Because of its proximity to Asia, Australia is known for some of the best Asian cuisine, especially in large cities such as Sydney and Melbourne.
While in Sydney, I wanted to try some Asian cuisine that I don’t normally find back home in the Bay Area. So I enlisted my foodie friend Rui, whom I met online after he discovered my food videos. (That’s one of the pleasant benefits of doing a food blog – I meet readers from all over the world!)
Rui, who was born in the Sichuan province of China but moved to Sydney at 10, took me to one of his favorite Sichuan restaurants in the city’s Chinatown, known as the Haymarket district. Shancheng Hotpot King, like many restaurants in Chinatown, is hidden inside a business complex or food court.
It calls itself “hotpot king” because it serves the popular hot pot where diners throw raw ingredients like meats and vegetables into a pot of broth to cook. While all the tables at Shancheng were setup for the hot pots, I wasn’t in the mood to cook my own lunch, so Rui and I ordered a few dishes from the menu.
I left the ordering to Rui, and he recommended a couple of traditional and popular Sichuan dishes, and I ordered some of my favorites, which were pickled cucumbers and noodle soup (which is technically not a Sichuan dish, but the restaurant serves several dishes from other regions, including a few Japanese dishes).
A popular appetizer in Sichuan is pig ears that are cooked tender and sliced thinly. Unfortunately, the version at Shancheng was leathery and chewy. Rui was worried this would be a bad omen for the rest of our lunch, thinking that maybe the owners or chefs had changed, but we were relieved when the big dish of spicy cucumbers came to the table. They were delightfully balanced with vinegar and sugar and just the right amount of chili.
Side note: Sichuan is known for its spicy food (it’s the home of the Sichuan peppercorns), but Rui didn’t want me to be overwhelmed, so he ordered medium spice for all our dishes, which was just right for me.
Traditional Tripe Dish
We feasted on another traditional Sichuan dish called fu chi fei pian, which literally translates to mean “husband and wife beef tripe.” This is a spicy beef and tripe dish, where the beef and tripe are thinly sliced and served at room temperature with julienne strips of spring onion, sesame seed and, of course, chili.
The tripe was so tender that I could hardly tell when I was eating the beef and when I was eating the tripe. And the flavor of the marinade gave the dish a balanced seasoning that was not overly salty. Rui says Shancheng’s version is so good, he thinks it’s better than the ones he’s eaten in Sichuan.
I wanted to get some noodles, and we ordered our one non-Sichuan dish, a Shanghai-style minced pork noodle bowl, which was a large bowl for one order with long noodles to boot. I loved everything in the bowl, from the perfectly cooked noodles to the rich broth to the colorful mix of pork and green vegetables.
The Last Bite
Despite the poor start with the pig ears, the rest of our meal at Shancheng Hotpot King was stellar – a well played balance between spice and soy that didn’t overwhelm the ingredients. I feel like an expert in Sichuan cooking that now I might take the spice level up a notch the next time I order!
Rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
Shancheng Hot Pot King, 8a/363 Sussex St., Haymarket, Sydney. PH: +61(02)9267-6366. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. www.shancheng.com.au
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