Are you ready to embark on a culinary adventure through the vibrant and diverse streets of Sydney’s Chinatown? Look no further than Local Sauce Tours’ Chinatown Food Tour and Stories. Led by knowledgeable local guide and owner of the company, Justin Steele, this immersive tour offers an unforgettable experience as you taste mouthwatering dishes, uncover fascinating stories of the Australian Chinese Community and enjoy the best of local street art, sculpture and monuments. From traditional Chinese delicacies to fusion street food, prepare your taste buds for a journey that will leave you craving more. Join us as we dive into our review of this captivating street food tour that promises to tantalize all your senses.
There were 9 of us on a very hot Spring Sunday who met with Justin at 17 Hay Street, Chinatown outside the Paddy’s Market entrance. After experiencing a lot of food tours around the world I knew that it would be best to come hungry, and I was right.
Justin, himself, has a story to tell about his travels and studies in China mastering Mandarin and how he started his company prior to Covid. Once Covid hit there was a decrease in business but tourism is now returning slowly to pre-Covid levels. Justin now offers 7 local tours for international travellers and locals. You can check them all out here.
Our meeting point is opposite the impressive Chinese Gate on Dixon Street. A pair of stone lions guard the entrance to Sydney’s Chinatown Dixon Street South and North. You will note that the male and female lions are holding a sphere under one of their paws and are guardians of Chinatown offering protection for all within from the spirits. There are different sayings on the top of each gate front and back.
We start the tour by tasting the famous White Rabbit Candy that was made in Shanghai in the 1940s. A firm favourite with the local Chinese children it spread globally as Chinese emigrated to the four corners of the globe. It has a rich creamy milky taste with an edible rice paper wrapper.
Our first story traces the arrival and life of the first Chinese man, Mak Sai Ying, in 1818 in Sydney. Justin goes on to explain to our group about the Chinese and the gold rush days of Victoria, South Australia and NSW from the 1850s.
Interesting Chinatown Facts:
Sydney has the largest Chinatown in the Southern Hemisphere
Melbourne has the oldest Chinatown in the Southern Hemisphere
How many times have you visited one of your local neighbourhoods and have never ventured too far away from the main streets and have not looked up or looked behind you?
I have lost count of how many times I have visited Chinatown over the years and within the first minutes of the tour, I have looked up to see an impressive sculpture – the Golden Watermouth Sculpture that was erected in September 1999.
The sculpture represents the 5 elements of energy: metal, earth, water, wood and fire. You can see all the elements represented then you wonder what is the water element until Justin points out that it is the golden tongue. Normally, the golden tongue drips water which is recycled back into the tree creating the cycle of life, but today it seems that it has been turned off.
The group heads down a side street where we are treated to our first tasting. Dietary requirements are taken into consideration on the tour, just make sure you mention them at the time of booking. I am one of two vegetarians and another group member was a pescatarian. All the group declared that the creamy fish balls and the steamed rice roll with mixed sauce (vegetarian) were very tasty. There were three children in our group and they enjoyed both dishes too!
Heading down Sussex Street we come across a wall tiled with mahjong tiles. Mahjong is a traditional game that was introduced in China in the 19th century. The wall not only has mahjong tiles but the Chinese character ‘fai’ is shown in green tiles representing ‘gut wealthy’.
If you didn’t look up when you walk down Sussex Street you would miss the incredible interactive digital artwork of Liu Dao from Island6 Collective in Shanghai.
Check out our YouTube video of the highlights of our tour including the interactive art display here.
As we exit Sussex Street back into Dixon Street Justin points out Emperors Cream Puffs. I have tasted these delicious cream puffs before and they are worth the wait as there is normally a huge queue. Today it was a short queue and Justin pointed out that if we still had some room left at the end of the tour to indulge in one or two.
Time for more street art as we head into Kimber Lane to see the impressive art of Jason Wing’s ‘Between 2 Worlds’. The vivid blue angel characters represent the spirits and are a blend of Chinese and Aboriginal motifs.
Good to know: A popular Instagram spot at night when the blue characters illuminate the laneway!
Tasting #2 – A firm favourite of Chinese cuisine is dumplings. Dumplings are prepared by families to bring them good luck and fortune on the eve of Chinese New Year when they are made throughout the day and consumed at midnight. The special treat for our group was the pork soup dumplings and Justin explained how these delicate soup dumplings were prepared. They were delicious and many of the group went back for seconds. For the vegetarians, we had red bean paste buns. The buns are soft and fluffy and the red bean paste was delicious. Definitely a very filling snack!
One of the disturbing stories that Justin relates to us is about the White Australia Policy that was introduced in 1901. For those of you who are considering taking this tour, I won’t spoil this for you. I wish I had known more when I had studied this very briefly at school.
Tasting #3 – delicious skewers that have been prepared over a charcoal BBQ with a special spice made up of cumin, chilli, salt and pepper. For the vegetarians in the group, we were impressed with the tofu skewers and the meat eaters enjoyed lamb skewers with either a choice of low-level spice or medium-level spice.
Time to walk off some of our delicious food as we headed towards the Australian Chinese Ex-Services Monument. The monument represents blue and white candles, the colours which are traditionally used in Chinese funerals. The monument is dedicated to the Chinese Australians that have fought for Australia in all wars starting at the Boer War in 1899. There is a list of over 500 Chinese Australians on the monument wall but as Justin points out this is not a complete list. Justin tells us the stories of a few of the famous Chinese Australians who fought for Australia.
One of the most relaxing and peaceful areas in Sydney’s Chinatown is the beautiful and stunning Chinese Garden of Friendship. If you do have time to visit it is well worth it.
We then head through Darling Quarter – the new ‘Chinatown’ that is full of open spaces and many restaurants creating a new urban lifestyle that is vibrant and buzzing for its residents and visitors alike.
Our last tasting was delicious Roujiamo – lamb for the meat eaters and egg for the vegetarians. Roujiamo is similar to a burger but oh so much better. The spicy egg was delicious and very filling and after enjoying it so much this great little find will be a regular haunt of mine.
We end our tour at the Chinese Gates on Dixon Street. Everyone was in agreement that this was a very special ‘funnest’ tour and really enjoyed the choices of food that we tasted and the stories that were told by Justin.
Chinatown Street Food and Art Tour details:
Sundays starting at 11.30 for 2 hours
To book this tour and other tours: Local Sauce Tours
We were guests of Local Sauce Tours and our opinions are our own.
In conclusion, Sydney’s Chinatown Local Street Food and Stories tour offers a unique and immersive experience for both locals and tourists alike. The tour not only provides the opportunity to savour delicious street food from various Chinese regional cuisines but also delves into the rich cultural history and stories of the Chinese Australian community. Whether it is trying mouthwatering dumplings or learning about the traditions that have shaped this iconic neighbourhood, this tour promises an unforgettable adventure filled with tantalizing flavours and fascinating tales.