Sydney Nostalgia

We had a trip back to Sydney (our old stomping ground) recently for a concert. When we lived there in the early 1990’s it is fair to say that we enjoyed living in such a multi-cultural city with so many different ethnic enclaves and culinary experiences. It was easy to have Italian in Leichardt one day and Vietnamese in Camperdown the next. There was excellent Chinese to be had in Chinatown any time and Spanish just up the road in Liverpool Street. On this trip, I had my ‘must-eat’ list ready to go, based on fond memories of restaurants from the past as well as a few new ones to try. The problem was trying to fit them all into 2 days. I did warn Graeme that it was breakfast, lunch, and dinner with possibly a couple of snack times as well to get through it all, so our bank balance and waistlines were going to take a hit.

We had a few fine dining experiences with magnificent tapas at MoVida topping the list. Their home-made morcilla (blood sausage) which contained apple and walnuts was a real eye-opener. The walnuts were a perfect complement to the rich sausage. And it was served with our favourite salty padron peppers. The Bellota Iberico was perfect. It is one of those meats that so richly deserves the plaudits it receives from chefs world-wide. Bellota Iberico is a grade of cured ham from pigs in Spain that eat only acorns for the last part of their lives as they free-range in the forest. The ham is cured for 36 months at least. The result, when served on a nice warm plate at room temperature, is an unctuous fat around a sweet meat with both melting in your mouth like a good brie.

Local customer at Kepos Street Kitchen

The breakfast at a little Israeli-inspired café called Kepos Street Kitchen was also a lovely experience in every way. The food – shukashuka with green tahini sauce, or a medly of falafel, labne, egg with dukkah and hummus and a tomato salad- was beautifully done. But what made the experience was the atmosphere.  It is a old corner house  converted to a café in  suburban Redfern. It was full of local Jewish clientele, forming a tableau that would not be out of place in a Woody Allen movie. The clothes, the mannerisms, the language, the lot. And to top it off the café served the best coffee we had all trip; both the machiattos and the piccolos.

We also dined on traditional Spanish in Liverpool Street and wonderful Chinese barbequed duck from BBQ King. BBQ King is a Sydney institution and hasn’t changed in 25 years. The rows of whole ducks, intestines, unidentifiable bits in the smeared glass window, and a menu board with its odd linguistic problems, took us straight back to the late night meals we had there as students, after a few too many with a friend of ours.

 

Take-away menu at BBQ KIng

 

As great as it was to have these meals, with varying degrees of satisfaction, nostalgia and wallet-busting, the best meal of the trip by far was the least expected. A place called Cho’s Dumpling House on the edge of Chinatown, where there wasn’t a dumpling to be had. I guess the sign above the door is an old one that hasn’t been changed, because this was a Taiwanese hole-in-the-wall eatery, not Chinese, with very Taiwanese dishes and style.  As you peer in the windows you see rows and rows of plates and bowls of ‘cold dishes’ to choose from. On entering you squeeze onto a formica table sitting on plastic stools, sharing elbow space with your neighbours. If you are lucky, you might squeeze in 12 people at best. The idea is you choose a few small, ‘cold’ plates from the display, and then a selection of warm dishes from the menu.

Cold dishes in window display

We had jellyfish done with cucumber, carrot, black vinegar and lots of garlic,  an eggplant dish with soya and bean paste,  and a fish dish -  probably mackerel, done with an earthy, slightly musty braise of soya sauce and sugar. Our ‘main’ was traditional stewed pork on rice. It was more than enough for the two of us. Fabulous food that was genuinely Taiwanese in what felt like one of the many places I had eaten in in Taiwan. At the table next to us a 50-something workman sat in his dirty clothes sharing a table with a 40-something businessman in his suit. Two trendy young office worker girls, with all the kitsch accessories, sat next to two university students in their jeans. All were Taiwanese.

And the cost of this experience and food for the two of us? $15.  – I do love Sydney.

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