October is Good Food Month in Sydney, a designated month for gastronomy and gluttony. There are events galore, special menus, and Sydney seems overrun with celebrity chefs. The headliner is Yotam Ottolenghi, and seriously, who doesn’t love Ottolenghi? I am a huge fan of his wonderfully spiced recipes, but I balk at the over $200 price tag to experience the maestro in chef mode (if the tickets weren’t sold out).
If you’re like me, the most accessible event during Good Food Month is the Noodle Night Market which runs nightly from 10 – 26 October in Hyde Park. There are 43 different vendors, a lot of dumplings and baos, deep-fried morsels and yes, there were even some noodles in the mix. But dumplings and baos rule the roost.
The last time I was in Sydney for Noodle Night Market was 5 years ago, and I made the rookie mistake of coming in unprepared on a weekday, during actual dinnertime, i.e. 6pm. The place was overrun with office workers. There was nary space on the grass much less an empty seat, and I could barely see the menus for the hordes. After waiting 20 minutes for some lukewarm dumplings, I was a very grumpy diner. This time, we went on Saturday, checked out the menu and map in advance (we even brought printed copies) and got there just after 4:30pm. We even gave ourselves a rule, – no food from places we have dined at before, – so no Mamak, Din Tai Fung, The Eight, Rolls Vietnam or May’s Laksa House. A crowd was building, but there were barely any queues and lots of tables available.
At the first set of stalls, ostensibly called ‘Monkey Lane’, we spied Wonderbao. It was only later that we found out that Wonderbao is actually a Melbourne institution, and one of the stars of Noodle Night Market. We got a mixed box of gua baos; twice-cooked braised pork, roast pork and fried tofu ($7 each or $20 for any three). I love gua baos, and these are some of the best ones. Flavoursome tender braised pork/tofu with pickled mustard, herbs and crumbed peanuts or luscious roast pork with picked carrot and cucumber, nestled within a soft bao. We were off to a great start.
Our next stop took us to ‘Panda Parade’, where we stopped at Himalayan Yummy Kitchen, and were tempted by Tibetan momos ($5 for 6). These steamed dumplings (chicken and vegetable options) are like typical Chinese dumplings and were pretty mediocre, though they are served with an excellent chilli chutney.
Further up Panda Parade, we wandered past Chinta Ria. This stalwart of Malaysian cuisine has been in Cockle Bay since 1998, and we got chatting to one of the staff when we asked for an order of rojak, the Malaysian spicy fruit salad ($8). She encouraged us to try the cuttlefish salad (cuttlefish and kangkong with rojak dressing) but I’m not partial to this dish even though I grew up with it. The rojak itself was tasty, but not particularly authentic. See my recipe for what rojak should look like, but this had tomatoes (so very wrong), canned pineapples (big no-no) and crunchy you tiau (Chinese fried breadstick).
I confess, we are consummate consumers because we ended up at the ramen burger stall at Lucky Cat Corner. Even though I really did not want to eat a ramen burger, this intrigued us. Yes, we forked out $25 for a ramen burger and a rice burger. The verdict? Disappointing. Way too much carbs and very little anything else in the burger. The pork version was a rip-off, there was barely any over-marinated bits of pork in the rice burger. This is difficult to eat (the friendly family we shared our table with warned us and even gave us tips on how to eat them, – keep it in the holder, and wrap a napkin around it for the overspill); the rice breaks apart easily. The fried ramen burger held together better and was tasty, but was too oily. Plus the salad came without any dressing. In hindsight, I would not have wasted my calories on these.
There were some interesting stalls I was tempted by. The grilled skewers meats at Hoy Pinoy, mango with glutinous rice at Spanthai (though $12 for half a mango and half a cup of coconut cream drenched glutinous rice? Seriously?), and of course, more baos.
We rounded off the gluttonous evening with a dessert each (4 options $9 each) at Gelato Messina. We broke our ‘only new eatery’ rule here, but seriously, look at the menu. How can you not succumb? BL had a Happy Taste Bud Time, a concoction with lychee sponge, mango puree, rambutan & coconut gelato, whipped salted coconut cream topped off with a giant coconut macaron. I found it too sweet, and preferred my Phuc Khing Tasty (yup, say that out loud and I dare you not to smirk) dessert which had half a cinnamon roll, topped with a divine coffee gelato, condensed milk, walnut crunch and a spiced cookie. Delectable.
Overall, we had a fun and very tasty evening. Come early (or late), come prepared, and you will eat very well at the Noodle Night Market.
Noodle Night Market
Elizabeth St, Sydney
10 – 26 October 2014
Mon – Tue 5pm – 9pm
Wednesday 5pm – 10pm
Thursday – Fri 5pm – 11pm
Sunday 4pm – 9pm