Did you know that above Chinatown’s dingy-but-dependable food court, Eating World, is one of the hottest dining tickets in Haymarket? Spicy Joint, a wildly popular Sichuan chain in China, has expanded south – bringing peppercorn-littered braises, fiery hotpots and nightly queues to Dixon Street. Here, lines are so regular they’ve been automated. Take a ticket and wait for your number to flash on screen like a supermarket deli. And no, that’s not a glossy fashion magazine being handed to you – it’s the menu, a hefty tome where every single item is accompanied by a big stylised image of what you’re signing up for.
For a long time, “Chinese food” in Australia didn’t venture far beyond shiny fried noodles, sticky char siu pork and dumplings, dumplings, dumplings. Delicious as they are, reducing the wildly varyied cuisine eaten by 1.3 billion people from 56 ethnicities to a few usual suspects was selling us all short.
Fortunately, lately we've seen an exponential boom in the depth and diversity of what’s available, with myriad options for both cheap eats and sprawling banquet feasts now on the table. Cumin-dusted lamb skewers from Xinjiang, dazzlingly spicy hot pots from Sichuan, and steamy breakfast baos from Tianjin – here's how you can eat your way around China (and neighbouring Taiwan) with nothing but a loaded Opal card.