Updated Jan 9, 2023
If you’ve never tried Chinese street food before, it can be a bit… intimidating. Not only are there so many options to choose from, but it’s also difficult to know which ones are the most delicious 😛
Thankfully, a few legends on the Local Sauce Tours team have lived in China and are very familiar with Sydney’s Chinatown. So, we’ve put together a top 10 list to help you discover some of the best snacks around! You can also try some of them on our Chinatown – Street Food & Stories tour while learning about Chinatown’s history and public art.
The most important thing you need to know is that China has four major food regions. The North (e.g. Beijing) is known for its salty and heavy flavours to combat the colder seasons. Meanwhile, the South (e.g. Hong Kong) is known for its sweet and light flavours, which are more suitable for warmer climates. Eastern cities (e.g. Nanjing and Shanghai) are known for sweet food as well, but with a creative flair. Finally, Western regions (e.g. Shaanxi and Xinjiang) are famous for their hot and spicy tastes.
Hungry yet? Get ready to travel all over China to try street food from every region. Here’s our top 10 list of must-try Chinese street foods in Sydney’s Chinatown!
10 must-try Chinese street foods in Sydney’s Chinatown
We’ve listed the foods in the best order to sample them, so you can follow this route. Please note, most restaurants in Chinatown now accept credit and debit cards, but some are still cash only, so it will help if you bring some.
#1. Curry fish balls – Kowloon Cafe
What you’re ordering: Curry fish balls | AUD$6.80 for 6
The first stop is Kowloon Cafe which is down a small arcade (also home to our next food stop). This neon-filled restaurant feels like it’s straight out of the streets of Hong Kong and serves up a mean menu of fusion or modern Cantonese food. It’s normally buzzing with customers so get there when they open at 11:30 am if you can (especially on a weekend). Today we have our eyes on the curry fish balls.
Curry fish balls are a classic Hong Kong street food snack that’s savoury and satisfying. This dish is generously coated in a luscious curry powder sauce which is full of flavour, but not spicy. Hong Kong-style curry sauce normally features soy and hoisin sauce, which gives it a yummy umami flavour. Just don’t ask us what fish they use!
#2. Youtiao rice burrito with pork floss – Mother Chu’s Taiwanese Gourmet
What you’re ordering: Glutinous rice roll with pork floss | AUD$6.00
In operation for three decades, Mother Chu’s Taiwanese Gourmet is one of Chinatown’s most loved and renowned establishments. It’s right across the arcade from Kowloon Cafe, so you can’t miss it. While it may appear unassuming, the menu and flavours are anything but. Also Alan, the owner, is just a gem. He’s a young guy who took over the business from his family while still in his 20s. He can often be found talking to guests but does sometimes get pulled into the kitchen when they’re short-staffed.
If you’ve never had youtiao, you’re in for a real treat. Imagine a crisp and fragrant foot-long fried dough stick. Made fresh each morning, we reckon Mother Chu’s has the best youtiao in Sydney. After being sprinkled with pork floss and wrapped in warm rice, you have a seriously delicious Taiwanese snack on your hands. There is also a vegetarian option if you don’t want to eat pork floss. If you want something to wash it down, we also highly recommend Mother Chu’s freshly made doujiang (soy milk).
#3. Soup dumplings – Nanjing Dumpling
What you’re ordering: Steamed crab and pork dumplings | AUD$13.00 for 6
Next, we’re heading to Eastern China to feast on some snacks with creative flair. Located on the corner of Dixon Street and Little Hay Street you’ll find Nanjing Dumpling. Pop in to the front counter to order your dumplings, and if you’re lucky, you might even see the aunties making fresh dumplings in the window while you’re waiting. Now, when you’re ordering, don’t get distracted by all of the dumpling options on the menu. While all of them are delicious (trust us, we’ve tried them), the star of the show is the steamed crab and pork dumplings. If they aren’t in stock, the regular pork dumplings are the next best option.
