Sydneysiders have a soft spot for Malaysian satay and char kway teow
A craze for Japanese ramen & Chinese soup dumplings
A lustful craving for Indonesian ayam & nasi goreng
An addiction to pad Thai & kana moo krob
More than an itch for Vietnamese pho
Let alone a Korean BBQ fetish
And this list goes on
Sydney’s luminary chef Neil Perry took to restaurant kitchens some thirty odd years ago dishing out seafood and western-inspired dishes of yesteryear. It was around that time a chef who would become one of Sydney’s hottest was born.
And here’s a bet I’m willing to wager my last dollar on.
That never in Perry’s wildest dreams would he have imagined some thirty years later, a young Sydney chef called Dan Hong would showcase fresh and gently bitter chrysanthemum leaves, crunchy nashi pear, ginger, slivers of sweet snow crab and salty salmon roe on the same plate.
This is how far contemporary Asian street food has come and Sydney is now reaping the bountiful rewards of this culinary adventure.
We ought to be mindful though.
Because what we now proudly proclaim to be ‘modern Australian cuisine’ in Sydney owes some of its roots to the rich multiculturalism that was founded upon a migrant policy so many decades ago.
Fast forward to 2014. Not only is modern Australian cuisine a mainstay with the influence of tantalising Asian flavours, it’s a mothership that is laying foundation eggs all over Sydney.
Fiery hot woks are clanging away in Asian restaurants all over the city.
And with a kind invitation from Access PR on behalf of the organisers of Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Month, Mysaucepan and I are thrilled to be here today at the spectacular Sky Terrace at The Star in Pyrmont.
Asia Town, led by the godfather of Sydney Thai food David Thompson, is a one-day food festival involving cooking demonstrations by ten prominent Sydney and Melbourne chefs.
On the cards is Red Lantern and LifeStyle FOOD presenter Luke Nguyen, sports sneakers-collecting, cleaver-wielding Dan Hong, modern French turned modern Asian chef Chui Lee Luk, Cho Cho San‘s Nic Wong, Japanese ramen master Harunobu Inukai, mod Japanese Sokyo‘s Chase Kojima and more.
Asia Town ~ Sky Terrace at The Star, Pyrmont
Guests arrive at the Sky Terrace which has been transformed into a giant al fresco entertainment area.
Complete with deck chairs, comfy sofas and of course the more serious theatre-like set up for the cooking show, we are relishing an afternoon of fun and frolick in the sun.
Here’s the thing about Sydney.
With a reported 250 sunny days a year, our city’s climate is the envy of many, especially those from less climate-friendly countries.
Throw in views of an amazing harbour precinct, a cosmopolitan lifestyle with a carefree attitude, what else can anyone ask for? Apparently, it’s good food and wine.
It seems Sydney has that aspect covered. And in buckets loads too.
A taste of Sydney’s Asian Street Food
The spirit of today’s chef demonstrations is to showcase the creativity of Australian chefs in embracing what has become one of the mainstays of modern Australian cuisine ~ exciting Asian food flavours that has tornado-ed through Sydney over the last few years.
Apparently Sydneysiders have a soft spot for Malaysian satay and char kway teow, a craze for Japanese ramen & Chinese soup dumplings, a lustful craving for Indonesian ayam & nasi goreng, an addiction to pad Thai & kana moo krob and more than an itch for Vietnamese pho.
Let alone a Korean BBQ fetish, this this list goes on and on.
First onto the grill in front of a throng of enthusiastic food lovers is the executive chef of The Star’s very own modern Japanese restaurant Sokyo.
Chase Kojima, born and raised in San Francisco, spotting a goatee and an American twang, is teaching us how to prepare okonomiyaki or Japanese pancake.
Hosted by Good Food Month event director Joanna Savill, the crowd appears eager and hungry under the glorious sunshine on this beautiful spring day.
Chef Kojima’s okonomiyaki with cuttlefish and beef are topped with sliced onions, fresh green chillies and generous squirts of Japanese kewpie mayonnaise.
The slices of bacon glazed with maple syrup has the crowd’s approval.
Here’s an obvious tip for aspiring home chefs too.
If you have intentions of launching your very own cookbook, do it during Sydney’s Good Food Month in October and you can be assured of extra media coverage.
Apart from Dan Hong’s cookbook entitled Mr Hong, Martin Benn, executive chef of multi-award winning Sepia is also sharing his exploits with his book entitled Sepia, The Cuisine of Martin Benn.
Not to be outdone, MasterChef Australia season two winner Adam Liaw is also launching his cookbook entitled Adam’s Big Pot this month.
Dan Hong’s career started with stints in his mother Angie Hong’s chain of Vietnamese restaurants Thanh Binh in Cabramatta and Newtown.
He soon developed his culinary skills in Longrain, Pello and Marque where he completed his apprenticeship.
