through the sharp, zingy tamarind and chilli paste. On the milder side, there was the salty-sweet tamarind paste covering the boiled egg, and the crispy, fresh cucumber. The glazed fried anchovies provided an additional salty hit, which I would’ve enjoyed more if they were crunchier.

We shared a gloriously tall mound of Ice Kacang, a traditional Malaysian frozen delight made of shaved ice, sweet red beans, grass jelly, diced pineapple, palm seeds, a splash of evaporated milk and a drizzling of strawberry syrup, topped with a spoonful of creamed sweet corn.

Ice Kacang (Click for larger image)
Ice Kacang (Click for larger image)

Western palates may find the combination of ingredients to be quite outlandish for a dessert, but trust me, these worked beautifully. Especially when we pummelled the pile of ice with our spoons to reduce it to a milk-and-syrup-soaked slush, and stirred all the components together:

Ice Kacang (Click for larger image)
Ice Kacang (Click for larger image)

The black grass jelly would have perhaps been the strangest component to non-Asians (or anyone else who hadn’t grown up with it). As expected, it had a pronounced herbal taste, much like chomping on a pot of herbal tea. In a dessert like this, it provided a pleasant contrast to the sweeter ingredients, especially the candy-like strawberry syrup.

With such enjoyable and filling fare, there’ll definitely be more visits to Temasek in the near future. I’ll be up for another round of Nasi Lemak, and perhaps something really fiery to challenge the ol’ tastebuds. (I’m actually quite weak when it comes to hot and spicy foods, but I’m sure I’ll come through just fine– as long as there’s a side of Ice Kacang!)

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