Chinese food is probably the most regionally diverse cuisine on the planet. In most of Australia, the idea of Chinese food is largely based on Cantonese cuisine, as historically most Chinese immigrants opening restaurants have come from Hong Kong or Guangdong province and it’s surrounds. Sydney has a similar history but a lot has changed over the past two decades. Now we’ve got an incredible diversity of restaurants serving many of China’s lesser-known cuisines.
Also called Yue cuisine, Cantonese is undoubtedly the most common and popular cuisine of the lot. Not just here, either; in China it’s often referred to as one of the country’s “eight, great” regional cuisines (there’s an entire hierarchy, but that’s another story). It’s generally sweeter, milder and, in China at least, fresher and more focused on bringing out the flavours and textures of the produce. A lot of Chinese-Australian dishes –such as dim sum (which actually refers to eating a lot of small dishes rather than dumplings specifically); char siu; fried rice; whole steamed fish; stir-fried noodles; and sweet and sour pork – is based on this cuisine. There are several well-known Cantonese restaurants; Golden Century is the most famous in Sydney. This selection focuses on some places popular with the local Cantonese community.
Yummy Seafood Chinese Restaurant
499–505 King Georges Road, Beverly Hills
313 Liverpool Road, Ashfield
26 Bridge Road, Belmore
Another of China’s eight, great cuisines. Unlike Cantonese food, though, traditional Sichuan food is bold, spicy, sour and often very spicy. That’s because of the variety and intensity of the spices used, the most famous of which is the tongue-numbing Sichuan pepper. The most well known dishes here are probably mapo tofu and kung pao chicken. In China, it’s probably dan dan noodles (a spicy, sour and occasionally nutty noodle soup) and Sichuan hot pot, a dish found pretty much everywhere in the country.
Red Chilli Hot Pot
Shop 108, 25–29 Dixon Street, Haymarket
Spicy Sichuan Restaurant
2 Cunningham Street, Chinatown
Shop F10B, Sussex Centre, Haymarket
They say Mao Zedong had an indomitable thirst for spice. Hardly surprising considering he was born in the region of China responsible for the country’s spiciest food. Due to its intense heat, Hunan cuisine (also referred to as Xiang cuisine) is often compared to Sichuan food; although it’s less sour and doesn’t cause the same mouth-numbing sensation. Fermentation, curing, smoked meats and duo la jiao (pickled chilli, vinegar and salt) are widespread. Famous dishes include Chairman Mao's red-braised pork and steamed fish heads coated in chilli.
Chilli and Spicy Restaurant
Shop E, 653 George Street, Sydney
189 Anzac Parade, Kensington
177 Burwood Road, Sydney
China’s western-most province is known for its large population of Uyghurs, an ethnic minority of Islamic faith. As you’d imagine from the location, the food here is closer to many central-Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines than it is to eastern-Chinese traditions. Instead of rice, bread and handmade noodles are served, and kebab-style charcoal grilled meats are common. One of the more elaborate dishes is dapanji, a usually enormous stew of chicken, potato, capsicum and either flat noodles or naan.
Tarim Uyghur Restaurant
105 Rawson Street, Auburn
Kiroran Silk Road
3/6 Dixon Street, Sydney
Lao Hui Min
193 Burwood Road, Burwood
Like with Cantonese food, the goal of Shandong chefs is to preserve the natural qualities of their main ingredient. One way to do that is through the “bao” technique, whereby meat, seafood (being a coastal province, there’s a lot of it) or vegetables are cooked in extremely hot oil; the idea is the oil crisps the skin or outer layer, sealing in the natural flavours and textures of the meat or vegetable. Despite its reputation for being fresh and produce-centred there’s also a lot of stewing (sticky-sweet pork hock is a common example) and chefs are heavy-handed with salt and vinegar (the area is famous for its vinegar production).
The Seasiders Restaurant
177 Burwood Road, Burwood
NORTH-EASTERN (HEILONGJIANG, JILIN, LIAONING)
The area is sandwiched between Mongolia to the west, Korea to the south and Russia to the north. The cuisine is influenced by all three neighbouring countries as well as Shandong and Beijing cuisine to the south. Due to the harsh winters, there’s a lot of pickling and curing. Russian-style, smoked-pork sausages; bread; and pickled cabbage are common. The most widespread and popular dish on the streets is malatang, a sour and spicy hot pot that’s usually served with a variety of skewers that you cooked by plunging them into your hot pot.
Yang Guo Fu Malatang
Shop B9, Dixon House Food Court, 413–415 Sussex Street, CBD
Hong Fu North East Chinese Restaurant
22 Charles Street, Parramatta
Yunnan province is one of the most ethnically diverse in China. Each of the 51 ethnic groups (there are 55 groups according to the Chinese government) has its own dishes and some have their own style of cooking. There are curries with influences from northern Thailand and Burma, and hot pots similar to what are found in Sichuan. There’s even some use of cheese and yoghurt (mainly by the Islamic Bai people).
694 George Street Haymarket