I scheduled my first visit to the noodle markets for a Monday. The forecast predicted a thunderstorm, but the day began sunnily enough. By lunchtime, clouds had begun to gather, but coupled with the bright sunshine and the warmth of the day they failed to look remotely threatening.
Evening came and the storm had still failed to materialise. Alexa and I arrived in Hyde Park armed with an umbrella and the determination of those who were not to be cheated out of their noodles and dumplings by a little bit of rain.
We began by perusing the wide variety of stalls, which were divided into four groups spread around the north end of the park. Much of the space in between was filled with seating, a large proportion in themed areas dedicated to various sponsors of the event. Elaborate decorations created a festive atmosphere. Fairy lights and paper lanterns abounded, but really the heavy, humid air did a better job of creating the atmosphere of a South East Asian street market than the décor.
We whet our appetite with pork dumplings from Din Tai Fung, served with little sachets of soy sauce and vinegar and bursting with delicious salty broth when bitten. By the time we had finished them the weather had stepped it up a notch – Centrepoint Tower, standing sentinel over the whole scene, was now highlighted against a dramatic backdrop of roiling storm clouds. We decided to split up to cover more ground – Alexa queued for dim sum, spring rolls and barbecue pork buns at one stall while I waited for our Pad Siew to be cooked to order at another. It was as I waited, umbrella-less (we only had one between two), that I felt the first heavy drops of rain burst on my head.
In the ensuing cloudburst I managed to hand over my now-sodden ticket and collect my noodles, before running for cover under our (rather wonky) umbrella. By this point, though the rain eased after only a few minutes, the majority of patrons had taken cover – most under Hyde Park’s spreading trees, but the occasional hardy group sat crouched under the tables spread around the grass.
We ate our yum cha, taking turns to hold the umbrella, and were just starting on the noodles when the skies really opened. We ran through the deluge, attempting to shelter ourselves and, more importantly, our food under our now woefully inadequate umbrella. Along with at least a hundred others we took cover in St James station to finish our Pad Siew, before retiring to Max Brenner in the gleaming halls of Westfield for a restorative White Chocolate Chai.
The Night Noodle Markets have been a mainstay of Sydney’s Good Food Month celebrations since 1998, taking place every October and showcasing a variety of Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, and Japanese food. Though the food is not as cheap as the hawker-style set-up would have you believe, it does cover some of Sydney’s best – dining-scene heavyweights such as Longrain, Din Tai Fung and Melbourne’s Wonderbao are all represented. Dessert is included, with stalls from Gelato Messina and Serendipity ice-cream, and even salted caramel gyoza with ice-cream at Harajuku Gyoza. Drinks are available, but frighteningly overpriced.
Given the not-so-pleasant end to my first visit to the noodle markets, I decided to return (though I didn’t feel I could drag Alexa along again, after our previous rain-soaked, though amusing, fiasco). For my second visit I made sure to choose an evening with a fine forecast.
Ben and I arrived at the markets only to be faced with impenetrable crowds and enormous queues at almost every stall. Sydney’s food lovers had clearly been scared off by the weather on my previous visit, but now they were out in force.
I was keen to try the delicious-sounding buns from Wonderbao, but the length of the queue was enough to put me off. We settled for Vietnamese pancakes and chicken curry with noodles, which were certainly nice, but not world-beating. I saw some delicious-looking pork skewers walking past in the hand of a happily snacking patron. I would have loved to try one, but couldn’t work out which of the many stalls they had come from. In this way, the markets were a bit of a lucky dip – it was difficult to find specific dishes, you just had to go with what you came across if you didn’t want to spend hours searching.
The noodle markets are certainly a fun evening out, if you bring someone to talk to while standing in the queues and can put up with the lack of tables on a busy night. The quasi-Asian vibe is not enough to cover up the essential Sydney-ness of this enterprise – where else but Australia can you stand in a park in the middle of a city eating the food of such a huge range of cultures from clean, orderly stalls in the (usually) dry heat of a spring evening?
My advice? Go when it’s raining. That way you’ll avoid the queues.