I wrote the first version of "Where to eat in Sydney when you're missing Asia" in 2016 and it's become one of my most widely read pieces.
It was definitely time to write an updated version, as since then, more and more fabulous eateries have opened up around this great multicultural city, and we literally now have an embarrassment of riches if we want to eat delicious and authentic Asian cuisine.
Sydney is known outside Australia for its beautiful harbour and ferries, beaches like Bondi and Manly, the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and magnificent views from all over the city. I wonder how many outsiders are also aware that Sydney has a serious foodie culture. More interestingly do tourists know that there are several areas where groups of restaurants specialising in a certain cuisine are grouped together, like foodie ghettos really? Sydney has at least four Mini Saigons that come straight to mind, mini Seouls, a myriad of Chinatowns, an area known as Thai Town walking distance from the CBD, and on the North Shore, Chatswood has become a mini Singapore. Outgoing PM Turnbull recently called Australia the most "successful multicultural country" in the world. If I worked for Tourism Australia it is this that I would be shouting from the rooftops and using to promote Sydney to overseas visitors.
Since I wrote a similar post on Sydney's Asian foodie culture, the encouraging trend has been that more and more authentic food has become widely available, satisfying the needs of those of us who miss being in S.E Asia.
Chippendale is a rejuvenated area of the city. close to universities and Chinatown where an eating and lifestyle precinct has opened collectively known as Kensington Street. Terraced Cottages reminiscent of Singaporean shop houses line the paved street.
Within Kensington Street is the delightful Spice Alley, a laneway decorated with lanterns called which is home to hawker style food stalls offering popular dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan.
Spice Alley is a fun spot to experience at lunch or dinner but there is another reason to go there and that is Mekong Restaurant.
Overlooking the lanterns of Spice Alley, Mekong is one of the best additions to the Sydney Asian food scene in recent years. In fact Mekong recently won NSW Catering Awards Best Asian Restaurant.
Chef Tiw Rakarin moved from Vietnamese chain Mama Buoi to head up Mekong, showcasing a fusion menu of the best tastes from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Thailand. At Mekong, food is artistically presented and each dish offers an explosion of flavours. The signature dish is the famous Fish Amok from Cambodia and other stand out dishes are Clams in Hanoi Beer and Cambodian Pork Ribs. However it's the variety of exquisite entrees that have us returning - Pork Betel Leaves (pictured), Crab Tacos and Sweetcorn Rice Cakes just two of a delectable selection. Deserts are works of art too. Mekong has recently opened a second alfresco branch in Castlecrag, on the North Side of Sydney.
Fantastic news for lovers of Thai travel and Thai street food is the proliferation of authentic Thai eateries. Thai Town near Chinatown is still going strong, but you can now get Isaan, Northern and Southern Thai cuisine styles in other parts of Sydney too, making a distinct change from the mediocre suburban Thai food swimming in sweet chilli sauce that is usually to be found all over Australia.
In Balmain in Sydney's Inner West, Chon Thai is a welcome addition to Darling Street. Chon's menu is inspired by Chef Air's Northern Thai heritage it is not just Northern Thai food here. Inventive, modern dishes on an extensive menu range from colourful dumplings to Chiang Mai style salads and Southern Thai style curries. Don't miss the Vegetarian pan fried chives dumpling with sweet black vinegar sauce (pictured).
Australian chef David Thompson, famed around the world for his expertise in Thai Cuisine, is still placed in the world's top 50 restaurants in the world, and no 5 in the top restaurants in Asia for his Bangkok restaurant Nahm. If you've been to Nahm you'll know that the level of heat in the food isn't for the faint hearted. Thompson has brought that same level of chilli heat back to Sydney with the wonderful Long Chim. You can read more about Long Chim on the separate post.