Served in the traditional Nanjing style, these dumplings are filled with a spoonful of soup and juicy meat, then delicately wrapped and steamed for your enjoyment. If you’ve never had soup dumplings before, don’t eat it all in one go. First, bite a small hole to sip the delicious soup and allow it to cool. If you’re feeling fancy, try dipping it in vinegar or soy sauce. Then, gobble it down! We recommend using a spoon and napkins for these manoeuvres.
#4. Lamb skewers – 小时候 In 1980’s
What you’re ordering: Lamb skewers (yángròu chuàn/羊肉串) | Price for 8 – approx $11
Our next restaurant has a bit of a confusing name: 小时候 In 1980’s. “小时候” literally means “when we were young”, and upon entering this restaurant, you’ll get a hit of nostalgia, with posters of Chinese pop stars from the 1980s adorning the walls. Located on Dixon Street near the north-facing Chinatown gate, this hole in the wall restaurant serves the best skewers in all of Chinatown. Anyone who’s been to China can recall the enticing scent of skewers being cooked over a BBQ by street hawkers. While there are lots of options to choose from (vegetarian ones as well), we recommend the lamb skewers.
Served in packs of eight, each skewer comes with a few chunks of tender meat covered in fragrant sichuan spices. Skewers originate from China’s most North-Western province, Xinjiang, which is known for strong and spicy flavours. However, this popular street food has spread all over the country with variations depending on the region. 小时候 In 1980’s lamb skewers take on the traditional Xinjiang flavours, so order as many as you want – but go easy on the spiciness level, they don’t hold back!
#5. Mango purple rice yoghurt – Milk Flower
What you’re ordering: Signature Mango Purple Rice Yoghurt | AUD$6.50
If you’re feeling a bit hot and sweaty after your skewers, Milk Flower across the street has just what you need. The Signature Mango Purple Rice Yoghurt is the perfect way to cool down after your skewers. Serving up sweet and light Hong Kong flavours, Milkflower’s menu is full of refreshing drinks and teas. They’re most famous for their mango yoghurt drink, which is what we’re trying today, but with a bit of a twist.
This drink is unique because in addition to mango and yoghurt, it’s also filled with nutritious and chewy purple rice. Made famous by Yomie’s Rice x Yogurt, purple rice is a healthy source of antioxidants, protein and iron. Milk Flower has combined the best of both worlds into one filling, refreshing drink. Served cold and slightly sweet, this drink is a perfect mid-day refresher. And since it’s healthy, you can’t feel guilty!
#6. Crispy Chicken Cutlet – Two Peck Crispy Chicken
What you’re ordering: Crispy Chicken Cutlet | AUD$11.50
Further up Dixon St is one of Taiwan’s most popular street food exports, “Ji Pai”, or crispy chicken cutlets. Two Peck Crispy Chicken started in Taipei but has had a Sydney Chinatown outlet for several years now, as well as a few other locations around Sydney. Ji Pai translates closely to “chicken steak” so get ready to chow down!
According to their website, a Two Peck Chicken Cutlet is freshly made with a weight of 330 grams, thickness of 1 cm and length of 15cm. Holding it, it has a good weight and is a sizeable chunk of meat! You receive it in a paper bag so you can eat it on the go, or you can grab one of their tables out front. Choose from a range of flavours which will be added to your chicken cutlet, including salt & pepper, chicken salt, plum, cumin powder and spicy. We love the spicy option, but again, you may want to go easy on the spice level!
#7. Chinese pork burger – Xi’an Cuisine
What you’re ordering: Pork pita bread (ròu jiā mó/肉夹馍) | AUD$5.50 – there’s little/no English on the menu here so just show them the characters if you’re unsure!
Xi’an Cuisine is a local favourite amongst the Asian student community and serves up some of the most authentic dishes from the central Shaanxi region. There isn’t a huge amount of English on the menu, but don’t let that stop you because you HAVE to try the Chinese pork burger (also known as ròu jiā mó). It’s one of their signature dishes and one of our personal favourites.
