Chinatown is so ridiculously dense with cheap food options it’s almost daunting. Choosing where to eat can be like choosing your favourite blade of grass. We’re here to help you pick out some favourites.
1. Kanom jeen namh ya pah at Caysorn – $8.50
Caysorn specialises in food from southern Thailand, a cuisine that’s more intense and reliant on fresh ingredients than the Bangkok cuisine Sydney’s more familiar with. One dish particularly popular in the south is kanom jeen, a fermented rice noodle that’s typically served with powerful curry that’s offset by mixing in fresh vegetables and herbs. Although less vicious than Caysorn’s other curries, the blended flathead and kaffir lime namh ya pah still has quite a punch.
1/8 Quay Street, Haymarket
Mon to Sun 11am–10pm
2. Deep-fried chicken breast at Hot Star – $8.50
We were sceptical at first – chicken breast can be the driest part of the chicken, surely deep frying it will leave you chewing and chewing? But Hot Star has somehow managed to defy the rules to produce a juicy masterpiece. One piece is all you’ll need, it’s a whole breast rather than bite-sized nuggets.
96 Liverpool Street, Sydney
Mon to Sun 11am–10pm
3. Bocadillo de boquerones at En Casa Deli – $10
Bocadillos are Spanish baguettes. The bread, or barra de pan in Spanish, has a crisp crust, is chewy inside and sliced lengthways. Inside you can get anything from an omelette to roast pork leg but we recommend the perfectly balanced white anchovies, piquillo pepper and roast-garlic aioli. The name boquerones comes from the style of anchovies, tangy and soft from a six-hour vinegar-and-olive-oil marinade.
135 Bathurst Street Sydney
Mon to Fri 7am–5.30pm
4. Hubei style steamed whole fish at Zhou Mum Cafe – $9.50
Chinatown’s food courts used to be littered with stalls selling entire steamed or fried fish for less than $10. Perhaps there was a food court rent hike because it’s very hard to find one at that price. Zhou Mum Cafe is one of the last stalwarts of the $9.50 whole fish. Its is steamed Hubei-style, under a bed of garlic slivers and served atop a little lake of light sesame oil and soy sauce.
Shop B16, Dixon House Food Court, 413–415 Sussex Street, Haymarket
Mon to Sun 10.30am–8.30pm
5. Pho bo at Bo 7 Mon Thanh Tam – $9
Phuoc Hoang’s pho is completely devoid of MSG. Like the soup itself, Phouc has his natural – no lemon, basil or bean sprouts. A good stock should stand on its own. The eight-hour broth is medium strength style from Vietnam’s south. It’s finished with shallots, onion slivers and far more pepper than most pho.
Level 3, Market City, 9–13 Hay Street, Chinatown, Haymarket
Mon to Sun 10am–8pm
6. Nasi lemak at Malacca Straits – $10
Nasi lemak is a Malaysian mixed-rice dish that typically comes with crispy anchovies, egg, sambal and some kind of curry or meat. It’s one of the country’s most common and popular meals. Malacca Strait’s nasi lamak is right at the top of the list of Sydney’s best. The coconut rice is fragrant and mellow, the rendang is rich and absurdly tender and the sambal is punchy but sweet.
66 Mountain Street (entry through the Quadrant Building), Broadway
Mon to Sat 11am–10pm
7. Fried dumplings at Oriental Dumpling King – $9.80
Sixteen dumplings for $9.80 – that’s about 60 cents per dumpling. It must be one of the best deals in the city, especially because they are delicious handmade pot-stickers as flavoursome as any of their Chinatown competitors.
Shop B12, Dixon House Food Court, 413–415 Sussex Street, Haymarket
Mon to Sun 10.30am–8.30pm
8. Gai yang at Chat Thai – $10
The chargrilled chicken at Chat Thai, or gai yaang, is going to be your immediate and ultimate conversion to grilling in this style. It’s marinated with turmeric and lemongrass and then char grilled until crisp. It then arrives at your table with smoked chilli and sweet tamarind chutney.
20 Campbell Street, Haymarket
Mon to Sun 10am–2am
9. Pork pita bread or cold knife sliced noodles at Xi'an – $4 or $8
Xi’an is the definition of no frills – ancient menus, insanely cheap, confused staff and great food. What to order depends on the season. In winter get the deliciously fatty and chewy pita-bread roll with pork and capsicum, it’ll cure your hangover. On warmer days, get the refreshingly minimal cold knife slice noodles with chili, cucumber and vegetables.
90 Hay Street, Haymarket
Tue to Sun 10.30am–9pm
10. Roti Canai with two curry dips and sambal at Mamak - $7.00
Join the fast-moving queue and stare into the restaurant's street-facing kitchen. It's hard to forego Mamak's famed savoury or sweet rotis that are simultaneously flaky and fluffy. But the curries, noodles and satay have gone a long way to lengthening that queue outside too, along with its reasonable prices.
15 Goulburn Street, Haymarket
Mon to Thu 11:30 am - 2:30 pm
Mon to Thu 5:30 pm - 10:00 pm
Fri to Sat 5:30 pm - 2:00 am
Sun 11:30 am - 2:30 pm
Sun 5:30 pm - 10:00 pm