If you're trying to assimilate into another culture, I think breakfast is the final hurdle. Sure, lunch and dinner can be exotica day in and day out, no sweat - but even long-term expats, faced with early morning fried noodles or rice balls, just can't stomach anything other than cornflakes or Vegemite toast. Perhaps the second-last hurdle in food terms is dessert. I may crave anything but meat and three veg for dinner, but I just can't see myself being hormonal and chewing Mr Baklover's ear off until he gets me a bowl of snow fungus soup.
That's why I think Bryan had a bit of trepidation bringing me to Monga, a well-hidden "dessert lounge" above Russell Street serving Hong Kong-style snacks, drinks and desserts. I was game anyway, and it's certainly a lovely space to linger in, all dark wood and peep-hole panelling like you're in some sort of secret club.
Hong Kong has some absolutely zany dishes, the result of many cultures exerting their influence on this tiny island. Monga have many savoury dishes that proudly feature Spam, plus fried instant noodles, the rather odd breakfast above (with hot dog sausage) and a toasted bun that Bryan describes receiving, only to find that between the slices was a slab of butter about half an inch thick.
Mushroom and steamed chicken on rice double boiling set, $10.50
We went for a double-boiled chicken and mushroom dish. The way I understand it, double boiling means the ingredients are placed in a sealed vessel that is then placed in a pot of heated water. There's no direct flame on the ingredients themselves, making for an extremely gentle style of cooking. This dish was quite fabulous, with tender pieces of chicken in a light but delicious marinade, plus fat shiitake mushrooms on well-cooked white rice. The accompanying sauce, a very light, thin soy, complemented it perfectly.
Delicious milky iced tea - far less tannic than Singaporean/Malaysian teh tarik. This was included in the price of the chicken and mushroom dish above.
Papaya poached in almond sweet soup, $7
Scary dessert time! Bryan had another double-boiled dish, papaya pieces in almond milk. I loved the almond milk - sweet and refreshing with a light marzipan flavour - and the tender almond kernels floating in it. The papaya didn't taste ripe though and did nothing much for the dish.
Black sesame rice ball with ginger sweet soup, $7
I went for rice balls with my choice of black sesame, in a ginger syrup. They were fantastic! The glutinous rice dough is tender but intriguingly sticky to the tooth, while the black sesame paste is nutty, very sweet and pleasantly textured. The ginger syrup felt nourishing, sweet but with good ginger heat.
Upon leaving, we spied this so we HAD to go upstairs - wouldn't you?!
...and in fact, Monga's menu even includes your choice of game!
If you feel like coffee and cake in the city after dark, rather than settle for a tired baklava and bad coffee on Lonsdale Street, turn the corner and ascend to Monga. I wasn't sure if iced tea and glutinous rice balls would hit the spot, but it turns out they really did.
Monga Sweet Cafe
Level 1, 217 Russell Street, City
Hours: 11.30 am - 3 am, 7 days
View Footscrayfoodblog reviews in a larger map