- 10 delicious reasons to visit Chinatown in the Sydney CBD
- Where to eat in Melbourne's suburban Chinatowns in Glen Waverley, Springvale and Box Hill
When Sam Young moved to Australia from Hong Kong 12 years ago, he was pretty much devoid of skills and experience, and flat broke.
Young ended up grafting for $10 an hour in what he describes as a "truly terrible" cafe in Eastwood, spooning packet hollandaise over rubbery eggs, and defrosting meat for $10 steak day. "I was barely surviving," he says. "But if I had to do it all again, I would. I'm a big believer in never forgetting where you come from."
Eastwood became a touchstone for Young. A year after moving to the north-west Sydney suburb, dense with Chinese and Korean restaurants, he started training at the nearby cooking school Le Cordon Bleu to become a chef.
Even after he had finished his studies, he'd developed a real love for the place and stayed on.
Over the past decade and a bit, he's worked his way up from shifts as a short-order cook to working in some of Sydney's most influential restaurants, with mixed results.
There was the year he spent shucking thousands of oysters a day at Cafe Sydney. "It was intense, man. It was my first proper job, and I had no skills."
He spent six months at Quay, where he did nothing but pick crabmeat, and three months at Automata peeling capers.
He worked the larder section at Mr. Wong, then newly opened, and the line at Ms. G's for the Merivale Group, and then more senior positions at Cantonese restaurants Queen Chow in Enmore and Manly.
And eventually settled into a head chef role at Potts Point semi-fine diner Lotus, where he was left to his own devices and gained a little more confidence.
"I used to really worry about how people looked at me and talked about me," he says. "And that gave me a lot of anxiety. But now I'm just like, 'You know what? I'm just going to do it.'"
The chef is a voracious eater. Since landing in Australia, Young has poured all his money into dining at every level.
My whole life is food. It doesn't matter what scale – fine dining, casual dining, cheap dining – if you don't eat out, how do you know what's delicious?'Big' Sam Young
"I'm a really boring person, actually. My whole life is food. It doesn't matter what scale – fine dining, casual dining, cheap dining – if you don't eat out, how do you know what's delicious?"
All this is to say there are probably very few people quite so well equipped and willing to share their experience of Eastwood's dining scene as "Big" Sam Young. Over the years, and many bowls of noodles, he's drilled down the best eating in the 'hood.
"I had some of my most delicious times here but also some of my hardest. I feel so connected to this suburb."
Made-to-order flat rice noodles (cheong fun) at Traditional Cantonese Taste. Photo: James Brickwood
Traditional Cantonese Taste
A tiny shop hidden in a shopping mall, the specialty here is made-to-order flat rice noodles (cheong fun) served up at lightning speed. "I don't know of another place in Sydney that does freshly made cheong fun to order, except Mr Wong – but they're very expensive," says Young.
The rice noodles are silken and yielding, yet firm enough to hold slender fillets of fish and steamed lettuce, chopped braised beef brisket, or a vegetarian version with shredded vegetables and mushrooms. "Cheong fun in Hong Kong is a very delicate thing – you just want to taste the prawn or the beef. The egg style you see here is more mainland Chinese style," says Young. "In the morning in Australia, you might have scrambled eggs on toast, right? In China they have eggs with their cheong fun."
Chinese doughnuts (youtiao) are the other house special – long, puffy golden sticks made to dip into a bowl of congee, rice porridge flavoured with pieces of pork, pork liver and preserved egg.
"The congee here really tastes like China," says Young. "Normally congee is either really dense or very loose. Usually what happens is [a Chinese restaurant] makes a perfect pot and when they're running low, they just add water and re-boil it. But this place, when they've sold out, they just tell you they've sold out."
Address: Shop 9A, 1 Lakeside Road, Eastwood
Try: The fish fillet cheong fun, and congee with pork and preserved egg and youtiao
Ming's Seafood Market
This is one of the only seafood shops you can find live blue swimmer crabs and prawns that are also incredibly well-priced. "Plus," says Young, "the variety is hectic. It's also really fresh, because it's so busy. You can also get live lobster, snow crab and king crab for such good prices you could recreate a Golden Century experience in your own home."
Address: 6 Progress Avenue, Eastwood
Try: The live blue swimmer crab
Peanut butter noodles and delicate dumplings are the go-to dish at Fujian Shaxian Snacks. Photo: James Brickwood
Fujian Shaxian Snacks
After years of American boarding school sandwiches, Sam Young developed a real aversion to peanut butter. So it's taken a lot for him to admit to the righteousness of the peanut butter noodles at this hole-in-the-wall diner, next door to Traditional Cantonese Taste.
A signature of Fujian Shaxian cuisine, they're a long, flat egg noodle covered in peanut sauce, which Young describes as spaghetti with peanut butter. It doesn't exactly do the dish justice. "You see the noodles are very long? You cut the noodle, it means life is short, so you always keep the noodle long."
Delicate, intricate thumb-size dumplings filled with pork come out in a metal steamer. "These dumplings are very different to the Cantonese style," says Young. "They flatten the meat with a rolling pin when they make the mixture – I think in Chinese they call it 'flat dumpling'. This is what China tastes like. This is how they make the dumplings in China – even the cookware is the exact same in China."
The place is pumping with homesick Chinese students unable to return home because of the pandemic. "Sometimes I don't understand why a place like this is so busy then what I realised is it brings a sense of home for a lot of people here."