ABB AIR is the current front runner on my teen son's list of top restaurants in Sydney, and why wouldn't it be when his carnivore tastes are fulfilled with the superbly named "3 level pork with chicken thigh and chicken wing and sticky rice" served in a basket (pictured)?! ABB Air is a truly authentic Thai food experience, the menu of street food dishes inclueds Boat Noodle soups and hotpots with indecipherable meats and fishballs, as well one of my absolute favourite dishes from anywhere in the world Goong Ob Woon Sen (prawn and glass noodle casserole). Abb Air is located next to World Square Shopping Centre and close to Thai Town, it is always filled with Thais so you know it is going to be good.
It's no secret that one of my great loves of Thai cuisine is the Chiang Mai soup Khao Soi. I'm over the moon that Khao Soi seems to be popping up in several food courts and eateries around Sydney - Chat Thai at Galleries, Jorjarn in Haymarket and Pepper Seeds in Broadway. Read more about Khao Soi here
Chatswood on Sydney's North Shore is a melting pot of the best of Asian cuisine. Khao Pla stands out as the best in Thai food in Chatswood. A casual and hip small restaurant, Khao Pla's chef Chef Pla Rojratanavichai comes from Bangkok and worked in Sydney's Spice I Am for five years, then for Dan Hong at his restaurants Mr Wong and Ms.G's before opening up in Chatswood. The walls are decorated with Thai photos and clippings. The soups, stir-fries, curries and noodle dishes are all perfect lunch standards, authentic tasting, but the Roselle Desert (pictured) is something else entirely; an innovation of ice cream, meringue and some kind of popping candy ingredient that blows up in the mouth. Extraordinarily good.
In recent years Sydney has seen a very welcome increase in eateries serving Malay and Singaporean style food. Sydneysiders had already been discussing where to find the best Laksa for a couple of decades, laksa being almost as ubiquitous a Sydney winter dish as pumpkin soup!
On Sydney's North Shore, Berempah, a neighbourhood secret in the suburb of Willoughby that I'm hesitant to share with the world, for fear they'll get too busy, has my go-to laksa. On a cold winter's day their laksa is always on point with its generous amount of chilli heat and not too creamy broth. If you're fighting cold or flu Berempah's laksa is the perfect medicine. Their sambal prawns are delicious too.
When it comes to other Malay dishes, Mamak is still serving Australia's best satay and roti, and in competition Pappa Rich has opened several branches and offers a more extensive menu to Mamak. I can't go past their Fish Head Curry or, for a more delicate taste I'd recommend the Prawn Mee, the prawny broth is delicious.
For Singaporean favourites Kreta Ayer, now with 4 locations across Sydney, is worth a visit. As well as Singapore Chilli Crab, Bak Kut Teh and Hainanese Chicken you can also find Cereal Wrapped Prawns. The huge Prawns are in a crunchy slightly sweet cereal coating. I hadn't come across this Singapore hawker favourite outside of Singapore prior to eating at Kreta Ayee; my verdict is that they're just a little bit addictive!
Vietnamese food in Sydney really warrants its own blog post. Vietnamese cuisine has really come into its own in the last 5 years in Sydney and we're really fortunate to have so many places where we can enjoy superb Pho, Banh Mi and Bun dishes. Of course Vietnamese food is so much more than Pho and Pork Rolls though. If you've travelled through Vietnam, you'll know that the food found in the different regions is as varied as it is delicious. This variety is reflected in Sydney's Vietnamese food scene as well.
To experience really authentic Vietnamese cuisine in Sydney you need to travel to Cabramatta, Bankstown, Marrickville or Canley Vale, the latter being where the Sydney Vietnamese say they can find 'real' Vietnamese food.
On my first visit to Hai Au Lang Nuong in Canley Vale I literally felt like I'd just hopped off a plane into Saigon. Canley Vale is about an hour from central Sydney and the Hai Au Lang Nuong experience is well worth the trip. The restaurant occupies a large street corner with outdoor seating and specialises in bbq meats and fish, served to the table ready for wrapping in lettuce and rice paper. However it is their sweet and sour hotpot that will have me returning. My Vietnamese friends warned me my mouth would be really dry if I drank the vinegary dip like soup, they were right, but I couldn't help myself!
