Think Chinatown, and you think a swirling mass of humanity, colour, come-hither smells and good feeds. But the lion dances and fireworks are distant memories, as the noodle shops, butchers, dumpling houses and greengrocers of Chinatown and Haymarket battle for survival.
That's why Kevin Cheng, Peter Wong and Hayden Wong launched the Soul of Chinatown social media initiative in June 2021. "Sydney's Chinatown is fading, and we want to help bring the spotlight back," says Cheng, a Taiwanese Australian food writer and digital content producer. "We want to preserve the culture, history, tradition of Chinatown and its community, but also ensure its survival."
Check out @soulofchinatown on Instagram for a guide to what's open for takeaway business and put in an order. We need our Chinatown to survive, with its many faces, cultures and cuisines intact. Besides, it's a good deal: you send Chinatown some love, and they send you dumplings, noodles and fried chicken.
Taiwanese pork pepper bun from Mother Chu's Taiwanese Gourmet. Photo: Anna Kucera
Mother Chu's Taiwanese Gourmet
Dixon Street looks sad, swept by wind and peopled only by those on food delivery bikes. Once I get my order home, however, the warmth and soul of Taiwanese street food and family cooking from this 30-year-old Chinatown stalwart kicks in.
The sesame-crusted pork pepper bun ($6.50) comes with serious sausage roll vibes, with a solid meaty heart and spring onion greens under a dome of flaky pastry. Highlight is a bowl of beef noodle soup ($13.80), the beef shank slow-cooked and tender, in a fragrant broth with tangles of choy sum. It's lean and clean, with an almost medicinal, herbal sweetness. And yes, the silky, wheaty noodles cleverly come packaged separately, because we all know what happens to noodles when they're left too long in the broth. Real food, real flavours, and yours at very real prices.
Hot dish Beef noodle soup
Drink Warm rice and soybean milk
Where Shop 1, 84-88 Dixon Street, Haymarket, 02 9211 0288, facebook.com/MyChuMama
When Order window for pick-up: 9.30am to 3.30pm daily
Pork dumplings in hot and sour soup from Xi'an Cuisine. Photo: Anna Kucera
The menu is a slow stroll through knife-sliced noodles and cumin-spiced beef, reflecting the ancient cuisine of Shaanxi province in the northwest of China. It takes me back to a swelteringly hot day queueing to see the terracotta warriors, followed by a 17-course lunch of dumplings and beer, oh yeah.
In their memory, I order pork dumplings in hot and sour soup ($9), loving the twang of black rice vinegar against the slippery skins. The famous "Chinese hamburger" (rou jia mo) is listed here as "lamb pita bread" ($6.50) – it's like a two-hander McMuffin; chunky, cumin-spiced, chilli-hot lamb and greens stuffed into a gorgeously flaky pastry shell. Braised pig's trotters are all dark, glossy skin and fat ($13.50), lolling in an evilly dark, sweet black vinegar and ginger sauce that sings as if it's at karaoke.
Hot dish Pork dumplings in hot and sour soup
Drink Slushy frozen beer (DIY)
Where Shop 4, 90 Hay Street, Haymarket, 0433 810 933, doordash.com
When Order window for pick-up and delivery: 11am to 9pm daily
Soy fried chicken with kimchi from Arisun. Photo: Anna Kucera
Arisun does more than fried chicken – beef bulgogi, kimchi pancakes, hot pots – but there's something about lockdown that makes you go back to basics. Besides, they've been doing fried chicken since Wan Sun opened the original restaurant in Belmore in 1990.
The original fried chicken (half $28) comes as a rubble of dark, crusty meteorites of juicy meat that don't sog even after home-delivery, a miracle in itself. Jap-chae ($28) potato starch noodles are chockers with black fungus and crunchy vegetables, and stone-pot bibimbap ($21) is comfortingly bland, the bouncy rice tiled with shredded beef, cabbage, shiitake and fried egg. I find it terrifying that you can't order kimchi, but you get a small, fiery pot anyway, thank heavens, with a brilliant cabbage and daikon pickle as well.
Hot dish Fried chicken, of course
Drink Plum or green apple soju
Where Shop 35, 1 Dixon Street, Haymarket, 02 9264 1588, arisunrestaurant.com
When Order window for pick-up and delivery: 4pm to 9pm daily
Lamb in pita bread from Xi'an Cuisine. Photo: Anna Kucera
More home runs
Caysorn Thai Shop 106, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket
Biang Biang Shop 39, 1 Dixon Street, Haymarket
Yummy Noodle and BBQ Shop 36, 1 Dixon Street, Haymarket
Emperor's Garden Restaurant 96-100 Hay Street, Haymarket
Emperor's Garden BBQ 213-215 Thomas Street, Haymarket
Nanjing Dumpling 6 Little Hay Street, Haymarket
Ho Jiak 92 Hay Street, Haymarket
Mamak 15 Goulburn Street, Sydney
Dodee Paidang Shop 9, 37 Ultimo Road, Haymarket
Little Hunan 17 Goulburn Street, Haymarket
Enjoy Mie 375 Sussex Street, Sydney
Kowloon Cafe Shop 7A-9A, 421-429, Sussex Street, Haymarket