Address: Shop 15, 1 Lakeside Road, Eastwood
Try: The peanut butter noodles
L & W Meat
"They still butcher whole cows and pigs here, which is a bit of a lost art in Sydney." They sell a lot of cuts of meat that aren't that easy to come by at Western-style butchers, too, including a particular type of beef brisket that Young loves, which is attached to the short rib.
Address: 8 Progress Ave, Eastwood
Try: The beef brisket
Sam Young recommends barbecue plates at the tiny BBQ One. Photo: James Brickwood
This restaurant is so tiny, the only way they can socially distance is to put thick plastic screens up between each table – it's quite a surreal experience. And while Young has eaten in most of the barbecue shops in the area, he likes this one the most, mainly because it's one of the originals. "They're all pretty similar. The chefs work across the different restaurants and move depending on how much more they can get paid."
He says every barbecue shop in Hong Kong offers a complimentary soup to start, made from the chopped-up barbecue bones. It's a soothing way to launch into plates of barbecued duck, roast pork, roast pork belly, pork intestine, barbecue squid and chicken.
"This is home to me," says Young. "You get a plate of barbecue like this with lots of little pieces with rice for lunch but for dinner you would just get the barbecue, no rice. And it's eaten with other dishes as a meal. You get a larger serve of meat – it's a powerful dish."
Address: Shop 10, 181 Rowe Street, Eastwood
Try: The mixed barbecue plate of roast pork belly, barbecue pork and roast duck
Chefs have had a long-time love affair with this Vietnamese restaurant specialising in egg noodles and crisp-skin chicken. Tan Viet originally started life in Cabramatta but now occupies a space at Darling Square in the city and a branch in Eastwood. "They also do a really good bowl of pho. Perfect for your hangover!"
Address: 209 Rowe Street, Eastwood
Try: The crisp-skin chicken with egg noodles
Leung Kam Kee
This tiny Cantonese diner specialises in takeaway food, and is beloved by students for its prices (very little on the menu nudges the $12 mark – fill up without breaking a 20). There are a few tables out on the street and it has what Young describes as a real dai pai dong (a type of Hong Kong open air market) feel to it. "My favourite dish is salt and pepper pork ribs on a bed of fried rice with eggwhite gravy on top," says Young. "Sensational."
Address: 28/1 Lakeside Road, Eastwood
Try: The salt and pepper pork ribs
Signature pipis and XO sauce at Golden Century. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Lunar New Year across Sydney
By Andrew Levins
While travelling to China might be off-limits for at least another year, you can celebrate Chinese (or Lunar) New Year with a succulent Chinese meal in several different Sydney suburbs. You'll find the loudest celebrations in Chinatown itself, where a perfect day starts with a breakfast of Sydney's best yum cha at Palace Chinese Restaurant (just a few blocks north of Haymarket at 133-145 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, palacechinese.com.au), lunch at hole-in-the-wall noodle spot Happy Chef inside the Sussex Street food court (f3/401 Sussex Street, Haymarket) and, finally, a grandiose seafood dinner at the jewel of Chinatown, the one and only Golden Century (393-399 Sussex Street, Haymarket).
Of course, Chinese New Year is celebrated over 16 days, so you should absolutely celebrate in some of the smaller Chinatowns like the newly refurbished, neon-lit Burwood Chinatown, home to top-notch Shanghai-style dumplings with blistered brown bottoms at Yang's Dumplings (Shop 9, 11/15 Deane Street, Burwood) and Chinese-style naan bread, cooked in clay ovens and filled with lamb or red bean paste at A Gan Guo Kui (Shop 19/127-133 Burwood Road, Burwood). If you like thick, chewy noodles, make sure you check out Xi'an Eatery (183D Burwood Road, Burwood) for biang biang noodles and rougamo (flaky buns filled with spicy pork or beef with cumin).
The handful of meat skewer-grilling Turkish kebab joints might be the main reason the main street of Auburn is so smoky and delicious smelling, but you'll also find meat skewers on the menu at Tarim Uyghur Restaurant (105 Rawson Street, Auburn), where head chef Sultan Hiwilla has been serving Uyghur food, a cuisine from his home within the Silk Road, a predominantly Islamic province in north-west China, for almost a decade. Tarim's signature lamb skewers are equal parts spicy and juicy, and go great with the plethora of Uyghur noodle and pastry options that you won't find anywhere else in Sydney. Around the corner from Tarim's is Taste 101 (124 S Parade, Auburn), a Northern Chinese restaurant with an enormous menu filled with dumplings, Chongqing fried chicken, pork chops and an unbeatable Szechuan fish with pickled mustard greens.
Typhoon shelter mud crab at Mama Mulan in Chatswood. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Over in Chatswood there's a nice mix of fine Chinese dining and street snacks and while some heavy hitters such as Kam Fook and Grape Garden Beijing Cuisine have sadly shut their doors in the past year, there's still way more restaurants than you could eat at in just one visit. Lemon Grove Shopping Centre is Chatswood's oldest shopping centre and worth visiting for the twice-cooked crispy fried eggplant at Mr Stonepot (18/427-441 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood) and a few dozen plates of dumplings from Chinatown Noodle Restaurant (20/427 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood). Several newer dining precincts have opened in Chatswood in the past five years, such as District Dining (436 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood), which houses hot pot spots (Memory Tongue) and Chinese fusion restaurant and bar General Chao. Also doing their own take on modern Chinese fine dining is Mama Mulan (Level 1, The Concourse, Chatswood), which does yum cha during the day and live seafood when the moon is out.