CHINATOWN, SYDNEY – where tat meets taste

Paddy's Market is the perfect place to buy a Chinese kangaroo.

I’ve never spent much time in Sydney’s Chinatown. It seemed a bit phony and touristy; for an authentic Asian experience I’ve always pointed visitors towards Cabramatta, where thousands of South-East Asian Australians have settled, bringing their culture and their food with them.

The Chinese food I remember from my youth was stodgy fried rice and sweet and sour pork. We thought it was daring to eat back then, but now we’ve grown up into sophisticated world citizens we’ve discovered more interesting Malay, Thai, Indian and Vietnamese cuisine.

Having a bit of time to kill before a meeting in the city, I took a walk around Haymarket. I was pleasantly surprised.

Get your ''Boomberang" here! It will only come 80% of the way back, but a bargain's a bargain.

Need a painted koala for the folks back home? You've come to the right place!

The tourist tat is entertaining, but the real appeal of Chinatown is the food.

Paddy's Market is a good place for vegetables, particularly Asian greens which may be hard to source in ordinary supermarkets...

...and my camera finds the colours and patterns irresistible.

Naturally there are upmarket Chinese restaurants which don’t have sweet and sour pork on the menu, but there are also plenty of no frills food halls.

They don't bother too much about thinking up clever names...

...and if they're noisy and aesthetically unattractive, the food is good, quick and cheap.

It must be said that much of Chinatown is ugly, but on the corner of flashy Darling Harbour is an oasis hidden behind a high wall. It costs $6 to get into the Chinese Garden of Friendship, but it is worth doing from time to time. The garden, a present to Australia from our friends in Guangdong Province, opened for Australia’s Bicentenary celebrations in 1988.

A small plaque on the wall informed me that the garden now stands on the site of the world’s first refrigerated warehouse, built by Thomas Mort and his engineer Eugene Nicolle in 1875. While it’s a shame to lose such a piece of history, I’m sure the garden is more beautiful than Tom’s fridge.

Chinese Garden of Friendship.

Chinese design mixes the elegant and simple...

...with the elaborate and gaudy.

In modern China you may be hard-pressed to find a scene like this, but here it is in downtown Sydney.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:

Sydney’s Chinatown is in the Haymarket, a few hundred metres from Central Station. The light rail connects Central to a stop at Paddy’s Markets.

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