Chinese food is not really a cohesive concept, no more than European food or African food. There are some traditions and recipes found all over the country but every province has its own dishes, traditions and ingredients, many of which are exclusive to the place of origin.
Here in Sydney, most people recognise Chinese food as the Cantonese variety (such as dim sims, char siu, stir-fried noodles, fried rice and sweet and sour pork) but we’ve actually got a surprisingly diverse range of restaurants cooking regional cuisines. Here’s where to find some of the best.
Like Cantonese cuisine (Fujian sits north-east of Guangdong), Fujian food is more light and subtle, where the main aim is to work with the original flavour and texture of the central ingredient, instead of heavy sauces and spices. On the coast that means a lot of seafood, and in the mountains, a lot of herbs, mushrooms, mustard, pepper and bamboo.
142 Rowe Street, Eastwood
Three Lanes and Seven Alleys
50 Dixon Street, Haymarket
Those not familiar with regional cuisines may be surprised by the sweetness of some Jiangsu dishes. Most are balanced with the region’s famous Zhenjiang vinegar, like the braised pork belly dish dongpo and the elaborately presented sweet-and-sour mandarin fish. This cuisine is well respected within China for its extensive preparation, quality regional produce and the skill of its chefs (presentation, carving and knife skills are a big deal here). The province’s most recognisable dish in Sydney is undoubtedly the pan-fried pot-sticker dumplings.
My Chinese Kitchen
2/195A Burwood Road, Burwood
Spicy, sour, aromatic and powerful; representing all of those elements is the region’s most famous dish, fish in sour soup – an intense red broth made from fermented rice and tomatoes that comes from the Miao people (an ethnic minority based in the region). Due to the use of a unique herb, litsea pungens, it’s also oddly stinky. That’s not the only thing with a punchy flavour: houttuynia cordata (an edible root) has a fishy taste and the heavy use of fermented vegetables give most dishes an intense tang.
Probably the second-most recognisable Chinese cuisine in Sydney – no doubt due to the number of restaurants with “Shanghai” in the name, and the outrageous popularity of the region’s dumplings. The broth filled xiaolongbao is the overwhelming Sydney favourite but if you ask most Shanghainese locals, or David Chang for that matter, you’d end up eating the doughy, crisp-bottomed shengjianbao instead. It’s not all dumplings of course; the region also produces many sweet and salty seafood and meat dishes (sugar and soy are on most things) and many tart, wine-pickled dishes.
257 Home Kitchen
257 Rowe Street, Eastwood
As the Chinese capital, Beijing has been influenced by many local and global cuisines, and most popular dishes have murky origins. The one dish the region can proudly claim is Peking duck. Less famous in Sydney but equally popular in China is zha jiang noodles – a cheap, typically hand-pulled noodle dish with minced pork and seasonal vegetables.
Beverly Hills Peking Restaurant
493 King Georges Road, Beverly Hills
Tianjing shares a lot of similarities with Beijing cuisine, particularly in its liberal use of salt and generally rich flavour profile. Tianjing, though, is much more famous for its snack game. Street food is massive here, including goubuli bao zi (soft-dough buns stuffed with pork), ear-hole fried cake (fried rice cakes filled with bean paste) and ma hua (fried doughnut-like twists).
2–8 Henley Street, Homebush
In China, Shaanxi cuisine is known for two rather distinct reasons. The first is the impressive use of usually unpopular ingredients like camel, mutton and bitter gourd; the other reason is the area’s snacks. Unsurprisingly, it’s the latter that’s come to Sydney. Pretty much all the Shaanxi or Xian (the capital of the region) restaurants in Sydney specialise in roujiamo (a doughy Chinese pita bread burger stuffed with fatty shredded pork), and liangpi (handmade cold noodles most often served with chilli oil, bean sprouts, cucumber and MSG). They’re usually eaten together along with an Ice Peak, a local Fanta-like soft drink.
Liu Lao Lao Chinese Burger
Eating World, 25–59 Dixon Street, Haymarket