Winner of the prestigious Josephine ignolet Best Young Chef Award at the 2008 SMH Good Food Guide awards, he moved to New York to work with Wylie Dufresne of WD-50 before returning to Sydney to head up Lotus in Potts Point.
Today, Dan showing us how to prepare his ridiculously addictive prawn toast one of the most popular items in Ms G’s and Mr. Wong’s version which is spruced up with foie gras.
I grew up with prawn toast in Malaysia that still looks the same in some Kuala Lumpur restaurants after so many years. They are generally prawn paste spread over white bread and deep-fried.
Dan Hong’s recipe uses a generous slather of prawn mousse over thick slices of baguette that’s deep-fried to golden brown.
The addition of yuzu mayonnaise, diced shallots, English and Vietnamese mint dressed with tangy nuoc cham elevates this street food to a canape worthy with a glass of aged riesling.
In the early 1980’s, Luke Nguyen‘s parents escaped the ravages of war-torned Vietnam and arrived in Sydney as refugees on a leaky boat.
His cooking pedigree began in the kitchen of his “strict and food-obsessed” parents who ran a suburban Vietnamese restaurant in Cabramatta for fifteen years. Today, he is head chef at his Surry Hills restaurant Red Latern and Fat Noodle at The Star.
One of Sydney’s most popular chefs, he is also the host of Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam TV series airing on SBS channel.
“How many of these lovely G & T’s have you made today?” I ask the girl at the bar.
“Errr, about two hundred?” she muses.
In this beautiful sunshine, how can one go past an icy Tanqueray G & T, served in a big globe wine glass with a slice of lime?
The Sky Terrace at The Star is huge and will easily accommodate a few hundred guests.
Commanding views of Sydney city skyline and water views of Prymont Bay make this an idyllic setting for an event in the sun.
The recent fascinating with deep-fried school prawns is perpetuated by Benjamin Cooper‘s crispy version that comes with a spicy and pungent nahm prik sauce dotted with crunchy baby eggplant.
“How can French fries or the Aussie sausage roll compete with this kinda of sexplosion in the mouth?” I tell Mysaucepan.
I dip these crispy prawns into the nahm prik and pop them whole into my mouth, washing them down with my G & T.
Golden Century Seafood Restaurant is one of the biggest and longest serving Cantonese restaurant in Sydney’s Chinatown.
Today, this restaurant is showcasing one of its most popular late night dishes that chefs dish out even up till 2 am every morning.
The restaurant has an up-market outlet called The Century at The Star.
For me, the spicy savoury taste of XO sauce is totally addictive. Soaked up by a crispy vermicelli cake with the seafood flavour of prawns and pippies, this is Chinese classic is unbeatable.
I catch up with Neil Perry and his team of chefs.
“What’s the strange flavour, Neil?” I ask.
“You gotta try it to find out, wouldn’t you!” he says. “Come on, grab a few of these and check out the flavour.”
The BBQ chicken is smoky and succulent and there are no surprises there. What lifts this number is the tangy taste of pickled white and red radish, carrot and cucumber topped with crunchy peanuts and coriander leaves.
It’s not all roses as her latest venture has also closed its doors for the last time recently.
Chui’s offering today is a hand-made sausaged drizzled with sesame and chilli paste sandwiched with a crisp, deep-fried shaobing or Chinese ‘hollow bread’.
The shaobing is crisp though chewy inside and the sausage is a succulent meaty treat with a nutty edge from the sesame paste.
A high-profile background from Restaurant VII, Galileo and more recently Blanc Haru would pigeon-hole chef Harunobu Inukai as an exponent of fine-dining cuisine.
All three ventures are now firmly in the history books and Harunobu san prefers dishing out hearty bowls of Japanese ramen in his humble shop in a Sussex street food court in Sydney’s Chinatown.
I recently tasted one of Sydney’s best Japanese ramen and I have been spoilt.
While a shoyu broth is flavoursome, it lacks the depth and richness of a tonkotsu.
Last but definitely not least, David Thompson obliges with a photo while he gets ready to go on stage to stir-fry a Thai minced beef with chillies and holy basil.
It has been a fun day in the sun with so much good food and wine let alone the depth of culinary talent assembled at the one place.
Judging by the reception to the rustic and robust flavours of Asian style street food today, it appears that Sydneysiders have more than an itch, addiction and a fetish for it.
I believe SYDNAYSIA is definitely here to stay.
So dear readers, what is your favourite Asian street food?
ChopinandMysaucepan attended Asia Town courtesy of Access PR and Good Food Month organisers. This event was held between 12 noon – 8pm on Sunday, 19 October 2014 at The Sky Terrace, The Star Pyrmont.
Tickets were priced at $125 per person and include all food tastings, complimentary drinks and ten cooking demonstration sessions.
All views and opinions on this blog post are our own.