I’ve had the same conversation many times after I finished my class. It goes a bit like this:
“You’re going to Xi Bei Noodle? Again?” asks my friend.
“Yep,” I reply.
“You really never get tired of it. It’s like your canteen now.”
If you love food, especially Chinese food, or even if you’re just curious, please sit back and let me tell you about my favourite restaurant around campus. It’s close by, on Broadway, and just opposite Victoria Park.
Historical dishes, but fresh to me
Rice with spicy tofu
This is just the name on the menu — it’s actually the famous Mapo Tofu, from the Sichuan province, with a history of more than 160 years. “Mapo” means “pockmark woman”. It is said that she’s the creator of this recipe, but sadly we don’t know her name. I’m a meat lover, so I had never been a fan of tofu until I had it in Xi Bei Noodle — I love that they cook tofu with sliced meat. What I like most is that the salty taste of Doubanjiang, or bean sauce, is strong enough to not be covered by the spicy taste, adding an extra layer to the dish. This dish is perfect for having with rice, since the sauce has a rich and slightly spicy taste. I always mix the rice and the sauce a bit, and then I finish them all together. In my childhood, sometimes my grandma would cook Doubanjiang with minced vegetables, so that I could have more rice, and perhaps grow up quicker.
Minced pork noodle soup
Again, the English name on the menu is underselling the real meal. The Chinese name of it contains “Qi Shan” which is where the recipe is from, and “Sao Zi” refers to diced meat. There’s an ancient tale that traces the origin of the dish to thousands of years ago when a king of the Zhou Dynasty led his people to kill an evil dragon and cooked it with soup. It tastes sour and a little spicy, and it’s a great choice to give you some warmth on a cold night. Before trying it at Xi Bei Noodle, I had never tried it before. It sounds strange to taste your country’s food for the first time in another country, but it happened!
Recalling the taste of my home
Flat/round noodle in combination sauce
This noodle is a combination of many things. But to me, it has a strong taste of Zhenjiang vinegar. It may not be that strong, but I can easily recognise it, as Zhenjiang is my hometown. When I walked into the restaurant for the first time, the first thing I noticed was the bottles of Zhenjiang vinegar put on the table, and that was the moment I knew I would like this restaurant. I guess the difference between this type of vinegar and others is that it is less acidic but has a softer and unique mellow taste. Every time I have a taste of instant noodle that I think is a bit plain, I’ll just add a bit of my vinegar. This dish also changed my opinion on flat noodles. They seemed a bit plain for me, but when having this dish, the broad noodles fill you up with each bite.
Rice with chicken in cumin & chilli; Fish fillet & pickle cabbage noodle soup
These two dishes together remind me of a restaurant in my hometown that I usually go to with my parents. They only cook fish with pickles, but outside their entrance, there would always be a man selling kebabs. We would always order a large fish with pickles, get tons of kebabs outside, and enjoy an evening with both, to the point that our mouths would be asking for more food while our stomachs said don’t (not recommended).
Not a fan of spicy food? My grandma is also not
Stir-fried noodle with chicken
This dish reminds me of my grandma’s cooking, probably because it is not spicy but sweet instead. My grandma likes to cook dishes that have a lighter taste, a bit sweet, like autumn, like falling over into a bed made of maple leaves.
In Australia, I always try to find a Chinese restaurant near campus, and just stick to it. Luckily, I have found one here in Sydney. They come to feel like home — they have dishes that you like, they have the comfort of rice or noodles, they have the same people that you can have a chat with. Having the food from my hometown is always the best cure to my homesickness. During COVID-19, many of the good small restaurants shut down, but some of them have reopened afterwards. I wish they stay open always, as my canteen, as part of my memory of home.