All the Best Food

Finding the “good food” is an important part of any trip. It can be challenging in some areas (Evansville, IN I’m looking at you) or plentiful in others, like Charleston, SC, where I’m pretty sure I could spend months visiting different restaurants and never run out of delectable options. I’d read a lot about Sydney and the surrounding area before we moved here, so I was aware of the vast international presence that exists, both in population and culinary options. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how good the food is here.

IMG_5637.JPG

Food here surprised me in both quality and quantity. There are numerous restaurants, even in small areas, and a vast variety of types of food: Thai, Italian, Vietnamese, fish and chip shops, seafood, Chinese, Malaysian, Mexican, and probably dozens more. Except for Mexican food, which is woefully lacking in cheese dip and LP Specials, everything we’ve encountered here has been fresh, authentic, and delicious.

IMG_2879.JPG

Thai 

If I have a kryptonite, it is chili jam chicken stirfry with cashews. This dish is the perfect balance of sweet and spicy, with plenty of veggies (although in Australia they spell vegie with one “g”) and perfectly roasted cashews. I’ve ordered this dish with rice, eaten it by itself, and also with wide, flat noodles– it’s incredible all three ways. Apparently I’ve never been able to take a picture without diving in, so here’s a beautiful Pad Thai to fill in.

IMG_4730.JPG

The Thai food we’ve had here puts anything I’ve ever tried in Nashville to shame, including my beloved Thai Phoo Ket. Maybe I’m just really hungry, but I would say the Thai food alone is worth the plane ticket to Sydney. And that’s a long flight.

Italian

Australia has a pretty significant Italian influence, which has resulted in two glorious treasures: pizza and coffee.

The pizzas here are very different from American-style pizza. If you’ve been to Europe, especially Italy specifically, you’ve probably encountered the wonder that is the thin, crispy yet chewy, wood-fired pizza with fresh toppings. My favorite is a tie between traditional Margherita (tomato base, super fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil) or ham and pineapple. There are also loads of more “adventurous” style pizzas, including the Tandoori Chicken with mint-yoghurt drizzle (pictured below), prawn and seafood, and interestingly enough, a “Coat of Arms” pizza that features meat from Australia’s coat of arms– emu and kangaroo. Can’t say that I’ll be digging in to that last one anytime soon.

IMG_5499 (1).JPG

And about Australian coffee. Let’s just say it lives up to its reputation. I honestly can’t compare the coffee here with Italian coffee (mostly because my idea of coffee, when I spent two weeks in Italy at age 20, consisted of a French Vanilla Bean frappuccino from Starbucks) but it is an entirely different substance than what we consume in America. Everything is espresso-based and treated with care and precision.

I was very skeptical before trying coffee here, especially since I had become somewhat dependent on my morning drip coffee, usually consumed black or with one sweetener. Then I tasted my first flat white, and I haven’t looked back. Coffee is an art in Sydney, and it is taken very seriously, with incredible results.

Chinese

A few weeks ago, Donnie and ferried over to the CBD and went in search of the lauded yum cha I’d read so much about. Yum cha, literally “drink tea,” is a term used to describe the brunch-like meal originated in Cantonese-speaking areas of China. We usually hear this referred to as “dim sum” in the States, which translates to “touch the heart” and is a description of the wide variety of options available on the menu– anyone can find a dish they love.

After a bit of research, I landed on Marigold (which was then confirmed as “one of the best for yum cha” by our Australian dining partner on our cruise) for our first foray into “Chinese Brunch.” We took the train from Circular Quay to Town Hall and walked the 15 or so minutes into the heart of Haymarket, home to Sydney’s Chinatown. We entered a brick building, waited with a small crowd for an elevator, and journeyed to the top 5th floor. The doors opened on a large, bright room packed with diners and a long line of patrons waiting for a table.

IMG_2889.JPG

The woman in charge was all business, bustling customers to tables with impressive efficiency. As a result, we were seated within minutes of joining the long queue. Then the fun began!

Servers passed through with carts full of mostly steamed delights. We began accepting dishes and requesting bamboo baskets full of dumplings, buns, and all kinds of treats.

