Spice Alley can be a minefield. So many stalls; so many people; so many delicious choices. What do you order amongst the chaos? Don’t worry, Sydney, we got you. We filled our card with credit (this is a cash-free envrionment) and trawled through the stalls to find the winning dishes.
Want more dinner options? Here's the 50 best cheap eats in Sydney.
Where: Alex Lee Kitchen
The roti canai at this Singaporean stall is cheap and the perfect side or light main dish. You get a jumble of thin, light, stretchy, chewy, crisp roti aside three little dips: a salty, fish-dense sambal, a coconutty laksa fragrant with lemongrass, and our pick, a bright red, spice-driven chicken curry that we could drink by the gallon. Want to up the protein stakes? Pay an extra $3 and get a big slab of chook with that roti instead of the other sauces (order ‘number four’).
Where: Alex Lee Kitchen
A big scoop of rice is cooked in proper chicken stock so it takes on all of those deep, savoury flavours. It’s topped with super-tender poached chicken, rich chicken broth, crunchy cucumber and tomatoes, with a heap of coriander and a spicy ginger sauce for dipping or pouring over the top. Plus, there's an excellent bowl of chicken soup on the side too.
Where: Old Jim Kee
The char kway teow at Old Jim Kee is a massive serve of wok-tossed flat rice noodles tossed with slices of earthy, sweet and sour lap cheong sausage; whole prawns; sheets of fish cake; crunchy bean sprouts and egg. It’s seriously smoky from the wok and the pork lard it’s cooked in.
Where: Old Jim Kee
If you want to be properly Malaysian then you’ll need to order a teh tarek. It’s that strong, sweet Malaysian tea that is usually served piping hot, poured from a height so that it’s ‘stretched’ (this aerates the tea, bringing out more flavour). Here, it’s very strong, but less sweet than the traditional version, and more bitter to boot. After a hulking plate of greasy noodles, though, it is just the thing to wake you from a food coma.
Where: Bang Luck
This little Thai eatery is proudly gluten free so those that can’t eat the stretchy stuff can feast here. The som tum (green papaya salad) is an ideal side to whatever else you’re eating because it’s light and fresh and ultra-clean. Among long ribbons of green papaya you’ll find crunchy peanuts and snake beans, sweet pineapple, wedges of tomato and iceberg lettuce. There are chicken ribs on the side, which add texture. Ask for it vegetarian if that’s your bag, as Thai food usually contains fish in one way or another.
Where: Hong Kong Diner
The prawn dumplings are the best seller at HKD, and there’s a reason for that. Four come in a serve, steamed to order, with a pastry that is fine and soft, encasing crunchy, super-fresh prawns. Pick up some dippers of chilli sauce, black vinegar and soy on your way to your table. It’s the perfect snack to start your meal before you order your bigger plates.
The seafood okonomiyaki is filled with calamari rings, baby octopus, prawns and mussels, made smoky with ‘dancing’ katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and topped with a mayo and a big umami burst of sweet okonomiyaki sauce. It’s comfort food, Japanese-style.
Where: Bar Chinois
Want some fries with your meal? Hit up the shoestring fries from Bar Chinois. They’re dressed with gingery kimchi and topped with melted gruyère. That’s a party right there.
Where: Koi Dessert Bar
On a crisp, buttery almond sable base sits a half-dome of light-as-a-cloud mango mousse, filled with a secret centre of yuzu curd that is sour and citrusy and perfectly balances the sweetness of the mousse. It’s all coated in a neon-green glaze and is surrounded by a wave of tempered dark chocolate that is both unnecessary and totally complementary to the dessert. It’s worth braving the queues for.
Beans are from Marrickville’s the Wood Roaster, who roast over fire so that the beans take on a smoky flavour. The latte we have, despite all that milk, is deep in charred, chocolatey tones, and it’s not like any other coffee we’ve had in Sydney. Alongside a sweet, rich dessert, it’s perfect.
More ace things in Chippo
Sandwiched between Cleveland Street and Broadway and a longtime favourite of the Sydney Uni set, Chippo packs a lot of punch for a little fella. The area has just welcomed mammoth the Central Park development to the old Carlton & United brewery site – Daiso is the most exciting thing for us – and there’s increasingly tonnes of eating, drinking and art-watching to be done: hit up Mission Restaurant and Bar (and gallery!), the always excellent White Rabbit Collection, Café Giulia and Brickfields. And take a moment to remember the late Abercrombie Hotel, home of late nights, fried pizza and, once upon a time, our hearts.