Shanghai Night, Ashfield: Zha jian mian

Rating: 4 out of 5

Shanghai Night
275 Liverpool Road, Ashfield 2131

shanghai night dumpling making

Ashfield is Sydney’s dumpling hub.  If it’s Shanghai-style dumplings you’re after, whether you’re hungering for the steamed, soupy, flavour burst of xiao long bao, or golden, crisp-bottomed pan-fried dumplings, there are a string of outlets along Liverpool Road to satisfy all your cravings.

Shanghai Night has undergone a bit of a cosmetic freshen up in the last twelve months.  It doesn’t look as dark and moody as the slick joint, New Shanghai, next door, but don’t let its nondescript looks fool you.  This place is renowned for its dumplings, and you can even see them being made behind a glass panel at the back of the dining room.  Deft hands mould and pinch delicate, white skins around the minced fillings to craft identically sized and shaped dumplings, ready for a steamer.  Thankfully, for noodle fiends like myself, there is also a good selection of dishes on the menu that serve bouncy, hand made noodles, la mian.

Zha jian mian is a bit like spaghetti bolognese, Chinese style.  Here, the white, hand-pulled noodle is topped with rich, pork mince and slices of cucumber.

zha jian mian

Mix it all up and you get a wonderful concoction of meaty pork, soft yet toothsome noodle, offset by crunchy, refreshing cucumber.  It’s like a party going on in your mouth.  The sauce also has a delicious hint of chilli, making it difficult to stop until you’ve polished off the entire serving.

It’s worth coming out to Shanghai Night just for this dish, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to have some dumplings on the side either.zha jian mian 2

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Kiroran Silk Road Uygur, Haymarket: Dapanji

Rating: 4 out of 5

Kiroran Silk Road Uygur
Shop 3, 6 Dixon Street, Haymarket 2000

chicken big plate dapanji uyghur food

For a long time, Chinese cuisine has been best known in the West for its Cantonese-style dishes. Fans would flock to their local Chinese restaurant for the sugary and cloying sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken, and beef in black bean sauce.  I’m not one to judge though, since the occasional honey king prawns is a guilty pleasure!

Only in the last decade have we really seen people branching out into the cuisines of other regions in China. Punters are embracing the spicy and mouth-numbing dishes of Szechuan province, and flocking to the Taiwanese-style dessert restaurants. One of the lesser known regions, the Xinjiang Uyghur region, has a cuisine that reflects its Central Asian history. It’s big on meats, particularly lamb and mutton, tomatoes, eggplant, and la mian, which brings the Noisy Noodler to Kiroran Silk Road Uyghur.

The restaurant is a mere stone’s throw from the heart of Chinatown, and is situated up a flight of stairs above another Uyghur establishment.  On my visit, it is a brightly lit and cheerful atmosphere inside, with a few large groups sharing laughs and drinks over their communal hot pot.

One of my dining companions hails from the Xinjiang Uyghur region and recommends the dapanji.  It literally translates to big chicken plate, and he assures me that it’s not only the best known dish from the region, but it also has Uyghur-style hand pulled noodles.  My friend also tells me that this dish is famous for its tender chicken, which is due to the addition of beer during cooking.  A clear no-brainer!

The dapanji is a large sharing dish of tomato-based Uyghur-style soup with big chunks of tender, slow-cooked chicken, potato, whole dried red chillies, capsicum, celery, and coriander.  Buried beneath the soup and chicken are glimpses of the white, flat noodle.  They are almost rustic with their uneven length and thickness, but are beautifully chewy without feeling like hard work.  The noodles go down such a treat that we order another serving of fresh noodle, kaedama-style.  The soup has a lovely aroma from the coriander and chillies, sweet with a hint of vinegary sourness, and the chicken pieces are soft and readily absorb the flavours of the soup.

If you’ve not had the chance to try Uyghur cuisine, the dapanji is a good place to start.  Sharing a large dish between a few people is a fun, communal way of eating, so bring a few friends too!

big plate chicken uighur

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Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant, Burwood: Chopped noodle with pork

Rating: 4 out of 5

Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant
181D Burwood Road, Burwood 2134

chopped handmade noodle

Hand pulled noodles, or la mian, is a well known Chinese speciality which is a fascinating process to watch.  The result is usually long strands of beautifully springy noodle.  However, on a visit to Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant in the Inner West suburb of Burwood, I discovered a new way to have these delicious noodles – chopped!  The thicker rope of yellow noodle dough is chopped into little chunks so they look like a pile of corn kernels.  No longer will first daters fumble with their chopsticks in a lame attempt to look like they’re worldly, yet try in vain to prevent embarrassing stains in their lap.  Here is a noodle that you can eat with a spoon!