IMG_2891

IMG_2892IMG_2893

My favorite item was the silky, piping-hot prawn dumplings, while Donnie was taken with the pork dumplings, and we were both obsessed with these lightly fried noodles dipped in a peanut butter-chocolate sauce. Marigold boasts a busy, loud, and simply fun atmosphere. Tables were packed with friends catching up, families enjoying time out, and the occasional couples. Every dish was fresh and very hot, and the pot of tea I enjoyed was light and fragrant. Yum cha was definitely an experience that I would recommend any visitor to Sydney enjoy, and I would highly recommend Marigold.

Fruit and Veg

Now that we are settled in our apartment, we’ve been cooking at home each night instead of going out to eat. It’s honestly been very enjoyable to explore Aussie grocery stores and have a kitchen at my disposal again, even if my new kitchen is approximately 1/5 the size of my previous kitchen. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the fresh produce at our disposal and the prices are quite reasonable (for most items.) Some fun new things I’ve had to learn include converting recipe measurements from cups to millileters, pounds to kilograms (I almost ordered over 2 pounds of deli turkey on accident!) and figuring out new names for common items (a bell pepper is a capsicum, ketchup is tomato sauce, and cantaloupe is rock melon.) Overall, food here is incredibly fresh and almost everything is free from preservatives.

Also, the major grocery stores deliver your shopping to your door, which is an absolute miracle, especially when you hate grocery shopping as much as I do!

Saturday in Sydney

Saturday dawned bright and clear, a perfect day for some city exploration. Donnie and I got ready and jumped on the “fast ferry” to Circular Quay. There are several options for getting to Sydney from Manly Beach, which is where we are currently living. There are two ferries– a regular one and a fast one. We pay a little more to ride the fast ferry ($17 for a return ticket/person) because it is nicer, takes half the time as the other ferry, and you can sit on the front of the boat to enjoy the view and the occasional sea spray. You also get a killer view of the skyline as you come into the harbour.

IMG_2740.jpgOnce we disembarked, we headed beyond the Opera House to the vast Royal Botanic Gardens. These gardens are beautiful, with all kinds of exotic and endangered plants and trees, as well as flowers, statues, and sculptures. We meandered through the gardens with the goal of visiting the Government House and then continuing to a rock formation known as Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair.

IMG_2755.jpg

IMG_2758.jpgWell, we ended up a little lost, and the building we thought was the historical Government House was actually an InterContinental Hotel. We ventured back into the garden to find our way. We discovered a beautiful section of flowers and Donnie found a map, so we were well on our way.

IMG_2762.jpgThe sun was out in full force. I put on sunscreen (or suncream as they call it here) but conveniently forgot my face. Oops. We finally made it to Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. This sandstone bench was carved by convicts in in 1810 for the then-governor’s wife. There are some of the best harbour views from this point.

IMG_2787

IMG_2784There was a lovely breeze and lots of shade, so Donnie and I took a little break by the water to soak in the sights and sounds. There is something utterly peaceful about the sound of water punctuated by Aussie songbirds. You can also see my lovely sunburn setting in.

IMG_2788After our little rest, we headed back to Circular Quay to find a Hop On-Hop Off bus. We still hadn’t seen much of Sydney beyond the harbour and we wanted to understand how things were laid out.

While buying tickets for the tour bus, one of the teenage girls working the ticket booth asked Donnie where we were from. When he said Nashville she exclaimed, “Ah! I watch that show all the time! I feel a little starstruck.” Hah!

We hopped on the bus and enjoyed a narrated tour through the CBD. We learned that we’ve basically been pronouncing everything wrong: Bondi is Bond-eye not Bond-ee, Macquarie is MahCory not MaKerry, and I still can’t say Woolloomooloo, though we learned that it’s an Aboriginal word for “baby kangaroo.”

IMG_2797After our tour we felt like we had a much better handle on the city, and we’ve planned several trips to different areas for future weekends. I’m really excited for Chinatown yum cha (what we call dim sum in America) and taking my picture with a koala at the Sydney Wild Life Zoo.

After our busy day, we were happy to grab some gelato and hop back on the fast ferry to Manly.

Do you have any suggestions for things to do in the Sydney area?

Best sunscreen that doesn’t make your face break out? (This is becoming a daily necessity.)