AUSSIE CHINATOWN: STORIES, SNACKS + SECRETS WITH JUSTIN STEELE
Justin Steele, the owner and operator of Local Sauce tours, has a special connection with Sydney's Chinatown or otherwise known affectionately to him as Aussie Chinatown, full of 'Stories, Snacks and Secrets'.
It's no secret that Justin's various tours around Sydney are full of stories and snacks. And, local drinks. A former lawyer turned tour guide, Justin is just a guy that really enjoys connecting with people from all walks of life. He is a natural communicator who is captivating, can entertain any audience with local stories and trivial facts in a fun and educational way. Coupled with snacks and drinks, you start to forget you're on a tour and next thing you know you're just hanging with ol' mate Justin. True story and that was exactly what happened when another CBMP reporter was on Justin's Secret Bar Crawl tour.
It was a warm and sunny Sunday morning, and we all gathered around Justin for his version of Sydney's Chinatown tour.
I was the only international student of Chinese background on the tour and was super excited to see what it was like to go on a tour about China in Australia. I was also looking forward to tasting all the Chinese food mentioned on his website.
China is very vast and I have not been to every place, and Chinatown in Sydney is like a small China. A gathering of food and culture from different regions of China all in the one spot here in Sydney. What I did not know at the time but tasting these Chinese delicacies in a foreign country brought back a lot of memories for me.
Our journey began with a White Rabbit 大白兔奶糖. It is kind of a like a milk candy. Justin made sure everyone tried a White Rabbit!
White Rabbit is almost everyone's childhood memory in China. It is a very famous candy in China. It can be found in most supermarkets in China and even in Chinese grocers in Australia. From my memory, there must be a plate on the table especially for this candy at every festival or banquet.
The taste of White Rabbit has the same taste from my memory. Full of milky taste in the mouth. After tasting the candy, Justin officially started the Chinatown food tour, and I was looking forward to tasting Chinese food in a foreign country.
Our first destination was a tree next to Chinatown. This tree called is called The Golden Water Mouth 金水口.
I thought it was just an ordinary art installation, decoration or just a tree, but it actually represents the concept of Feng Shui 风水. The meaning of the name means, praying for a steady stream of wealth for the region.
This is the first time I have seen something related to Feng Shui abroad. Feng Shui, sometimes called Chinese geomancy, is an ancient Chinese traditional practice which claims to use energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment.
In China, some families will follow this tradition to decorate their new homes, whether it is the orientation of furniture or the orientation of windows and doors.
For example, in my hometown, I have heard that the mirror cannot be facing the bed otherwise it will bring bad luck. But not every families will follow Feng Shui.
On our next stop, we went to the first food destination. Hidden in an indoor alleyway, we tasted Curry Fish Balls 咖喱鱼蛋. Justin bought lots for everyone to taste.
I actually don’t know much about this dish. It is a street food from Hong Kong. Although I have been to Hong Kong several times, I've never tasted local street food in Hong Kong. I didn’t expect to be able to taste it here, it made me really happy to learn and taste something new.
After tasting the delicious curry fish balls, we headed off to another restaurant in Chinatown.
At Nanjing Dumpling 小金陵, we tried the Steamed Hot and Spicy Chicken 口水鸡 and Steamed Pork Dumplings 汤包.
I was pleasantly surprised that this Nanjing restaurant had Steamed Hot and Spicy Chicken 口水鸡 because it is a kind of food that originated in Sichuan and has spread to different parts of China. Its Chinese name '口水鸡' is composed of 口水 which is translated as saliva and 鸡 which means chicken. Pulling those translations together can be understood as delicious chicken that makes people drool after eating and not to be misunderstood as the saliva of chicken. This also happens to be the origin of its Chinese name. The dish is made from a large amount of Sichuan peppercorns. If you have had Sichuan peppercorns before then you will know that when you bite into it, it will make your mouth feel numb and as a side effect make you involuntarily drool.
Drooling in a good way of course.
Steamed Pork Dumplings 汤包 are a type of Baozi 包子. Its Chinese name consists of 汤 meaning soup and 包子 meaning Baozi/Dumpling. It actually refers to the soup in the dumplings. As a traditional Chinese food, Baozi are consumed for breakfast. It was also one of my childhood breakfasts that I ate every day before going to school. Tasting Baozi on Justin's tour certainly brought back my childhood memories and I wondered what he had in store for us next.
Our next destination was 小时候 and here we tasted Chuan 串儿.
Chuan is one of the traditional street foods in China, commonly found on the streets of various night markets. It usually consists of many different meats or vegetables strung together, much like BBQ skewers.
With the differences in different seasons and regions. There are too many kinds of Chuan. This is a delicacy that you can taste no matter where you are in China, and this food also reminded me of another kind of food, that is known as Chuan Chuan Xiang 串串香.
Chuan Chuan Xiang is a delicacy that originated in Chengdu, Sichuan. In fact, this way of cooking Chuan Chuan Xiang is also another form of hot pot, so we often call it little hot pot. It can be quite spicy!
When I eat Chuan, I always start thinking of my motherland and start missing this delicacy. If I go back to China during the university holidays, the first thing I will do is to eat Chuan Chuan Xiang.
Justin ended the tour with our final destination, Xi'an Cuisine 西安小吃.
Here we got to taste a food that most Chinese people have eaten, known affectionately as 肉夹馍 Roujiamo/Rougamo. The structure of Roujiamo 肉夹馍 is similar to a hamburger in Western countries.
There is a joke amongst international expatriates in China who can't pronounce Roujiamo and instead they refer to it as 'Roger Moore.' It does the trick with the local Chinese street food vendors and hole in the wall restaurants. If you ever travel to China, give it a try. Moore, 'Roger Moore'.
Roujiamo originated in China's Shaanxi province, where Xi'an is also located. As the capital of ancient China, Xi'an has a long history. Several dynasties in history established their capitals in Xi'an, such as the Qin Dynasty 秦朝 2228 years ago and the world-famous Terracotta Soldiers 兵马俑 was built in this dynasty.
Sinking my teeth into this scrumptious Roujiamo 肉夹馍 reminded me of my trip to Xi'an to see the Terracotta Soldiers and of course, tasting the Roujiamo there. Such a delightful memory.
Justin's Aussie Chinatown tour was very satisfying. It allowed me to taste foods I have never eaten before such as the curry fish balls. His tour brought back my fond memories of China and growing up as a child.
There are still so many delicacies in China that I haven't eaten yet. And, Justin's tour and his enthusiasm for Chinese stories and snacks makes me want to adventure to different Chinese cities to taste the local cuisine and street food.
There is no secret about that ;)
For more information on Justin's Local Sauce Tours visit: www.localsaucetours.com.au @localsaucetours
Written and photographed by Tianyi Li, who is an international student from China in his 3rd year studying a Bachelor of Design in Photography at UTS. Although he did not study on campus in the first two years due to the COVID19 pandemic and border lockdown, he was yearning for campus life to produce works that he would be satisfied with in constant experimentation and learning. When the borders opened in 2022, Tianyi finally got to start his university life in Sydney.
Hear about Justin Steel's experience as a White Chinese Tour Guy-de on Captain Bagrat’s Podcast Episode 59:
🎧 Spotify: http://ow.ly/VlWf30q07Nm
🍎 Podcasts: http://ow.ly/XVVa30q07P6
🔊Available on all major platforms ⚡️Google Podcasts⚡️ Anchor FM ⚡️Overcast ⚡️ Himalaya