Where: CC Wok, 464 Victoria Street North Melbourne
What: Amazing renditions of lesser-known Malaysian noodles dishes – like asam laksa and lor mee
Who: Mama Whatever Floats Your Bloat, Papa Whatever Floats Your Bloat
Bloat score: 1 – Had to loosen my belt a notch
My parents and I have a newfound weekly routine where we visit a different Malaysian restaurant. For our first place, I suggested we visit CC Wok after reading Jess Ho’s glowing review. It opened in November 2021, shortly after the last of our many, many lockdowns drew to an end.
No-frills and relaxed, CC Wok is a big, airy L-shaped restaurant, with tables far enough apart that you won’t feel stressed about dining inside (there is no outdoor dining area, it’s worth noting). The service is incredibly warm, accommodating and friendly – there was an Aunty, seemingly the matriarch of the place, fielding everyone’s queries. We placed our orders via a QR code square on our table, but when we enquired, the chef was only too happy to replace the hokkien noodles in the chicken curry mee with rice vermicelli noodles for wheat-intolerant Mama WFYB – we were instructed to add a special note in our online order. A lady folding crystal dumplings next to our table showed us her ornate handiwork, even suggesting I take a photo – probably sensing the inner food paparazzi in me.
These handmade crystal dumplings were chai kuih – stir-fried cabbage, radish, carrot and dried shrimp wrapped in chewy, steamed skin – and a worthy substitute for the curry puffs we wanted to order, which had sold out by the time we arrived for dinner. My knowledge of Malaysian Chinese food is broad, but I’d never tasted these before and was delighted at the discovery of a new dish. The translucent, impeccably steamed skin gave way to a melange of crunchy vegetables, with an almost imperceptible saltiness. Dipped in the accompanying chilli sauce, these dumplings were quite unlike any other dumpling I’ve had before – less of an umami explosion than your typical jiaozi, more an elegant combination of simple flavours. This dish was new to Mama WFYB and Papa WFYB too but they both greatly enjoyed it.
Chai kuih is popular among the Teochew and Hakka populations of Malaysia, many of which reside in the foodie island haven of Penang. The dough for its skin is made with a combination of wheat starch (not to be confused with wheat flour) and tapioca starch – the wheat starch gives the dumplings their translucent appearance, the tapioca starch their chewiness. Wheat starch is much finer in texture compared to flour and like ghee – the clarified butter that contains minimal lactose – wheat starch has miniscule amounts of gluten. (Mama WFYB didn’t know this when we ordered the chai kuih, but she does make an exception for any sort of dumplings.)
Arriving with a soup spoon of sambal artfully placed over a deep concave of noodles, CC Wok’s version of chicken curry mee – also known as curry laksa to Australians who are obsessed with it – had tofu puffs to soak up the aromatic broth, eggplant, fish balls, green beans, mint, and, of course, chicken. Mama WFYB found the chicken pieces slightly too big for her liking, but she couldn’t fault the taste – high praise from a Malaysian mum. I had a ladle full of her soup and found it highly fragrant without being overpoweringly coconut milk-laden, one-note or creamy – what I find most curry mees are like in Melbourne.
This curry mee is most reminiscent of what you find in KL or Selangor (the adjacent state where I grew up) and the most famous overseas export that non-Malaysians are familiar with, but my favourite laksa is asam laksa, a speciality of Penang. CC Wok has asam laksa on its menu and if I wasn’t trying so assiduously to avoid wheat, I would’ve ordered it. Asam laksa is spicy and sour on behalf of the tamarind (i.e. asam) used and features a fish-based stock, flaked mackerel, mint, shrimp paste and lemongrass.
Countless other laksas exist across Malaysia alone, let alone Southeast Asia. Kedah laksa is made with eel instead of mackerel and rice noodles owing to Kedah’s status as the rice bowl of Malaysia. Johor laksa contains spaghetti and a concentrated broth made of grilled wolf herring. Sarawak laksa has ingredients not found in the mainland versions, like omelette, black mushrooms and boiled eggs. Laksam, eaten in the north-eastern Malaysian states of Kelantan and Terengganu, has such a thick, full-bodied white soup of coconut milk and boiled fish that it’s eaten with hands rather than utensils. The breadth of laksas and their differentiation across regions make their origins hard to trace, but commonalities exist – Southeast Asian cities most famous for laksa were major stops along the historic spice route, and in each of these cities, Chinese migrants and traders intermarried with local populations, culminating in variations of the dish that we all now all know as laksa.
Papa WFYB branched out (for him) and refrained getting something with rice in it – he ordered the lor mee, a mix of yellow noodles and vermicelli noodles served with pork belly, fishcake and hard-boiled egg in a thick gravy soup. Like Mama WFYB’s curry mee, the lor mee was served with a soup spoon full of sambal. No one was happier than Papa WFYB who polished off this bowl in record time. I sampled the soup and it was smooth, slightly tart, velvety and eggy i.e. perfect. Sliced thinly, the pork belly wasn’t too overwhelming, unlike how it’s served in western cuisines as an entire roast – my favourite preparation of pork belly will always be the Chinese preparation of it.
A Hokkien dish, lor mee translates literally to mean ‘braised noodles’ and is commonly found in Malaysia and Singapore as well as the Philippines where it is called lomi. The dark gravy soup is a combination of soy, garlic and Chinese black vinegar – which explains its sourness, perhaps my favourite thing about it – and thickened with corn starch and egg.
While CC Wok’s several varieties of noodles and nasi lemak were calling out to me, I opted for the most intolerance-friendly Malaysian dish there is for me – Hainanese chicken rice. Hainanese chicken rice is one of my favourite dishes – read my posts about it here and here – and CC Wok’s version was tasty without perhaps blowing my mind as much as Gai Wong’s across the road did.
CC Wong’s version was made with what we Malaysians term ‘kampung chicken’ and what everyone here knows as free-range chicken, so the Aunty told me it’d be slightly smaller and tougher, but I didn’t find it too firm in texture. The garlic ginger chilli sauce and fragrant rice were faultless, and I found the broth more flavoursome than Gai Wong’s.
The skin on the chicken was yellow, and although the internet is divided on why this is, this angry answer on a reddit thread was my favourite answer (mostly because it’s wrong – when a chicken is fed a corn diet, it turns yellow when you cook it, even after being poached).
CC Wok also has a range of kuih that you can either get taken away or have there, so we got two boxes to go. On the day we visited, there were ang ku kueh, kuih dadar, kuih bengka, kuih talam, seri muka and so many more – I brought them to my friend’s house the next day to enjoy with tea, and they were a hit.
The shape of my intolerances has changed vastly, which I’ll explain in a separate post when I feel up to it, so this was only a one-bloat time thankfully.
As I’m fast discovering, there is exceptional Malaysian food in Melbourne, known in the circles of Aunties and Uncles who are the best judges of such things, but they’re mostly located in the outer eastern suburbs of Melbourne. CC Wok is one of the few exemplar Malaysian places in an inner-city suburb, serving dishes reminiscent of what we’d get back home and easily accessible to driver’s licence-less fools like me. I loved discovering and learning about new dishes from home and will definitely be back for my favourite asam laksa, or one of the three variations of nasi lemak.
CC Wok is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 3pm and from 5.30pm to 8pm.