Thursday, June 26, 2014

Scoop Magazine, Autumn 2013

photo: Jenny Susanto-Lee

Chinese Whispers

It’s no secret that Perth’s dining scene is bursting its britches at the moment, and with that comes lots and lots of choice.  Where to begin? Chinese restaurants in particular are a veritable minefield: it could take years trying to sort the succulent Peking duck from the same ol’, same ol’ fried rice.

If you have a particular penchant for authentic Chinese food, follow the Asian community to Northbridge. According to a popular food website (oh alright, we’re talking about Urbanspoon), the three highest rating Chinese restaurants cite Northbridge as their physical address. The top end of William Street buzzes at all hours of the day and night with a plethora of Chinese supermarkets, restaurants and people. Duck into The Red Teapot or Shanghai Tea Garden for inexpensive, fair-dinkum Chinese fare that is worlds away from the Westernised lemon chicken or beef in black bean sauce.

Northbridge is also home to a Chinese institution – yum cha. Seriously, if you haven’t experienced yum cha during a weekend lunchtime rush hour, then you haven’t really experienced Asian dining. Small, enticing plates of fried and steamed yumminess are ferried about from table to table via trolleys, all washed down with oceans of Chinese tea (not booze, people!). It’s fast, noisy and delicious. You eat until you’re bursting, eat a bit more, and then stagger out the door. Your table will be filled in a flash. The best places to go in Northbridge for a true yum cha experience, complete with queues and ticket-taking, are on Francis Street (Dragon Palace, Joy Garden, Xintiandi), Roe Street (Regal on Roe, Northbridge Chinese) or James Street (New Moon, Golden Century, Oriental Inn).

But please, don’t just limit yourself to inner city eating out. If you cast your net wider, there are fab Chinese restaurants sprinkled all over the place. The pearl in Fremantle’s crown for Chinese cuisine is Joy Kitchen, while Aquarium Seafood Chinese in Ascot is a multi-award winner. Good One BBQ, Ten Ten and Chi are the go-to Chinese restaurants on the Vic Park strip, and Chin’s Noodle House in Leeming are best loved among locals for their Peking duck. In the north, Wing Soon is a family fave in Morley and Gold Garden Seafood BBQ in Balcatta packs them in for yum cha in the burbs. For ‘best quality’, you can’t go past the spanking new Silks at Crown Casino.

Most Chinese restaurants in Australia serve Cantonese food – that is, cuisine from southern China. Here’s why: during the 80s and 90s, when the transfer of Hong Kong sovereignty between the United Kingdom and China became imminent, there was a mass exodus of a million Hong Kong Cantonese. The residents were concerned about what living under Chinese rule would mean for them, and fled to the UK, the US and – yes – Australia. These days, Cantonese wonton noodles and shark fin soup are an integral part of the English vocab.

So once you’ve found your perfect Chinese eatery, what on earth do you order when you get there? Most if not all restaurants with have even a middling reputation for a signature dish or two that regulars return again and again for (and, they hope, rave to their friends about). Rich, crispy-skinned Peking duck is top of the Chinese food chain. Served as one, two or three duck dishes, courses generally include pancakes, soup and san choi bao (minced duck served in iceberg lettuce leaves). Good Fortune Roast Duck House in Northbridge gets our tick. Deep fried squid tentacles are also very popular, as are char siu bao (soft, steamed buns filled with saucy barbecued pork) and Shanghai dumplings (thinly wrapped parcels bursting with soup and minced meat). For awesome handmade dumplings with a northern Chinese take, try Mom Dumpling House in Victoria Park. There are so many choices in Perth that you’ll be eating out for a month of Sundays – at least for yum cha, anyway.