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put it in your mouth: a sydney food blog

tasted by two

tasted by two











CHINATOWN :: SYDNEY :: NEW SOUTH WALES :: AUSTRALIA :: CROWDED WORLD
emperor puffs -- indonesian food

IF YOU ARE ON A QUICK TRIP TO SYDNEY THERE IS NO FINER WAY TO SPEND AN AFTERNOON OR EVENING, THAN TO DROP IN AT THE CITY'S CHINATOWN AT HAYMARKET. If you are spending considerably longer than a week in Sydney, you might want to become a regular visitor to Chinatown, because it offers plenty of excitement. This is one of the more potent East Meets West interfaces of a country which in itself is becoming an East Meets West interface. (Bankstown and Cabramatta are two others.) For Asian Australians and Asian visitors and everybody else, regardless of their color, this is the place to come to find the finest yum cha, to search for bargains in the labyrinthe markets, or to simply chill out at the nearby Chinese Gardens. On my last jaunt through the place, on May 13 2011, I stopped for a late lunch at one of my favorite haunts -- the Eating World Food Court in Dixon St. I was amazed as usual by the array of delicious Asian dishes, representing China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.

The logo says, Four Seas One Family, or In This World, All Men are Brothers

I was on my way to a job interview in Ultimo, and my route took me past historic Paddy's Market, into the Dixon Street Mall. There was a long line of people waiting for Emperor Puffs, a fried vanilla puff concoction which was going for 30 cents a piece. From what I have heard, Sydney's Chinatown is the only place in the world you can find Emperor Puffs. I didn't have time to line up, so I scurried along, to Eating World.

People line up for Emperor Puffs in Dixon Street Mall, Chinatown, Sydney



WHERE IS CHINATOWN
CHINATOWN IS JUST A SHORT WALK FROM SYDNEY'S CENTRAL STATION AND IS ALSO QUITE CLOSE TO OTHER INFLUENTIAL AREAS SUCH AS DARLING HARBOR (WITH ALL ITS ITS HOTELS AND ITS ONE GLEAMING CASINO.) As a Japanese guide pointed out on its website: That's right, while officially Chinatown is restricted to Dixon St, in reality the whole of the surrounding suburb of Haymarket has been swamped under a surge of Chinese and Asian eateries, and there is something to suit every taste. This whole part of town could be considered Chinatown -- and there is even a strong Chinese presence felt at Darling Harbor, with its magnificent Chinese Gardens. But there is more to Chinatown than just food. Throw in the ubiqitious souvenir sellers, hawking precious black opals and stuffed koalas and laughing Kookaburras, and plenty of jewelery and Chinese junk stores, and you have the complete deal, unplugged. There is no Chinatown in the world quiet like it -- then again, every Chinatown is unique! In what other Chinatown in the world, would you find so many shops selling koala toys? This is the only one -- and there can be only one!

Here is a list of some of the places you can dine at in Chinatown:

BBQ King: 18-20 Goulburn St. Phone: 02/9267 2586.
Entrees $4.40-8.80, mains $8.80-26. Open 11.30am-2am. As the name suggests, you come here for barbecue, and a lot of people would agree that this place is king. It's old-school, with laminex tables and folding chairs. There may be a queue, but it won't last long, and the great duck is worth the wait. Try the spinach with garlic, too.

Chinese Noodle Restaurant: 8 Quay St, Haymarket. Phone: 02/9281 9051.
For lovers of bizarre sounding dishes such as jellyfish salad and the like, this place is a godsend. Just a short walk from Sydney's Station, this place is cheap and popular with students and local families. I probably passed the joint on my visit here with the rapacious Rima in 1994, but that is another story. At this intimate, busy eatery decorated with grapes and Persian rugs, the noodles are handmade in traditional northern Chinese style.

East Ocean: 421 Sussex St, Haymarket. Phone: 02/9212 4198.
Banquet specialists.

Emperor's Garden BBQ & Noodles: 213-5 Thomas St. Phone: 02/9281 9899.
水槽の生簀があまり綺麗でない中華レストラン.
Dishes from $3.50 up to $9. This is a popular Chinese eatery specialising in meat and poultry dishes (marinated duck tongue $6) and has a great little window area where you can choose your takeaway goodies.

Golden Century Seafood Restaurant: 393-399 Sussex St, Haymarket. Phone: 02/9212 3901.
Live lobster and abalone are only some of the gourmet goodies available at this restaurant. The fish and other assorted sea life are displayed in tanks -- you just have to point and choose. The flavours are exotic and engaging, the service fast and slick. At least one website has described Golden Century as "the Ben Hur of Yum Cha."

