— Season 3 of Cook like and Italian with Silvia Colloca airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on SBS Food, or stream it for free via SBS on Demand —
Italian cooks always have a signature dish families simply can’t get enough of and for Silvia Colloca’s friend, Silvana Gigliotti, that dish is arancini.
It’s a recipe that’s been in her family for generations and when her children were younger she would make them weekly in large batches and then freeze them. “Then, however you want them, you take them out and fry them,” Gigliotti told Colloca on Cook Like an Italian. “Straight from the freezer.
It’s no wonder an incredibly tasty snack with this kind of versatility has become Giglotti’s signature dish.
Which got us thinking: what dish would some of Australia’s top chefs call their “signature dish”? It’s a question that begs to be asked, because with access to thousands of recipes and the expertise to pull off each one with aplomb, which dish really has their hearts set?
Hun Loong: Homemade fish ball soup
Chef of popular Malaysian restaurant Amah by Ho Jiak in Chatswood, Hun Loong says his signature dish should be fishball soup, originating from Shantou Province in Guangzhou, China.
“It’s a dish that’s really close to my heart,” he says. “When I was a child, my grandmother would cook it for me and it was my favorite childhood dish. She would get up before sunrise to get the freshest fish from the markets. She would cook this dish at from scratch, working on it all day just to make everyone smile at dinner.”
As a child, Loong would sit in the kitchen and watch his grandmother prepare the dish – sometimes she would even let him help her. But it wasn’t until Sydney’s first lockdown (Warrang) that Loong made the dish entirely on his own.
“I had so much time at home to plan what to cook every day, so I decided to recreate it,” he explains. “All my best memories with my grandmother came back to me when I made it and then tasted it…Through this dish, my grandmother taught me the meaning of cooking.”
He has since added fishball soup to Amah’s menu and he makes it from scratch every day. “I want to share my favorite childhood dish and the heartwarming memories I have with everyone who walks through our doors.”
Brendan Fong: Kokoda
Like Loong, Brendan Fong has only recently started making the dish he says defines him, Fijian kokoda.
“It’s one of those dishes that I can never do better than my mom or even duplicate, so I was always lucky that she made it for me,” says executive chef Lily Mu.
He recently added it to the menu at Lily Mu where he made it his own by adding Thai and Vietnamese flavors like fish sauce and chili and garlic paste. “I love cooking it for my parents to see if it’s as good as they make it, but it never is,” he admits.
“This dish always reminds me of family vacations in Fiji. It’s a dish close to my heart and holds a lot of sentimental memories of family reunions that I will never forget.”
Chau Tran: Cơm hến
Cơm hến has long been a traditional dish of fishermen in the coastal region of Thua Thien Hue in Vietnam. “Hến” are tiny clams that are abundant in Hue but considered unsaleable by local fishermen. They are therefore reserved to cook a meal for the fishermen themselves.
“I had never seen it in restaurants in Australia before we put it on the menu,” says Chau Tran, owner of Cash Only Diner. “[I’d] I never grew it when my mom did or when I was in Hue.”
The dish is full of texture from the clams or seeds, which go through a two-step cooking process. It has lovely crispy puffed rice and fresh herbs and chili sitting like a crown. A small teapot full of a wonderfully aromatic herbal broth is served alongside.
“It’s wonderfully richer, fresher and more textured, but above all it’s a great interactive dish,” says Tran. “People can add as much or as little vegetables, herbs, clams or broth [as they like].”
Siddharth Kalyanaraman: Gosht nihari
“This dish is one of my favorite foods, period,” says Siddharth Kalyanaraman, Executive Chef at Sebel Pinnacle Valley Resort. “It was one of the first complex dishes I learned to make and it opened my mind to the beauty of Indian cooking, the use of spices and their subtle role in complementing the main ingredient to make the dish spectacular.”
Kalyanaraman first encountered gosht nihari on the streets of Old Delhi when he found himself eating through a hole in the wall after all the popular restaurants were packed. An elderly cook served the dish with a simple side of toast.
Get Kalyanaraman’s recipe here.
“To date, it’s one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten,” says Kalyanaraman. “I bombarded him with questions which he graciously answered. To this day, the spice blend I use is the one I learned from him.
“I would call this my signature dish as it has traveled with me across India and now from India to Australia, constantly evolving with my learning and pursuit of new culinary skills and knowledge.”
Chase Kojima: miso trevally ceviche from Hiramasa
When he first opened Sokyo, Chase Kojima had worked for Nobu since he was 19 years old. It was a big deal to open his own restaurant and he was looking to create a dish that would rival Nobu’s signature yellowtail jalapeño sashimi.
The dish he landed on was the hard-hitting miso ceviche of hiramasa trevally and it has been his best seller in both Sokyo and Kiyomi ever since.
“This one is my customers’ favorite,” says Kojima. “It shows what kind of fun and playful flavors and tastes they can expect when they get to their meal so early.”