Friends, family and feasting – the spirit of Lunar New Year is embodied by these three things, says chef, restaurateur and TV host Luke Nguyen. It's a time to reflect, pay respects and, of course, eat yourself silly. "How much you eat is up to you," he says.
But you won't have to jet over to Asia to partake in the festivities. The annual Sydney Lunar Markets, held on the water at Pyrmont Bay Park from January 27, offer a bounty of traditional and fusion flavours.
"There's nothing better than being at the Lunar Markets," Nguyen says. "It's a gorgeous night with live music and the energy of Asia because it's all street foods and little stalls. You do get taken in, I feel like I'm in Asia when I'm there."
Here, Nguyen shares his top picks for what to eat at the markets.
Pho and banh mi in one. Photo: Supplied
Pho-guette (Fat Noodle - Luke Nguyen)
Soup in a roll? Well, not quite, but this creative dish is a cross between two signature Vietnamese exports - pho and banh mi. Shreds of tender braised wagyu beef brisket are tucked into a bread roll with all the soupy trimmings - Asian basil, coriander, bean sprouts, spring onion, chilli and hoisin sauce. "It's taking the pho flavours and putting it into a Vietnamese French baguette," Nguyen says.
Yang & Co's soft shell crab is 'perfect for the markets'. Photo: Jessica Hromas
Singapore chilli soft shell crab (Yang & Co)
Singapore chilli crab is usually a grand and messy table affair but this genius creation has all the spicy tomato flavours and delicate crab flesh without the shell-cracking fuss, making it ideal for casual lap dining. "Soft shell crab is perfect for the markets, the flavour will be amazing and the texture will be great," Nguyen says. Mop up any leftover sauce with fluffy Chinese bread.
Hoy Pinoy's massive skewers feed the crowds. Photo: Melissa Adams
Barbecue chicken and pork skewers (Hoy Pinoy)
Follow your nose to the charry Filipino grill of Hoy Pinoy and you'll find massive skewers of chicken and pork. "What I love about street food and the Lunar markets is the incredible aroma that wafts through the air as you're walking through and Hoy Pinoy is really known for that," Nguyen says. "I usually go for a couple of chicken and couple of porks - they're super tasty and that smokiness from the charcoal when they're grilling is to die for."
A trio of baos from Bao Stop. Photo: Supplied
Bao trifecta (Bao Stop)
If you can eat it standing up then it must be street food, and that goes for these fluffy little baos. The super-soft steamed buns filled with shreds of fried chicken, peking duck and braised pork belly fit perfectly in the palm of your hand. "What I love about these baos is they've just got such contrast in the texture and the flavours are incredible as well," Nguyen says.
Poklol's tacos filled with Korean-Mexican flavours. Photo: Supplied
Trio of Korean barbecue tacos (Poklol)
These vibrant pockets of bulgogi beef, chilli chicken and chilli pork tacos mingle Korean-Mexican flavours and colours, with pickled carrots, kimchi slaw, cucumbers and shallots topped with Poklol's secret house-made sauce. Nguyen's advice? "Definitely get that," he says.
Chomp into Chur Burger's hoisin burger. Photo: Supplied
Hoisin goin' bro? burger (Chur Burger)
"Hoisin goin' bro?" Get it? It's a burger, with a Chinese bent - a concept Nguyen loves. And with grilled beef, hoisin sauce, cheese five-spiced glazed bacon, spicy pickles, lettuce and aioli, it's not for the small of appetite. But since when has Lunar New Year been a time to skimp?
Don't miss out on Black Star's strawberry watermelon cake. Photo: Supplied
Strawberry watermelon cake (Black Star Pastry)
No Asian twist here, but a slice of Black Star's pretty watermelon and strawberry cake with layers of almond and rose cream never goes astray at the end of a feast. Or, for that matter, at the very beginning, Nguyen says: "They might run out!"
The Sydney Morning Herald Lunar Markets, January 27-February 5 (Mon-Wed 5-9pm; Thurs-Fri 5-10pm; Sat 4-10pm; Sun 4-9pm), Pyrmont Bay Park, Pyrmont, sydney.lunarmarkets.com.au