If you missed part one of our Haymarket Cheap Eats for under $12 guide, read it here.
Ramen at Ramen O-San – $10
There’s a sign in the Sussex Centre that says: “The best Asian food court”. It’s a bold claim, and the jury is still out on if it’s true, but you could easily walk past and not know it was there.
To find the food court ascend the escalator, and between the Thai, Japanese and regional Chinese food stalls you’ll find Ramen O-San, a shop in the corner serving rich, made-from-scratch ramen. For a tenner, you can get one of three varieties: kurume tonkotsu (pork-bone stock); hakata paitan (lighter chicken soup); and shoyu (soy-sauce stock). The soy-sauce-based broth is enriched with sardines and bonito fish flakes giving the soup a deep seafood flavour. All three soups are topped with slices of pork chashu.
“We use pork shoulder for our chashu,” says owner Jun Toyoda. “Pork belly is nice, but the quality is too inconsistent. You have to have a good balance between fat and meat, or people get annoyed.” Every component of the ramen is made from scratch, if not in Ramen O-San’s tiny kitchen, then in another of Toyoda’s eateries: Wok & Noodle in Potts Point.
Special minced pork with dry noodle at Wide Alley – $10.80
Wide Alley has an assortment of spicy Sichuan noodle soups with a chilli base that turns the broth a vibrant red. It’s the minced pork with dry noodles, though, that owner Jeremy Bi recommends.
“It’s a very famous, traditional Chengdu noodle dish. Everybody in China knows it,” he says.
Thin noodles are topped with a sweet sauce made from pepper, garlic, honey and a secret concoction of sauces Bi simply calls “Chinese sauce”. Marinated fried-pork mince is then spooned over the sauce. Those with hardy palates can order it with tongue-numbing Sichuan chillies, or Bi says you can opt for the non-spicy version.
Nasi lemak with fish curry at Mamak – $14.50
The artfully sculpted, fluffy roti comes in under our $12 price cap (at $10), but nasi lemak gives a better variety of flavours and textures for your money.
“Nasi lemak is originally a peasant food, and students often take it to school wrapped in a banana leaf to eat at recess,” says floor manager Kit Chan. “You could call it Malaysia’s national dish.”
The base of the dish is coconut-scented rice served with an assortment of sides: sambal (chilli relish), fried anchovies, cucumber, peanuts and a boiled egg. Curried meat or fried chicken can be added to make the dish more substantial, but Spanish mackerel is by far the tastiest.
“Lighter fish falls apart in the curry, but Spanish mackerel is a strong, oily fish that stands up to stewing,” says Chan.
Mamak’s Haymarket location may be more than 10 years old, and queues have mellowed since the Chatswood outpost opened, but an early or late lunch arrival is still the best strategy for getting a table here.
15 Goulburn Street, Haymarket
(02) 9211 1668
Stewed pork leg with rice at Yok Sod – $9.90
Yok Sod is not within Sydney’s Thaitown strip, but the food is as authentic as at any of the Campbell Street eateries.
It has an extensive menu but the fried meat and rice combos are the best value. “If you visit Thailand,” says owner Tik Krathinthong, “you can find it on every Thai street corner.”
The pork hock is slow-cooked with a blend of herbs and spices that are Krathinthong’s secret recipe, but he says knowing what goes into it doesn’t really matter. “After one bite of this mouth-watering dish, you will be hooked by its softness and juicy texture,” he says.
85–91 Goulburn Street, Haymarket
(02) 8080 777
Som dtum gai todt sandwich at Boon Cafe – $14
Ok, so it’s an extra $2, but this is worth it.
Boon Cafe is housed inside Jarern Chai, a modern Thai grocer owned by Chat Thai. The space is bright and full of interesting produce and Thai groceries. Boon Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the lunch fare bridges the gap between Thai and western cuisines.
The som dtum and fried chicken sandwich is a well-balanced dish. It combines Chat Thai’s tart, sweet and spicy shredded-green-papaya salad with crunchy fried chicken on a seeded burger bun. It’s a delectable combination of textures and flavours, and the freshness of the salad cuts through the rich fried chicken.
1/425 Pitt Street, Haymarket
(02) 9281 2114
Boat noodles at Chonsiam ¬– $4.50
You won’t find boat noodle soup on Chonsiam’s menu. In fact, a lot of the available items aren’t on the menu, but regular customers learn what to ask for.
The soup is small but the flavours are intense. The broth is spicy, scented with cinnamon and star anise, and finished with a splash of pig’s blood. Pork crackling and a sprinkle of vinegar are essential customisations.
Pig’s blood may be a confronting ingredient for some, but being adventurous at Chonsiam is worth it – the soup is delicious. Owner Joe says the flavours of the soup are hard to put into words. “It’s better to just come along and try it.”
38 Campbell Street, Haymarket
(02) 9212 6588