Hingara Chinese Restaurant: 82 Dixon St, Haymarket. Phone: 02/9212-2169
Prices range from $20 to $50. Located in the main street of Chinatown.

Kam Fook Shark Fin Restaurant: Level 3, Market City, 9 Hay St. Phone: 02/9211 8388.
Dishes $11 - market price seafood. Open 10am-5pm (yum cha) daily, 5.30pm-11pm Sun-Thur, until midnight Fri & Sat. This enormous place can seat about 800 people, and regularly gets filled to capacity for its yum cha sessions. Ask the waiter to recommend dishes and you'll be duly rewarded with succulent offerings. As you'd expect, shark fin is the speciality.

Lam's Seafood Restaurant: 35-37 Goulburn St, Haymarket. Phone: 02/9281 2881/2.
Entrees $4-23.80, mains $15 - market price seafood. Open noon-4am. Quick lunch? Luxurious banquet? You can do both here. Popular with locals, visitors and anyone in-between, Lam's has an extensive menu and staff who know a thing or two about getting the most out of the kitchen.

Mamak: 15 Goulburn St, Haymarket. Phone: 02/9211 1668.
Malaysian cuisine is a splendid blend of Indian, Chinese and Malay tastes, and it usually costs a good deal less than, say, Japanese food. At Mamak restaurant in Haymarket, for example, you can get roti tisu for $9, nasi lemak for $7.50, ayam goreng (literally "chicken fried" if my Bahasa Malaysia is up to scratch!) for $12, and a glass of teh tarik ("tea poured") for $3.50. (These prices courtesy of Tasted by Two. And as Tasted by Two points out in their September 2009 report, this place rocks into the early hours!

Marigold Citymark: Levels 4/5, 683-689 George St, Haymarket. Phone: 02/9281 3388.
Dim sum $2.40-4.60, yum cha specials $5.70. This 800-seat yum cha palace serves lunchtime yum cha daily and has an extensive menu of other dishes. Join the hordes.

Nine Dragons Restaurant: 39 Dixon St, Sydney.
観光客でにぎわう中華レストラン.
Likely to be crowded with tourists. As you would expect, the cuisine is totally Chinese.

Sea Bay Chinese Restaurant: Piit St.
Foraging Otaku recorded in January 2009 (while I was stuck in Japan getting into Supernatural!): "In my last post I blogged about the plethora of restaurants in the close vincity of my work. Sea Bay Chinese Restaurant on Pitt St is one of them. Today I dragged my manager along for lunch at this little eatery. He's a burgeoning foodie and takes like a duck to water once he's tasted a dish, becoming the ultimate self proclaimed champion of the restaurant. Every now and then I take him to a new place so he can champion that..."

Silver Spring: Level 1, 477 Pitt St, Haymarket. Phone: 02/9211 2232.
Entrees $5-15.80, mains $13.80-market price seafood. Open 10am-3pm (yum cha), 5.30pm-11pm (a la carte). The restaurant has a wheelchair accessible entry. There is no wheelchair accessible toilet.
For brunch and lunch, Silver Spring attracts a business crowd; for dinner, families and friends enjoy a more intimate ambiance. The menu is varied, including dishes like stir-fry king prawns and suckling pig skin in Chinese pancakes.

Tetsuya's: 529 Kent St, (behind George St cinemas near Chinatown.) Phone: 02/9267 2900.
The noun wagyu (literally: "Harmony Beef", "Harmony" being the old moniker for "Japan") gets thrown around a lot in Australian restaurants these days, often unjustifiably, according to Tokyo based food blogger Dominic Carter. After visiting Australia recently, Carter reckons that Tetsuya's is your safest bet to get real wagyu beef. "This is, hands down, the most hyped restaurant in Australia and usually makes it onto lists of the finest restaurants in the world," Carter wrote. "The chef, Tetsuya Wakuda, is a migrant from Japan who landed in Australia with no formal training over 25 years ago..."
Like Carter I am an Australian currently living in Tokyo, the leading foodie city in the world (at least as far as Michelin stars go!) I haven't eaten any of those Michelin stars yet and probably never will, but I know that this is a good place for food. After dining at Tetsuya's Carter asked: "Could you experience a meal of similar quality in Tokyo? The answer is yes, but this should not detract from the wonderful experience that has been created for my fellow mere Australian mortals who, even though they like to boast about the quality of their restaurants, do not usually have access to this standard. I have to admit to not eating anything that surprised or excited me, with the possible exception of the caramel prawns. For destination dining such as this, I would have liked to have been surprised by more daring and passionate combinations and creations - but I suspect that the chef knows his customers pretty well and understands that for most of them, what he serves each evening is plenty creative enough..."