Chatswood on Sydney's northside has become the destination to find a huge variety of Asian cuisines from Chinese to Korean, Japanese to Malay and so much more. Aside from Chinatown in the CBD, Chatswood has more hawker style food courts than any other suburb in Sydney with Hawker Lane and The District opening in the last few years. It's no surprise that several fabulous Vietnamese eateries can be found in Chatswood as well.
The cleverly named Phood is a great find, always busy from 11am to 9pm every day, and with a wide ranging menu of wrap n roll dishes, rice dishes and vermicelli noodle salads as well as extensive soup menu. Grilled pork with tomato rice always delivers and the seafood rice noodle with seaweed soup is full of flavour and goodness.
Xic Lo has been an absolute favourite of mine, for really affordable and down to earth authentic Vietnamese food, for a long long time. Their entree menu has four types of roll, one for each season e.g Autumn and Winter Rolls as well as Spring and Summer Rolls. Xic Lo is the kind of place I could eat at everyday; woven rice vermicelli wrap dishes 'Banh Hoi,' "Broken Rice" dishes that Bourdain would have loved for their "indecipherable meat" ingredients and soups of course from Pho to a tangy spicy Bun Bo Hue.
Earlier this year another Vietnamese has opened in Chatswood An Viet,great news as the owners run the best Vietnamese food stall at the Sussex Centre in Chinatown. It's wonderful to see them expanding. Anywhere that offers traditional Hanoi Net Spring Rolls will be a winner in my eyes. Their menu is packed with other delights like Banh Cuon, Beef in Betel Leaves, Crispy Quail and of course the usual Vermicelli and Rice dishes, Pho and a spicy Bun Bo Hue.
For a more refined Vietnamese dining experience head to Chao Ba at The Concourse. The modern Vietnamese menu is extensive with exquisite entrees, in particular Banh Khot (small pancakes with prawns) and Banh Cuon ( steamed rice noodle stuffed with pork mince). On a summer evening, sit outside at Chao Ba eating gorgeous food and watch people buzzing around The Concourse. Love this place.
BANH MI and So9 Waterloo
The Vietnamese Pork Roll has become almost as much a Sydney obsession as Laksa, I'm sure Vietnamese Sydneysiders would argue at length as to who sells the best Banh Mi and what makes it the best - the roll or the fillings. Marrickville Pork Roll would certainly be near the top of the list.
As with most popular dishes regardless of the cuisine, there will always be someone to reinvent them. That brings me onto So9 who, without a shadow of a doubt - no arguments please - serves the best Vietnamese roll, actually not just the best Vietnamese roll, but the best sandwich in Sydney hands down. Their Banh Mi doesn't have pork in it though but duck; that is duck with pickles, salad and a good dose of chilli. What makes this sandwich so damn good is the bread, I've been told it's has been twice baked which gives it the crispiness. The Duck Roll is on the specials menu at So9 but fortunately the specials menu doesn't change. They do also have plenty of other Banh Mi's (pork of course, beef, chicken and meat balls). Go for the Banh Mi but taste other brilliant dishes at So9 as well. For me Bun Suong is the perfect Sunday lunchtime pick me up - Pork and Shrimp Sausage Noodle Soup. If So9's Banh Mi Vit (Duck Sandwich) is Sydney's best sandwich their Bun Suong would certainly have to be a contender for Sydney's best noodle soup as well.
The modern and hip fit out at So9 has been cleverly designed to resemble a food court with Bahn Mi Station, Bahn Xeo (pancake) Station, Bun and Pho Stations. The drinks menu is almost as good as the food menu; wine, beer, slushie drinks e,g Coconut and Lychee and of course my addiction that is Vietnamese Iced Coffee (Cafe Sua Da). It's safe to say that I'm crazy about this place.
Feeling hungry yet? Are any of these your favourites or have I missed somewhere? Let me know where you love to eat in Sydney. I'm always up for trying new places.
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