The Sydney International Food Festival’s Night Noodle Markets. I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to attend this year’s event, having read press on the SIFF website selling it as an “authentic Asian hawker market“. I’d never been previously and had heard little about it.
Authentic Asian hawker market. With what seems to be a decent representation of Asians of various nations in the city of Sydney, and with our reasonably close proximity to Asia, this would surely turn out to be one hell of an event, right?
I should have know better. Really, I should have known…
My experience with the Night Noodle Market reminds me of my experiences with westernised Asian food. In other words, rather than being Asian, it’s Asian-like. The signage and menu indicates, at least to some degree, that it’s Asian. The staff are even Asian. However, what you’re served up often lacks a certain “authentic” Asian quality to it. I’m not talking just about some of the food but the ambiance of the whole event. Sometimes the distinction can be subtle. Other times, it can be as overt as having a gozleme stand.
Sure, technically the Turkish are Asians. Perhaps it’s my crazy preconceived notions but when I think “Noodle Market”, gozleme isn’t something that comes to mind. Ever.
Though having said all that, just because the setup is Asian-like (at least in my opinion), it doesn’t meant to say that good food cannot be had.
With my rather naive disillusionment over “authenticity” aside, what can be expected from the Night Noodle Markets?
Hungry people. Lots of hungry people. This was taken around 40 mins from the opening time.
Lots of stalls too, hawking a vast array of consumables. Examples include dumplings, curries, satays, Asian inspired desserts, the afore mentioned gozleme and yes, you might just find yourself a few noodle vendors as well.
However, be warned that there will be many a long queue to endure. It may be prudent to find something to occupy yourself with as you wait in line. You know, strike up a conversation, make a call, check messages, tweet on Twitter…
…or ahh, take random photos just for the hell of it. Whatever gets you through the queue…
Another word of warning – not all long queues lead to good food. Likewise, not all seemingly unpopular stalls have bad or ordinary food.
I started with Din Tai Fung. I’ve heard a lot about this restaurant, most of it positive. However, I’ve never had the mind to make the effort to go there to try it out.
Xiao long bao ($5). These wonderful pork dumplings oozes or squirts a warm porcine flavoured soup, depending on how you eat it.
See to eating these dumplings as soon as you can as they have a tendency of sticking to the container, making it hard to remove without tearing the casing and have the soup ooze out of the dumplings.
Vegetable dumplings ($5), which I believe consisted primarily of chives. Nice. Light. Not unlike similar dumplings you can find at a decent yum cha joint.
Sesame Buns ($5). A rather nice, fluffy bun encasing a sesame filling.
Just so you know, black sesame filling in case, as with me, the black sesame seeds on the top of the bun weren’t enough of a clue.
Moving on from Din Tai Fung having satisfied my initial pang of hunger, food items from other stalls were explored.
Satay chicken from Pebblle Thai ($4 each). This was good value for money, all things considered. For starters, your $4 bought a whole chicken thigh which works out to be the equivalent of two chicken skewers from most of the other stalls. The satay sauce was reasonably good. Certainly one of the more remarkable ones I’ve had to date. Best of all, this was one of the previously mentioned “unpopular” stalls with little to no queue.
Admittedly, the chicken’s a little tough and a tad hard to eat if you opt to eat it off the skewer rather than use the supplied fork. However, if I were have another crack at the Noodle Market, this would certainly be one thing I’d look to revisit.
Potato and bacon “Japancake” ($8 from memory). Yep, for those of you that know Japanese food, this may look like a sorry excuse of an okonomiyaki. However the stall, as with its product, was marketed as “Japancake” so Japancake it is.
This was rather ordinary. Yes, even factoring that it had bacon in it! The thing that got me to most about this wasn’t its taste, weak presentation or cost but the 10 minute wait in a queue of 4 people as these things were made to order. Had enough time to purchase the previously mention chicken satay, take some photos and eat my share before I was able to walk away with my piping hot order.
Staff were cute though, serving customers in their little Japanese kimonos.
Prawn char kwey teow from Singapore Guo Tiao King (around $8, so I was told). Oh the problems with this dish! Initially the prawns weren’t cooked long enough, leaving them somewhat raw. The dish was sent back for a redo. Not a new batch mind you. Just the same one given another run on the griddle plate.
Then came the taste. Let’s just say that it didn’t go beyond a couple of mouthfuls.
To cap off the evening’s meal, a scoop or two of gelatos from Gelato Messina were in order.
… or three. Yep, three scoops of Asian inspired flavours. In my case it was green tea with azuki red bean, Thai custard, and coconut and pandan. Of the three flavours, my favourite had to be the Thai custard, with a rather distinct flavour that only palm sugar can give. The others were nice as well, though I’d wished that the azuki red bean paste were incorporated as veins within the green tea ice cream rather than a smeared afterthought.
You have until Friday 23 October to check out the Night Noodle Markets, so make sure to hop to it if you don’t want to miss out on the action. Though I personally feel that this is far from being representative of an “authentic Asian hawker market” experience, it doesn’t meant to say that there isn’t good food to be had.
SIFF Night Noodle Markets
North end of Hyde Park, Sydney (the end closest to Circular Quay side of the city, near St James Train Station).
5pm – 9.30pm, weeknights until Friday 23rd October 2008.