The best way to find Hawkers Village in North Sydney is to follow the scent of char kuey teow wok-fried noodles wafting down the stairs to Miller Street. If you’re not familiar with Asian fare, Hawkers Village offers something you don’t usually get at other food courts. Enter and you’re greeted by a congenial host armed with literature about the origins of the dishes served here.
For owner Raymond Fan, the idea of educating is a given. “We want customers to have fantastic food, but the service is number one,” he says. “Customers these days don’t just want a meal, they want to understand. So part of our role is to be a library of Asian-street-food knowledge.”
Hawkers Village is a decent approximation of a crowded Asian food market. Seating is at Thai-style handcarts made into high counters and booths that are deep and wide enough to accommodate a large group sharing food, or a crowd of strangers eating alone. “Lunch is jam-packed. People bump elbows with each other while they’re eating,” Fan says. “We created it this way intentionally because it’s exactly what it’s like when you go to hawkers in Asia.”
There are three kitchens: Hakata-Maru Ramen serving Japanese; Kin Arai Kor Aroi for Thai; and Nanyang for Malaysian and Singaporean street food.
Hakata-Maru is the Japanese import’s second Sydney location (the other is in Chatswood) and for a taste of what it does best, opt for the supreme ramen . A scoop of creamy chilli paste, tender chashu pork slices and lashings of toasted black chilli oil float in the rich tonkotsu pork broth. “Our house-made noodle is a special style from the south of Japan and has a nice al dente texture,” says owner Hide Tsuboi, who adds it’s best to eat it swiftly because it can get soggy.
Kin Arai Kor Aroi is named for the expression “What’s delicious?” and the answer: “Everything is delicious”, which perfectly embodies the stall’s outstanding menu.
Boat noodle soup is the main event. A dark broth is scented with cinnamon, star anise and myriad other spices, and then it’s topped with chewy slices of beef and fish balls. A tangle of glistening rice noodles are then added to the mix.
Nanyang’s menu features a dish close to Fan’s heart: Hainanese chicken rice. “It’s my favourite,” he says. “Hainanese chicken rice has four components: rice, poached chicken, chilli sauce and a small bowl of soup.”
Nanyang’s version is served with condiments Fan argues capture life. “Your tongue tastes four flavours: sweet, sour, bitter and spicy, or suan tian ku la in Chinese, [which means] the joys and sorrows of human life.”
While the space is fun and looks kind of authentic – it has striped awnings, colourful paper lanterns and Japanese-style dark timber – Hawkers Village lacks the gritty charm of a real Asian market. Fan says the food, on the other hand, has the soul of a hawkers market. “We call it wok hei or “breath of wok”,” he says.
Wok hei encompasses the way the food is stir-fried in the wok and the way a skilled chef tosses it in the air so it’s touched by smoky flames. “When you poke into the noodles with chopsticks, it’s like the spirit is coming out. We call it food with a soul.”
18/100 Miller Street, North Sydney
(02) 8033 4464
Mon to Fri 11am–10pm
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on June 27, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.