Wagaya: 1/78 Harbour Street, Haymarket. Phone: 02/9212 6068.
(October 2009 update): It has been now more than 2.5 years since I last made footfall on Australian soil, and after browsing the blogosphere in prep for my upcoming December trip, I feel remarkably out of touch. Once again I feel like I am missing out on the fun (but all of us are always missing out on something! If not in Sydney, then at least in Reykjavik, Iceland, where Iceland Airwaves is presently underway.) Anyway, if the blogs are anything to go by, Japanese food seems to big in Sydney right now (though truth be known, it probably never went out of style.) Nonetheless, the Japanese food they concoct in Australia is different from than the Japanese food I have cooked around me every day, here in my north east Asian base of Tokyo, Japan. I have read that in Sydney there are establishments serving tempura fried bananas with ice cream for desert, and wagyu hamburgers. Actually wagyu (marbled Kobe style beef) seems to be all over the Sydney food blogs at present, but never in Japan have I seen it served on a burger, or debased in such a way. It seems to me like a dishonor to the cow who provided the meat, to have it cheapened with a pickle garnish and a slice of melting cheese. It's not kosher either.
One of the most popular Japanese restaurants in Sydney at present is Wagaya, which means "Our Shop". Hua Tong Oversea Blog says: "WAGAYA is a Japanese restaurant in Sydney ChinaTown. There is a touch screen menu on every tables. Inside is very dark, more like a night or dance club. Food is not so speical to the extent that I would like to go back frequently..."
Those touchscreens (see Hua Tong Oversea Blog above for photos) look impressive and you can order items in English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. Sushi is a common theme. You can play Russian roulette with the sushi, the hidden wasabi being your bullet. But if bullets were made of wasabi, I wouldn't mind getting gunned down. The punters at Wagaya appear to drink a beverage called Tsunami which I have never seen in Japan...
Not exactly Chinatown but Rise at Darlinghurst comes recommended as a great place to eat Fusion/Japanese cuisine. Sashimi in shot glasses, anyone? Chocolate Suze has you covered. Closer to Chinatown, you could check out Menya (Quay Street, Haymarket) -- the name of the place means "Noodle Shop" in Japanese.

Here are some of the fave food courts which can be found in Chinatown and around:

Dixon House Food Court: corner of Little Hay and Dixon Sts, Haymarket.
Dishes $5-8. This food court offers a selection of about 20 vendors, with low, low prices.

Eating World. 25-29 Dixon Street, Chinatown.


I first stumbled upon this little piece of Asia transplanted on to Australian soil back in 1996, when I was working at the nearby Daily Telegraph as a hack. The highlight of my three month stay there was glimpsing media mogul Rupert Murdoch on a surprise visit to the office (he was probably trying to shore up his ailing SUPER LEAGUE strategy, but that is another story.) While working at the newspaper I usually dined on Malaysian chicken laksa from a nearby takeout shop, but if I was feeling more adventurous and had enough time, I would head down to Chinatown. I usually ended up at Eating World which reminded me of some of the great food courts of Asia.
Eating World is a favourite with students, large families, groups of teenagers and lone eaters. Expect no glamour (then again, you wouldn't expect glamour at any of the great food courts of Asia.) You choose, you wait, they ring the bell, you pick up your food from the stall, your utensils from one of the stations scattered around the hall, go to a table and eat. Lingering is not encouraged. There is a bar in the place and I used to love sucking down those Hahn Ice's and Carlton Colds, especially if I was eating something spicy at the time.
If you love Asian food, it's all here, from Peking duck to Vietnamese pork rolls. It was in fact Vietnamese pork rolls that I ate on my last visit, in October 2005. And true to tradition I washed it down with -- a beer from the house of Hahn...
Another regular and enthusiastic diner, John Newton, claims some of the better Eating World dishes include the beef and bitter melon hot pot from Chinatown Gourmet ("tender beef, dried shiitake mushrooms, ginger and enough melon to satisfy my bitter cravings"), beef rendang from the Bundo Raya halal stall and the chilli octopus at the Korean/Japanese hawker's stall. The Yummi House Taiwanese pancakes are also strongly recommended!
Eating World was named the best food court in Sydney by one prominent youth hostel group. Its fame has spread beyond the yellow sand shores of Australia, into Asia -- showing that Sydney can mash it up on the Asian dining scene. On one Bahasa Indonesian website I found a tribute to Eating World. On the forum a poster, h4nh4n, had asked his Indo brethren: "Hello Guys, daripada bete and ga ada yang aktif di regional Sydney... mendingan gue nanya deh. Tempat makan favorite lu di Sydney tuh dimana?"
Sorry to all the Indo folk out there -- my Bahasa Indonesian skills are pretty basic! I will hazard a wild guess and make an on-the-fly translation of this tempat (question) -- "where are your favourite eating places in Sydney?" A worthy tempat indeed, worthy of a worthy answer. h4nh4n himself mentions Star City's all-you-can-eat buffet as a good place for makan (food). Ming Hai on George St gets a jersey -- "gw recomend tomato rice crispy chickennya." h4nh4n later adds: "Kalo yang ada nasi padang tuh eating world tuh... kalo dixon jalan sussex deh kayaknya, ada di basement gitu deh."
For lovers of Indonesian food, go to Pondok Selera in Eating World (opposite the bar). Ever since I started my job at Alternative Media, I have made it my aim to eat there once a month or so. Pretty much everything on their menu is good. There is Indonesian offal soup ($9.50), Loh Mee braised beef noodles in black vinegar sauce ($9.50), udang belado prawns and rice ($11.80), and so on. The time before last I ordered a noodle soup containing some kind of greenish-yellow offal, pork balls and yellow noodles. I noticed there was a lunch special going (any three choices of curry like beef rendang and rice for $7.80).