The chopped noodle was firm due to its thickness, but still had a nice chewy and bouncy texture.  It was served with a loads of pork mince, chopped tomato, red capsicum, Chinese cabbage and chives, all in similar size pieces so that you can get a good mix of everything in each spoonful.  Bringing it all together was a delicious soy, garlic sauce with a hint of vinegary sourness contrast.

A generous serving will only set you back a mere $11.80, which equates to decent value at this popular Burwood noodle joint.  If you haven’t tried chopped noodle before, this dish is a surefire bet to convert you to the convenience and ease of spoon noodle eating!

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Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant, Burwood: Beef noodle soup

Rating: 4 out of 5

Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant
181D Burwood Road, Burwood 2134

beef noodle soup handmade noodles

Seabay Handmade Noodle Restaurant has a bit of a rock star reputation according to the locals in the know. Despite the nondescript exterior, which includes a large photographic menu board that virtually covers their front window, this place is busy day and night. What the locals come here for is the beautiful hand made noodle, la mian, and the cumin lamb that comes on long metal skewers (in my opinion though, the best cumin lamb skewers in Sydney can be found at Lamb & Cumin at Hurstville station).

One of my friends, who is a Burwood local, could not rave about this place highly enough, and specifically the beef noodle soup. As I walked into the restaurant during their busy dinner service, I could see a few diners hunched over their steaming bowls of beef noodle soup – clearly a favourite! It was a no-brainer to go with their specialty.

When my very large bowl of beef noodle soup arrived, I was struck at first by the beautiful fragrant aroma of the fresh coriander and spring onions, which were sprinkled liberally on the top. It almost reminded me of a pho, the Vietnamese beef noodle soup. The almost paper thin slices of beef were floating tantalisingly on the surface, and the snow white hand pulled noodles were hiding just below.

The first thing I did was the pick up a spoon and taste the beautiful clear broth, and it had a clean beef flavour with a hint of sweetness, and my whole mouth and nose filled with the fragrance of the fresh herbs. The noodles had the perfect level of firmness and chewiness, which despite the overly generous portion, were so delicious that I just had to fish out every last noodle from the bottom of the bowl!  A simple meal, but oh so satisfying.

This was pretty much a perfect bowl of noodle soup, save for beef slices, which were a tad on the dry side. If they could have served the sliced beef raw, this would have been my idea of heaven in a bowl. And at a mere $9.80 for a massive serving, you could not get better value anywhere else in Sydney.

beef noodle soup handmade noodles

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New Shanghai, Ashfield: Stir fried la mian with pork and vegetables

Rating: 2 out of 5

New Shanghai
273 Liverpool Road, Ashfield 2131

hand made noodle la mian

One of the most mesmerising experiences one can have is to witness la mian being made.  In Chinese, it means “pulled noodle”, and it’s a fascinating sight seeing the noodle puller repeatedly stretching and pulling a nondescript pile of dough into fresh, springy noodles.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the noodles being made tonight at New Shanghai, as it was a late 8pm weeknight dinner visit.  Despite this, the restaurant was still full of chatty diners, overwhelmingly of Chinese background, which is always a good sign for a Chinese restaurant!  We were seated quickly and served a hot pot of tea, with the waitress coming back within around 30 seconds to take our order.  Eager to please, or get us in and out so that they could go home!

We ordered the stir fried la mian with pork and vegetables, since it was the first item on the noodle menu and presumably the safe choice, but also because the photo illustration at the bottom of the dish looked pretty damn good.  When it arrived, we looked at each other with instant disappointment. The noodles only just covered the bottom of the white rectangular dish, with no whiff of volume or generous proportions.  It certainly looked nothing like the picture on the menu.

The noodles themselves were deliciously springy and not too soft, stir fried in a tasty soy-based sauce with a hint of chilli.  However, the noodles were the only salvation for this dish.  The aforementioned pork was barely existent, with only a few scratchings of marinated meat which were even outnumbered by the small amount of choy sum vegetable.

Overall, the dish was disappointing considering our high hopes.  A paltry serving with very little meat overshadowed the beautiful noodles.  Not a good value proposition at all.

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