We first spied these Chinese New Year dragons when they “ate” at the same place where my husband and I bought our first Australian food, the Emperor’s bakery. The red dragon puppet, manned by volunteers for Chinese New Year celebrations, took down ceremonial green leaves from the doorways of businesses on Street. It tossed them to the golden dragon and then the two puppets were off to stop at other businesses on Dixon Street, restaurants and retail stores alike.
David and I had begun our Australia trip about weeks earlier by buying an egg tart at the Emperor’s bakery. David had fallen for this mix of sweetened egg custard and flaky crust on a trip to Hong Kong about a decade ago. He had only one other egg tart since that trip. So, this was an auspicious start for our days in Australia.
We had first landed in Sydney from New Zealand in the late afternoon and had time for dinner before catching an overnight train to Melbourne. We chose a Uighur (pronounced wee-ghur) restaurant not far from the train station. The Uighurs are a Muslim people of Central Asian origin, whose land has been part under Manchu and Chinese domination for more than a century.
It’s a far better combination for food than for political freedom and human rights. We would eat there on two nights, enjoying fresh noodles served hot and cold. Our lamb was always perfectly done and seasoned. If you find yourself in Sydney, the restaurant is Taklimakan Uyghur Restaurant, 94 Haymarket Street. Phone is 02 9211 0551.
Iced Vietnamese Coffee
Further down Dixon Street was a food court with some of the best and cheapest ice coffee and tea that we would see in Australia. Phuong Special Vietnamese served up a combination of condensed milk and brewed coffee, which had then been chilled, for $2. Its iced tea also had been brewed before chilling. It cost $1 a glass. Here’s David with an iced coffee and an egg tart from Emperor’s bakery.
We ate that day on a bench looking into the Chinese garden near Sydney’s harbor. We also picked up a nice piece of coconut bread for $2, which was every bit as good as the egg tart and iced coffee and tea.
Phuong Special Vietnamese also sells $3 sandwiches, known as banh mi. We have seen these sold in Philadelphia as Vietnamese hoagies. They combine a nice baguette, a remnant possibly of Vietnam’s years under French rule, with pickled vegetables and meat. The very best banh mi have good grilled pork, such as those served at the Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia. This is perhaps the only shopping mall that flies a giant flag of the Vietnamese republic that fell to the communists. Here are shots of banh mi we had last summer and of the mall:
The Phuong Special shop in Sydney had cold pork, and was still very good.
Outback Dining –With Spices
Australians eat well– even in the Outback. We had a pizza in Alice Springs, the Outback’s big city, that was just about perfect, in my opinion. Thin crust, plenty of tomato sauce and a nice amount of cheese and good seasonings. David thought it was too thin. I grew up in the Bronx and David in Omaha in the Midwestern U.S. Our difference of opinion may reflect that.
Flavours of India in Alice Springs served up some of the best Indian food I have had, including our three-week trip in India. The spinach and fresh cheese dish had perfect seasoning, the cheese was fresh and good. One drawback. Indian and Thai restaurants in Australia charge for rice. It’s not quite as chintzy as the Argentine restaurant that charged us a fee for using its silverware and napkins. That restaurant that is a blot on the otherwise wonderful eating experience that defines Mendoza, Argentina.
Still, charging for rice is pretty bad. With that caveat, I can recommend Flavours of India pretty highly. It’s at 20 Undoolya Road. Phone is 08 8952 3721.
David and I tried to find some traditional Aussie fare beyond meat pies. We consulted the very fun Eatability site and found only a few vague references for kangaroo, things like ‘ this place may have done a pizza with kangaroo.’ We stuck with food in Chinatown and Thai places near our hotel in the King Cross section.
One night, we did try something a little different. When I saw the daily offerings posted on the wall at Bill and Toni’s restaurant, I knew our search for food that night was over. We ordered a stuffed pepper and a veal piccata, which turned out to be good choices at this friendly local place.