Harbour Plaza Food Court: corner of Dixon and Goulburn Sts, Haymarket.
Dishes $5-8. Open 10am-10pm. The pagoda-style Harbour Plaza has a wide range of cheap Asian meals available.

Market City Shopping Centre: Level 3, 2-13 Quay St, Sydney. Phone: 02/9212 1388.
Dishes $3.50-10. This mammoth place has a fresh produce market on the first level, a factory outlet on the second level and more food from more places than you can imagine on the third level. You'll find Paddy's Markets and the aforementioned Kam Fook here too.
Stroll around the food court early in the morning as I often do, and you can see them hawking their all-day breakfasts (they currently cost $8). I usually choose to start the day here with a juice. Downstairs there is a Nandos franchise (Mexican music, and views of the monorail and skyscrapers). Elsewhere in the food court, there is a Sichuan restaurant (Dongyun Sichuan Food House), with wontons in chicken soup for $7.80. On the other side of the juicer is Eastern Experience, offering stir-fried delights. For a Malay/Singaporean high, try McLucksa.
On the first floor, the Thai Kee IGA supermarket with goods from all over Asia, funky stuff and cranky staff.

Sussex Centre: 401 Sussex St, Sydney.
Dishes $5-7. Open 9am-10pm. The food court here has a range of cheap, tasty dishes, making it a sensible choice for those who want to eat and run.



PYRMONT PLACES
PYRMONT IS AN UNDERAPPRECIATED PART OF SYDNEY, POPULAR WITH STUDENTS. It is also a good place for cheap eats. The chicken laksa at Kopitiam (592 Harris Street; phone: (02) 9282 9883) is well known and delicious.



CHINESE LEGACY
CHINATOWN OCCUPIES THE HEART OF SYDNEY CITY AND, IN A WAY, ALSO OCCUPIES A CENTRAL ROLE IN AUSTRALIAN HISTORY. As The Sydney Morning Herald wrote: "While early Chinese arrivals in Australia set up stores at The Rocks, the introduction of "coolie" labour in the 1840s and the increase in migration after the discovery of gold the following decade saw them established at the other end of town. By 1900, according to one history, 86 per cent of Chinese regarded the Haymarket area, today's Chinatown, as their place of residence, and in the 1920s the Chinese merchants there had a working relationship with the City Council, which owned most of the area, including the markets.

"Nevertheless, it's an odd juxtaposition, given the White Australia policy of most of the 20th century, that two such Australian symbols as Paddy's Market and Trades Hall lie within Chinatown.

"Trades Hall is a wonderful building of four storeys, light sandstone pillars with red bricks in between, on the corner of Dixon and Goulburn Streets. It has a magnificent multi-sided tower with little balconies and a turret topped with tarnished green copper. Its foundation stone was laid by His Excellency, the Right Honourable Henry Carrington, GCMG, on January 28, 1888.

"Here, narrow Dixon Street has been "pedestrianised", and buskers sell CDs not just of Great Oriental Classics and Chinese Violin Masterpieces but also Romantic Melodies (including such well-known numbers as Unchained Melody and Don't Cry for Me, Argentina). These are played on the Chinese harp, a bowed stringed instrument popular during the Song Dynasty, around AD 960-1279, and the erhu, the Chinese violin.

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