A round-up of the best food courts in Chinatown
Noodlies, Sydney food blog checks out the best eats in Chinatown
By Thang Ngo
Just a couple of decades ago, when Italian and Greek were Australia’s most spoken migrant languages, we thought Chinese food was just Cantonese fare; favourites like lemon chicken, chop suey and spring rolls. Back then, Chinatown food courts were a cheap and tasty introduction to Asian eats and their exotic, moreish flavours like soy and five spice. Food court were dominated by stalls offering “rice plus three glistening choice with free sweet corn soup” for a handful of dollars.
Fast forward and Australia is an even more multicultural country with significant numbers of arrivals from Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Japan and of course, China; all regions, north to south. The new migrants have transformed our taste buds and Sydney’s Chinatown food courts – ramen, Hainan chicken, pho, northern Chinese skewers, pork rolls, bi bim bap and dumplings are new and mouth-watering fixtures.
Noodlies, Sydney food blog has been munching away since the early 80s and boy, has there been a change. Today, there are four fabulous food courts fighting for your custom. Just about every food stall in any of the food courts offer good food and good value, it’s too competitive for expensive, pedestrian food. While noodlies has chosen to highlight some stalls from all the food courts because I particularly like them, you really can’t go wrong eating at any of the food stalls in any of the food courts. How lucky is Sydney?
1. Dixon House Food Court
Cnr Dixon and Little Hay sts, Haymarket.
11 food stalls:
Xi’an kitchen (Central-northwest Chinese), Won Ton Noodle House (Chinese), Shanghai Delicious Food (Chinese), Phnom Penh Teo Chew Noodle House (Chinese/Cambodian), Sizzling and Hot Pot kitchen (Chinese), Oriental Dumpling King (Chinese), de juice (Vietnamese sugar cane), Daily Fresh (Chinese), Asa Aken (Japanese), Pondok-Selera Indonesian & Malaysia Food (also at Eating World), Mother Thai (Thai), Dixon Wine Bar.
Retains old world charm but also has some of the best food from different regions of China.
Dixon House is the grand dame of Chinatown food courts, established in 1982, offers a “Chungking Mansion” glimpse of Chinatown’s of old (video and photo above). wooden columns and mirrored ceilings were obviously the pinnacle of Hong Kong modernity and glamour back then. Located on the lower ground floor, the now dated decor combined with low ceilings gives Dixon House food court a warm, intimate feel. It’s still the most Chinese of the Chinatown food courts, but the sweet and sour pork has made way for food from different regions of China, Xi’an Kitchen (Central), Shanghai Delicious Food (East), Oriental Dumpling King.
There are 11 food stalls to chose from, although it has greater capacity (there are a few vacant stalls), while ageing it’s still clean and bright, but be warned, the sizzling plates from Sizzling and Hot Pot Kitchen ensures the aroma of Dixon House lingers long after you’ve left.
- Pondok-Selera Indonesia-Malaysia Food (below): the oldest and still one of the most popular food stalls in the centre where you can still get a choice of three dishes from the bain-marie with rice for a crazy $8.80 – rendang, fried bitter melon, ayam goreng (fried chicken). Or choose individual dishes like nasi lemak, nasi goreng and soto Jakarta (Indonesian offal soup).
- Shanghai Delicious Food: in-accessible in many ways, it’s located next to the toilet and away from other shops and the manic lady who works there on her own doesn’t speak much English. Shanghai, because of it’s history of being an open and thriving economy has attracted workers from north and south of China. Locals claim their food has evolved to be a nice compromise between more subtle/sweet southern Chinese and spicier, gamier northern regions. To order point and the pictures or say the number slowly, this stall is a delightful adventure.
- Xi’an Kitchen: [update - as of 18 August, 2013 this stall had closed] more great tasting Chinese food to challenge your taste buds from soups to stir fries. Food from the central-northwest is hot and spicy. The spicy hot oil seared hand-ripped noodles (above) is a vegetarian dish that looks plain, but the sour and spicy sauce lurking underneath will wake up the taste buds. Spicy cumin burger is strongly spiced with two types of capsicum and a generous amount of cumin.
- Ching Yip Coffee Lounge: it’s actually on the second floor of Dixon House. Go if you want to experience Hong Kong cafes of yesteryear.
2. Eating World Food Court, Harbour Plaza
25-29 Dixon St, Haymarket.
15 stalls: Phuong Pork Rolls (Vietnamese), Red Charcoal (Northern Chinese), Soya King Kitchen (Chinese), Pondok-Selera Indonesian & Malaysia Food (also at Dixon House), At Thai Cuisine (Thai), Kimama Kitchen (Japanese), Hong Kong Kitchen (Cantonese), Sydney Foodie Station (Chinese), Smoyo Frozen Yogurt Bar, Gourmet Sizzling Plate (Chinese), Gumshara, Hong Kong King’s Chef (Cantonese), Singapore Shiok (Singaporean)!, Centa Bar, Eating World Bar.
The most number of stalls and greatest choice of from across Asia.
With 15 stalls, it’s the most in terms of food options, but noodlies also reckons it has the most diverse range of Asian food choices. No other food court matches Eating World for the breadth of Asian cuisines: Mrs Yu’s Hong Kong Kitchen to Gumshara Japanese ramen, Vietnamese pork rolls, northern Chinese street food, even froyo dessert.
Renovated recently, it’s clean, modern and particularly packed on Friday nights when the markets are on.
