Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Three days left for oodles of Thai

The Noodle Markets in Hyde Park, Sydney
It’s that time again when the increasingly precarious Sydney spring weather wreaks havoc with outdoor festivals – namely the Crave Sydney International Food Festival Noodle Markets. I think in its first week, the Noodle Markets have endured, or been threatened with, rain on four out of five nights, and we still had to contend with muddy grounds on the non rainy Thursday I went.

Fingers crossed that the weather is blue-sky beautiful for the 20th anniversary of the Sydney Food & Wine Fair – one of my favourite annual events.

Seating in Hyde Park
I’m impressed with the organisers’ ability to expand the Noodle Markets so significantly – stalls are spaced over a larger area of Hyde Park North and there are tables and chairs sprouting all over the grass – although that doesn’t mean that you won’t have to rush for empty tables and share too. But it’s all a part of the Noodle Markets atmosphere. It’s busy and quickly gets packed as we arrive, with growing queues at almost every stall.

Dim sum at the East Ocean stall
I’m still not one for the yum cha style dumplings for dinner, but the vibrant yellow salt & pepper squid at East Ocean was very tempting, especially seeing person after person with generously sized trays of it.

Jackie M Malaysian had ever-long queues waiting for satay chicken skewers, otak otak and other Malaysian fare, while the prices at Turkish Gozleme King were a little eyebrow-raising, though stall rental probably isn’t cheap. There’s the first of many Thai stores and also a dumpling stand that I recognised from other festivals.

The Coopers sustainable beer garden
As in prior years, Bungalow 8 and Sugar Mill (both of the Keystone Hospitality Group) have bar setups with minimal queuing – bottles of wine appeared popular. The Coopers sustainable beer garden is quite the rustically pretty sight, eco-friendly and supposedly representing the average Aussie backyard, providing plenty of seating for imbibers of Coopers beer.

The Coopers beer garden
Queues at the stalls
We hit off to first base at Iron Chef Chinese Restaurant, all the way from Cabramatta to the CBD, and positioned next to the flowing Din Tai Fung queue. I don’t think it is humanly possible to pass on Peking duck. And with a variety of combo packs for value seekers, we got a good taste of everything with Combo C.

Peking duck pancake from Iron Chef Chinese Restaurant
The two serves of Peking duck were freshly wrapped in their pancake skins, with juices flowing out as I bit into it. The duck was warm and fatty, sweetened with a touch of hoisin sauce with the stick of cucumber and spring onion providing some crunch and contrast. Simply delectable, I imagine I could eat 10 of these as a meal in itself.

With so many Peking duck wraps flying out of the stall, I wonder what would become of the leftover duck meat – and what the pile of roast duck carcasses would look like. A great deal of duck stock, perhaps.

Rose wine pork ribs and vegetarian fried noodles from
Iron Chef Chinese Restaurant
The rose wine pork spare ribs are heavily deep fried, small pieces of rib interleafed with layers of fat: not at all healthy but tasty in its marinade and salt & pepper coating. They were just a little chewy and had small bones, and so turned into a savoury, finger-licking exercise.

The vegetarian fried noodles were indeed vegetarian, but had sparse few vegetables aside from a bit of cabbage. The thick, soy covered noodles were a little starchy in its thickened sauce, but were helped along with chilli sauce.

Noodle Markets seating and stalls
Further along, Mizuya was doing kushiyaki that little resembled proper yakitori, Zilver also had the vivid yellow salt & pepper squid, and there were another couple of Thai stalls. The next section had more dim sum and Thai, Japanese okonomiyaki, an Indian food stall and Chinatown’s St.Honore Cake Shop.

And so it goes on with poffertjes, seafood, Himalayan and another Thai, while yet another section had Efendy, doing smoky lamb kofte wraps and baklava. The added Middle Eastern theme to the Noodle Markets was really just a couple of gozleme stalls and Efendy – nothing to get too excited about.

Lanterns in the trees at Hyde Park
Serendipity ice cream was a dessert option, but the crowds were lining up at the dedicated Chat Thai desserts stall. This was in probably the most interesting section of stalls, along with a Chat Thai stall proper, New Shanghai, something called SpanThai, gozleme, Malaysian and another Thai. Rather than fusion as the name might suggest, SpanThai had a giant paella pan each of saffron chicken rice (paella?) and char kway teow – downright odd if you ask me.

Fish ball skewers from Chat Thai
We decided to get some Chat Thai nibblies and then consume them while waiting in line for New Shanghai. The perfectly spherical fish balls on skewers are a popular sight, drowning in a red sweet chilli sauce. A golden batter forms the impossibly perfect outer layers; thin and not maintaining much crispness beneath the particularly spicy chilli sauce. The white fish balls within have a nice, firm texture with subtle flavour that’s rather mute against the chilli sauce.

New Shanghai dumpling makers at work
The New Shanghai queue moves at a reasonable pace with those at the front of the line able to watch dumplings being made there and then. The pungent smell of the vinegar sauce encircles all those waiting and the nearby DJ does good with his bare setup, with pause for the lion dancers and associated noise.

Lion dancers entertain the crowds
After the fish balls and intentions for dessert, we decide to have just one order at New Shanghai – the pan fried buns, rather than the xiao long bao. I’d had the buns only four days earlier, which I think proves my inability to tire of dumplings and their relatives.

Pan fried pork buns from New Shanghai
These guys arrive stunningly hot, even after a few minutes of seat searching and table sharing. They’re pretty much fraught with danger, especially as not everyone has yet mastered the art of eating soup filled buns and dumplings. If squirting or leaking juices don’t get you, the burning hot soup probably will.

The buns are half golden with their pan fried skirts, not quite making the soft fluffy dough crispy but not far off either. The soup in these buns is full of flavour and completely scrummy, with a ratio of dough to pork mince filling that don’t have me bloated with carbs. They disappear in moments; the only evidence of their presence being leftover black vinegar sauce and some sticky, soupy fingers.

Sticky rice and mago from Chat Thai
Dessert was cleverly acquired with our earlier Chat Thai purchase so we needn’t lose our seats again. The sticky rice with mango presented a tropical sight and an even for tropical flavour. I don’t know where Chat Thai get these mangoes from but I want more. The mango was quite oddly perfect, if not a little pale in colour, with soft but not mushy texture and just ripe flavour.

Paired with just slightly sweetened glutinous rice, coconut cream and a sprinkle of crispy rice puffs, this was quite simply divine and the epitome of great Asian desserts: subtle but fragrant with the capacity to eat large serves of it.

The Sydney International Food Festival Noodle Markets run until Friday, 22 October at Hyde Park North - three days left to try as much as you can from 40 stalls.

Hyde Park North - all decked out


chocolatesuze said...

nuuuu i want peking duck!!

john@heneedsfood said...

I've got to try and here this year. Somehow I've missed it the last two years. Pathetic!

Maz at Dimmi said...

I had the squid from East Ocean, yum!! Went there on Thursday too... maybe we rubbed shoulders ;P

Tina said...

Hi suze - I always want Peking duck... sigh

Hi John - Two days to go!

Hi Maz - Possibly! There was definitely some shoulder rubbing in the queues ;)

OohLookBel said...

Fantastic roundup! Maybe we could wait outside the peking duck stall and beg for the carcasses!

Tina said...

But Bel - what would we do with them?!


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