Night Noodle Markets – It’s All About the Atmosphere
One of the major highlights of the Crave Sydney International Food Festival are the Night Noodle Markets. The name pretty much describes what it’s all about. Dozens of restaurants set up food stalls taking over the as always excellent Hyde Park vending their specialty dishes. There’s quite an Asian feel to it as one would imagine – pretty much all of the stalls are Asian (but not just Chinese as you might think – Malaysian, Thai, Singaporean, Indian are all covered) but coming from a Chinese background that’s not a bad thing (though I sure could have seen what some Western stalls could have come up with).
There is live entertainment coming from several up-and-coming singers and lion dancing, and probably other performances I may have missed.
Oh and of course, there are three bar stalls serving all of your alcoholic needs, particularly Rekorderlig cider (they’re a sponsor of the event).
This year, the markets ran for the first two-thirds of October, and good thing it did as it allowed me to go twice, allowing me to sample ever more food!
Name: Night Noodle Markets
Date Visited: Twice in October 2012 (ran from October 3-5, 8-12, 15-19)
Address: Hyde Park, Sydney NSW
Good for: An atmosphere like no other
Not good for: Actually wanting to eat exceptional food
Go-to dish: YMMV – to each their own!
On my first visit, I ended up buying 4 different dishes (I shared half-n-half so wasn’t trying to get bloated or anything…). The first one I went to is a stall set up by two-hatted Thai restaurant Longrain (which I still have to go to properly…)
Okay so you’re seeing more of the coleslaw than the sausage. My bad…
Anyhow, this was one of the more flavoursome dishes I had. The coleslaw salad didn’t taste particularly fresh – it had that “it’s been sitting here for 3 hours” kind of taste. It’s doesn’t ruin the dish, but it sure felt like it could have used some freshness. It is after all, one of the most important metrics of a good salad. Still, it packed quite a punch in terms of flavour – the dressing was tangy and spicy as is the hallmark of Thai, and was still enjoyable to the point where I finished most of it.
The sausage is actually done well – it’s a cold sausage and it tastes more like a meat loaf that’s been made into the shape of a sausage. It falls apart and basically becomes mushy in your mouth quite easily. It’s not bad – just different. It works for me, and the fact that it’s packed with that aroma of pork coupled with the tang of Thai makes it quite the morsel.
We then walked around for a bit, taking in the scenery and the atmosphere. It really is a ‘market’ with all of the traditional hallmarks – bustling crowds, long lines, a ridiculous amount of noise. And oh the lights!!
The next place we went to is a stall set up by…I don’t actually know. Well it’s called “Japancake Okonomiyaki” – while I know what it means, I don’t know the restaurant that set it up. Is it actually a restaurant? Somebody let me know!
The lines are LONG – hence the need for two. It’s partly due to this stall’s (well-deserved) popularity, but also because it takes a heck of a long time (relatively) to cook one up.
Okonomiyaki is basically a savoury pancake. As Wikipedia describes it so well okonomi means “whatever you want” and yaki means “grilled/cooked”. So you can imagine the variety that exists since it’s basically “grilled ______ in pancake style”. I’ve had okonomiyaki in Japan before and as one would think nothing could ever beat it there, but since I’ve never had it in Australia before I must say I was very pleasantly surprised.
This was delicious, it’s probably the best dish I had at the NNM. I dislike sauces on sushi, but I’m a sucker when they’re generously drizzled onto this divine savoury pastry. It’s quite thin (in Japan they’re much thicker – see this post) but kind of like pizza – this is to each their own. I really enjoyed the beef on top – they didn’t really skimp and you can taste it with every bite. So tender, but still retaining firmness almost like a cross between braised and pulled beef. YUM. The cheese was stringy and you get that very nice “streeeetch” when you take up a slice. Ahhhh, beautiful flavours. Maybe it’s just nostalgia from Japan, but still my taste buds don’t lie. This is worth the wait and the price!
We wandered around a bit more while letting that delicious bite settle…
As stereotypically expected, the dim sum stalls always had the longest lines and they always attract the vast majority of Western people. Asians don’t actually really go to these stalls and the simple truth is because we know we can get better dim sum elsewhere for a lower price (oh and of course, because to us Chinese people, going to NNM and eating dim sum is like a Westerner going to NNM and going to the Maccas stall).