- Gumshara ramen: many say the best ramen in Sydney can be found at this unpretentious stall. Chef Mori Higashida serves up thick tonkotsu stock, a result of cooking in three huge pots using up to 200kg of pork bones a day. The queue is long, but the bowls are dished out super-fast.
- Hong Kong Kitchen: the oldest stall and still hugely popular after 14 years. Kindly Mrs Jin Shuang Yu (above) fronts the counter while husband cooks up classics such as beef in black bean sauce in the back. You won’t find the stall name at the counter, just lots and lots of picture menus – just remember, she’s stall nunber 208.
- Singapore Shiok! (soon to re-brand to Shiok!): the picture menu shows many Singapore dishes, but 70% of sales are of the Hainan chicken (steamed and roast). The dish is a meal in itself: steamed chicken, rice, side soup, steamed choy sum, and two sauces; chilli and thick soy. Hainan chicken is a subtle taste, here it’s extend it across all components; obviously the rice is cooked in chicken broth, but punters may not know even the chilli sauce is mixed with chicken broth.
- Red Charcoal: lamb and cumin charcoal skewers are their specialty, but you get get more adventurous sticks like chicken gizzard, offal, even lamb testicles, which isn’t on the menu and is only available on Saturdays, you have to hurry, these treats apparently sell out fast. Their clear northern Chinese soup is an exotic, hearty and head-clearing treat too (below).
3. Sussex Centre Food Court
First floor, 401 Sussex St, Haymarket, Sydney.
14 food stalls: Yummy Thai Food, Nasi House (Indonesian), Top Choice Sizzling Hot Pot (Chinese), Wooree BBQ (Korean), Ramen ikkyu (Japanese), North South Cuisine (pan-Asian), Cafe de Relax, Happy Chef Special Noodle (Chinese), Ma’s kitchen (Chinese), Fung Shing gourmet (Chinese BBQ), Motto (Japanese), Saigon Pho (Vietnamese), Ajisai Sushi Bar (Japanese), Pailou bar.
The most number of noodle eateries from pho, Laksa to Chinese egg noodles. Also the most number of Japanese choices.
At the top of the Sussex Centre, this newer food court that benefits from plenty of natural light. The rivalry between the two neighbouring Chinese noodle stalls is legendary. The arrival of Ramen Ikkyu has sparked renewed interest in the centre.
- Ramen Ikkyu: chef Haru Inukai’s ramen stall is slick and modern including self service iPad kiosks. With deliciously crunchy mushrooms and free extra noodles, Ramen Ikkyu is pulling in the crowd, regularly selling out until the arrival of yet another new ramen joint, Hakata-Maru Ramen in Market City Food Court.
- Fung Shing Gourmet: the sign says it’s the “best BBQ in Sydney”. Noodlies doubts that, though the egg noodle and bbq duck is tasty.
4. Market City Food Court
Level 3, Market City, 9-13 Hay St, Haymarket, Sydney.
14 food stalls: Asago, Bo 7 Mon Thanh Tam (Vietnamese), Eastern Experience (Cantonese), Flavour of North India (Indian), Hakata-Maru Ramen (Japanese), Happy Chef Seafood Noodles (Asian), Juice MarketCity, Leonardo’s Sandwiches, Market City Food Court Bar, Golden Tower (Chinese, Cambodian), Naurto (Korean), Super Chef BBQ (Cantonese), Thai Thai Thai (Thai), To Choice Sizzling Hot Pot (Chinese).
Most cosmopolitan including Indian and modern Australian sandwich shop together with fine Asian fare, including a Vietnamese stall which serves, in noodlies’ books, the best pho in the CBD – in or out of a food court.
Established in 2006, it’s the newest and most modern food court in Chinatown. On the third floor of the Market City Shopping Centre there’s plenty of space and natural light. It’s the most Aussie-fied of the food courts catering for the masses who visit factory outlets and Paddy’s Market downstairs. But that doesn’t mean you get second best – noodlies rates pho at Bo 7 Mon Thanh Tam as the best in the CBD.
- Hakata-Maru Ramen (above): less than a month old, this gorgeous looking Japanese noodle house is wowing the masses with rich and rewarding ramen at crazy prices, from $7.80 for a pipping hot, collagen rich bowl, no wonder it’s the current talk of the ramen-obsessed town.
- Bo 7 Mon Thanh Tam: Owner Phuoc Hoang is a veteran with a career stretching over two decades all around Sydney. Noodlies first met him at his buzzing Crown Street restaurant in Darlinghurst, followed him to Bankstown and Canley Heights. They offer three choices and rice at the bain-marie, but skip that, everything is fantastic on the a-la-carte, especially Vietnamese pancake, broken rice and bo luc lac. Noodlies rates this as the best pho in the CBD (below), gulp it down with Vietnamese drip coffee.
- Golden Tower: One of the oldest stall here, it’s been around since the first year. Go for Cantonese-Cambodian Chinatown food court choices of old, the soups are especially good and relatively guilt-free, egg noodle and duck soup is highly recommended.
It’s your turn
These are some of my favourites, but as mentioned earlier, you really can’t go wrong with any of these places. Now that you’ve taken a visual tour of the four food courts in Sydney’s Chinatown, and read the highlights, it’s time for you to go exploring.
Let me know…
- Have you also noticed a change in Chinatown food courts over the years?
- Do you think food here is great value?
- What do you think of this list?
- What are some of your favourite stalls in Sydney’s Chinatown food courts?
Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.