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