Oh, btw, dim sim = westernised dim sum. The latter is the ‘real deal’ if that kind of thing matters to you. Yeah, I’m a stickler for terminology…old school.
The next place we decided to buy from was La Mint. It sounds like it’s for dessert but oh no sure wasn’t…
We decided that their entree platter was the go-to dish since as usual, it would lead us to try out several things at once. It was more expensive though at $16 a serve.
Scallops are a known quantity to me, they tasted fine thanks to the garnish. Otherwise, standard fare (which is a good thing yes yes).
Now I don’t actually know what vine beef actually is (Google does not help here) so uhhh…hmm
Well the best way to describe it is like a preserved beef mince sausage. It tastes like that (but really doesn’t quite resemble anything I’ve had before). The taste takes some getting used to, but I can see myself growing to like this. I should find out what exactly went into its making…pity my palate isn’t advanced enough to discern everything
And what the heck is a nem stick? Google again, does not help. BUT, I can say that it’s basically like a super long spring roll, with the filling only in the middle of the entire length. It’s fairly oily, so hello calories.
The dish would be very worth it if it were $12. Actually, $16 isn’t /too/ bad since there are scallops, but they’re not the most expensive seafood either.
We ate this platter at the Rekorderlig section which was pretty good looking.
And of course, because it’s a market, more wanderings.
The last thing we had on this first night at the NNM is from a Himalayan stall which I forgot to take a photo of. Oopsies.
But as for the dish itself…
This dish was very hearty and guilt-inducing due to the massive amounts of oil (just look at that slick!) The unfortunate result of using all that oil is that the noodles are essentially flavourless which is very disappointing. The potatoes are nice though – bite into them and all the aromas of a good roast come out and it’s really quite nice.
As for the chicken – the skin was a bit tough thanks to the char but overall I was satisfied by it. Safely cooked, safe tastes, can’t go wrong.
And that was our first night at the NNM…
FAST FORWARD A WEEK AND DAY TWOOOO ARRIVES
On day 2 we arrived early enough and timely enough to actually score a table just as another crowd was leaving! Indeed, there were three groups converging on that table but we took base first! Haha! It’s a cruel world out there…
Remember that curry at Longrain that I didn’t get? Got it now!
Cape Grim beef is beef that only comes from Tasmania. It is reputed to be one of the best types of beef in the world. The reasoning behind that is because Tassie has some of the cleanest air on Earth. I suppose that could actually make an impact on bovine quality…
It seemed to show though (or maybe it was the placebo effect), as this dish was easily the best I’ve had at the NNM this year (I’d say it narrowly beats out the okonomiyaki) even though it isn’t even a noodle dish! Hah! Aromatic it was, and full of spicy yellow curry flavour. Just imagine a good yellow curry and this is probably as good or better. The pickled veggies add a tangy, crunchy edge to it all and makes the dish look quite colourful! I really approve of this one.
The next thing we had harkens back to something more conventional…
Mmm I’ve a soft spot for Malaysian curries thanks to their level of spiciness. It’s just beautiful. Pair that with some tender yet flaky roti bread and you’ve got a meal in and of itself. I don’t actually know where it came from because I was minding the table while my friends got the dish but it rivals the quality found at Mamak. Enough said? Yeah enough said.
We ended up getting a third dish as well – the bacon and cheese okonomiyaki but I forgot to take a photo. Let’s just say it lived up to the standard though the beef one was heartier. All in all, we nailed the choices this second time around.
I hear that a standout dish is a chilli basil noodle from somewhere (thanks Twitterverse) but never got to try it in the end…oh well. There’s always next year!
The Good: great atmosphere if you’re into crowds. I’m personally impartial. Good variety of food thanks to the sheer size of the event.
The Bad: most of the food is actually quite average, with a few standouts. Very pricey for what you’re getting.
I’m awarding the Night Noodle Markets of 2012 two different Caesar ratings – one for the food itself, and one for the event in general. After all, something like this just doesn’t come along very often. It’s definitely worth a visit.
I give the Night Noodle Markets 2012 a grand total of six Caesars out of ten – 6/10 (food – but watch out, this rating is easily as low as a 3-4 if you buy the “wrong” things. We happened to buy good things on the second round elevating the score!)
I give the Night Noodle Markets 2012 a grand total of seven Caesars out of ten – 7/10 (whole experience)