You can eat your way around the world in Sydney thanks to the waves of migrants from Europe, Asia, China and the Middle East who have transformed the food scene over the years.
Fusion may be a dirty word in some gastronomic zones, but here it stands for the best mix of styles and flavours that only a truly multicultural society can concoct.
While there are pockets of Italian and Greek, Asian is Sydney’s default cuisine as large numbers of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Koreans, Taiwanese and Japanese all call Australia home.
There are eat streets everywhere:
To feel like you’re in India head west to Harris Park in Parramatta, to Strathfield and East Ryde for kimchi or Korean dumplings, and for Lebanese around Haldon Street in Lakemba.
For the city’s most famed charcoal chicken join the hordes at El Jannah in Granville, where the garlic sauce has a cult following of its own.
Then there’s the most egalitarian of places, the beach, where all the cultures come together.
Bondi with groomed white sand and rolling surf is the busiest and most famous. It’s also cosmopolitan and a multiethnic magnet with an array of eateries to match.
Melbourne was the destination of choice for many post-war Italian and Greek migrants. They gave Australia’s second biggest city an enviable European feel and culinary edge.
But the sands shifted post-2000 as Italo- Melbournians like Maurice Terzini and Giovanni Paradiso came north.
Besides independently running Icebergs Dining Room and Bar and Fratelli Paradiso, plus a pizza joint and a bar, the former colleagues keep their creative juices flowing with other ventures.
Terzini has a clothing label – Ten Pieces – the black items he wears himself while he clads his Icebergs waitstaff in white dresses and shorts, and his Paradiso is a leading light in the Rootstock natural wine festival. The pair also dreamt up Italo Dining and Disco Club, a pop-up that, says Paradiso, is like “our parents threw a rave party”. Think acres of gingham, calamari fritti, Negronis, natural wine in barrels and Italian DJs.
Using clothing parlance, Terzini prefers the “least expected fit”, so at Icebergs he runs regular natural wine, food and disco nights – “it’s time not to separate them anymore”– crab sessions for full moon and the hottest New Year’s ticket – a party on the day after, aka January 1.
Call it Chinatown 2.0. Dixon House Food Court is the oldest food hall in Sydney’s oldest Sino-strip, offering low-priced and excellent food from the different regions of China.
The wood panelling and mirrors evoke the 1980s in the low ceilinged, lower ground floor space, but the food offerings across 11 stalls are the sort of multicultural mash-up you’d expect of twenty- first-century Sydney.
Alongside sweet and sour pork and Oriental Dumpling King’s Chinese ‘burgers’ are Indo-Malaysian snacks, a ramen shop selling excellent black garlic tonkotsu and a taco stand called Ghostboy Cantina.
The tiny food stall run by former barista Toby Wilson serves “beef, pork and cauli” tacos, which are more complex than their names suggest.
Like other taqueros running joints outside Mexico, Wilson is more concerned about deliciousness than authenticity.
So he’s using Korean and Cantonese sauces, Vietnamese herbs and anything else that takes his fancy. Besides his “Mexicongee”, a chicken congee spiced with lime, chilli and salsa, crunchy pigs ears are the crowd favourite.
“Every time we put this sucker on the menu, it sells out,” says Wilson.
They come on a soft pancake with Korean chilli sauce, pickled cucumbers, onion and coriander.
Kylie Kwong adheres to three tenets at her Chinese eating house: celebration, collaboration and community.
And these are not hollow words.
Here at Billy Kwong she sources fresh herbs and honey from an urban garden on the roof of the nearby Wayside Chapel, a charity mission; she serves ‘project’ wines, beers and spirits made through collaborations with artisanal producers; and she is such a great advocate of native produce she inspired none other than René Redzepi when he ran his Noma restaurant in Sydney for ten weeks.
Even better than all of this, Kwong is a culinary genius for the way she combines the Chinese cuisine of her heritage with ingredients such as wallaby tails and warrigal greens. “The sweet, sour, salty, oceanic, peppery, tart, citrusy, bitter, floral and woody notes of Australian native ingredients have a natural affinity with the flavour profiles of Chinese food,” says Kwong, who believes she’s created a cuisine which “truly represents this land and its people”.
Although a familiar sight is her in her signature headset, calling service in
Billy Kwong’s open kitchen, the chef also finds time to spend Saturday mornings at Carriageworks farmers market selling dumplings and pork buns, pancakes with saltbush and sticky rice parcels of macadamia and warrigal greens.
Everyone is equal in their swimmers – or ‘cossies’ as they say in Sydney.
At Bondi Beach these run the gamut from thongs to burkinis but the best known are the Speedo budgie-smugglers; the tight-fitting men’s briefs favoured by lifesavers and Prime Ministers alike.
At North Bondi there’s even a café named after Australia’s best-known bather brand, Speedo’s Café, which has been fuelling surfers for decades.
When the surfers seek sustenance with soul they head a few blocks back from the beach where three Israeli friends - Erez Beker, Yoni Kalfus and Ariel Hefer – turned an old corner store into Shuk, their Middle Eastern inspired café-bakery-deli. Taking inspiration from the Hebrew word for marketplace, Shuk is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
As well as a local take on shakshuka, the classic Israeli dish of capsicum, tomato and baked eggs, there’s a shuk salad of roast vegetables and smoked burghul.
Delicious sourdough bread, rolled rugelach pastries and Linzer cookies are made on site, and the rich full-bodied coffee is from Bay Roasters.
There are also boxes of vegetables and deli-style items such as preserved lemons.
On Thursday nights Shuk goes global with tapas- style plates celebrating street food from Texas to Taiwan.