Just as it sounds, this dish is a chunk of marinated pulled pork slapped between two pita bread halves. If you choose the to-go option, it’s served in a foil-lined pouch to catch all of the juices. The Chinese pork burger is exceptionally rich, savoury and filling. We recommend taking a few extra napkins for a quick cleanup afterwards.
#8. Egg pancake – Tian Jin Bao Zi Pu 天津包子铺
What you’re ordering: Traditional egg pancake (chuántong jiānbing/传统煎饼) | AUD$8.80 – there’s little/no English on the menu here so just show them the characters if you’re unsure!
There’s nothing quite like waking up to the smell of savoury egg pancakes in the morning. Right next to Xi’an Cuisine you’ll find another unassuming establishment, Tian Jin Bao Zi Pu 天津包子铺. Serving up traditional Northeastern Chinese cuisine, their traditional egg pancake is a staple of any Beijingers’ breakfast. It’s crispy, filling and you can choose your preferred level of spice.
Akin to a savoury crepe, Chinese egg pancakes are one of the most popular Chinese breakfast foods. Street hawkers in China make them right in front of you, spreading the pastry with eggs, green onion, sesame seeds, herbs and hoisin sauce before placing a fresh youtiao inside (see #2 youtiao rice burrito with pork floss) and wrapping it all up. Tian Jin Bao Zi Pu’s traditional egg pancake doesn’t come with youtiao, but you can add a variety of other ingredients to your liking!
#9. Custard puffs – Emperor’s Garden Cafe & Bakery
What you’re ordering: Emperor’s puff | AUD$4.00 for 7
A flagship street snack, we couldn’t leave out Chinatown’s famous custard puffs. If you walk through Dixon Street on any given day, chances are you’ll see a line of people queued up outside Emperor’s Garden Cafe & Bakery, and for good reason. Their custard puffs, trademarked “Emperor’s Puffs”, are warm, comforting and delicious.
Filled with slightly sweet yellow custard, the cake balls are served in a little to-go bag. They’re served hot and fresh so watch out for that first bite! Once they’ve cooled a bit, pop one in your mouth and get ready for a creamy custard explosion. These addictive puffs are a must-try when visiting Chinatown – although be prepared to queue!
#10. Mango and ice cream egg waffle – Hong Kong Day Dessert
What you’re ordering: Mango, Vanilla ice-cream & eggetts hand roll | AUD$13.30
This list wouldn’t be complete without a cold dessert, so let’s finish off with a delicious Hong Kong treat! Eggetts (or egg waffles) are popular Cantonese desserts, not only for their insta-worthy appearance and taste, but also because they’re easy to eat on-the-go. On hot and humid days, an ice cream eggett is all you need to cool you down and keep you going.
Hong Kong Day Dessert has a few options, so feel free to choose one you like, but we definitely recommend the mango, vanilla ice-cream & eggetts hand roll. Using a traditional recipe of local fresh eggs, flour, milk and all-natural ingredients, the eggetts come out with a beautiful golden yellow colour and cake-like texture. They’re then folded into a cone shape and filled with vanilla ice cream, chunks of mango and mango-flavoured syrup. Couldn’t imagine a better way to end a fun, food-filled day!
The best street food in Sydney’s Chinatown
We hope you enjoy our list of top 10 must-try street foods in Chinatown and it encourages you to get out there and try them! These snacks are some of our personal favourites without breaking the bank and give you a huge range of flavours to choose from.
If you want to learn more, we run a Chinatown – Street Food & Stories tour where guests get to try a few of these snacks and learn about Chinatown’s history and art. Let us know if you read this and join us! Happy eating 😋
About Local Sauce Tours
Local Sauce Tours offers Sydney’s “funnest” small-group experiences, bringing together locals and visitors to make friends and discover the city from a different perspective. Launched in 2018, walking tours explore vibrant inner-city pockets including Chinatown, Surry Hills, Newtown and Pyrmont, along with an annual calendar of special events and exclusive dining experiences. Passionate and entertaining guides host groups of up to 12 guests on tours that blend foodie experiences with stories of the city’s history, culture, nightlife and street art. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to stay in the loop.