Night Noodle Markets at Hyde Park North, Sydney (11th October 2012)

As spring comes upon us, Sydney kicks off a whole series of annual festivals and for the month of October, the city is all about food with Crave Sydney International Food Festival, presented by Citibank hosting from fine-dining to free events all over Sydney and the NSW region. One of the festival highlights is the Night Noodle Markets where Hyde Park North is turned into an Asian hawker-style market on weeknights from 5pm - 10pm from the 1st - 19th October. Jono and I totally missed out on the Night Noodle Markets last year (was put off by the huge crowd) but were determined to give it a go this time. I have a master plan: to go just when the market opens for the evening in hope to beat the mass of festival-goers. At 5.30pm, there were quite a few diners lining up to buy food or eating their purchases at the public dining areas set up in the park but it was not particularly crowded, a clear sign that my strategy worked :) 

Entering one of the gates into the Night Noodle Markets in Hyde Park North

Lines leading up to food stalls serving Asian cuisine

We started off at the food stalls in section A (there were 4 sections in total), me heading off to buy the food while Jono went to secure us a table nearby. Hmm, what should we have? The Malaysian in me could not help but automatically veer towards the Jackie M Malaysian Cuisine food stall and got got us a Roti Canai (1 piece + meat dip) and Otak-Otak (grilled spicy fish paste in banana leaf) to share. I was given a chit with a number and waited around till my number was called. Service was speedy though looking my order, the servings were rather small (more of an entree serving). I collected the hot food, plastic cutlery and some serviettes then headed in search for Jono at our table. Time to eat! 

At our first food stall Jackie M Malaysian Cuisine to sample their Malaysian food

Roti Canai (1 pc + Meat Dip) ($8.50)

Otak-Otak ($4.50)

Sadly, neither the roti not the otak-otak were very good - the curry that came with the roti was more similar to peanut sauce with a few pieces of chicken in it, and both dishes weren't spicy enough. A rather disappointing start but never mind - there are many more stalls to try!

Jono left me to guard our table and picked up a Mix of 6 Dumplings from Dim Sum Station for $10 - a mixed plate of prawn, chives, vegetarian, mushroom and chicken dim sums. We found the dim sum skin made too thick and didn't have sufficient filling. Some were quite tasty though I didn't like the one with egg as it tasted rather peculiar...

Mix of 6 Dumplings ($10) from Dim Sum Station

As the evening progressed, more and more people arrived at the night market. We witnessed an older Chinese couple who were sitting a few tables away being approached by a security guard - they have managed to sneak in several bottles of beer in their bags. I'm not sure how they managed to get through the bag checks at the entrances to the market in the first place since BYO alcohol is not permitted at the festival. The security guard was nice enough to let the man finish his opened bottle on the spot while the rest of his beers were confiscated.

Still feeling peckish, I went back to the food stalls in section A, this time getting in line at the popular Japancake Okonomiyaki to purchase a Spicy Beef and Cheese Okonomiyaki (cost $12). Frankly, I have no idea what an okonomiyaki was until the friendly Japanese staff behind the counter explained it to me. An okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake made from a layer of batter mixed with cabbage on the top as base, the middle filled with your choice of filling (given the options available, I was told their best-selling was the Spicy Beef and Cheese) and served with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, shredded seaweed and bonito shaving. There was a short 10-minute wait for the pancake to be prepared and cooked. Mmm, the okonomiyaki was by far the yummiest food we've had at the market this evening! At first taste, it was a bit strange - the mix of batter, cooked cabbage, mince, melted cheese combined with the fishiness from the bonito shavings and seaweed - but the flavour does grows on me with subsequent bites. 

Back in the line, this time to check out what Japancake Okonomiyaki has to offer

Spicy beef and cheese okonomiyaki ($12)

I was starting to fill up after finishing my share of the pancake. An Asian family already had their eye on our table and was crowding nearby, eventually asking us if we could share the table. Sure, we were almost done anyway so cleared the table and within seconds, our seats were snapped up. Gee, some serious competition for tables here! 

We did a full lap of the market checking out what else was on offer - more food stalls and dining areas, several bars and live entertainment including a roaming troupe of Chinese lions. The ever-popular Mamak stall has a very long queue (yes, even here in the markets!), most other stalls now have hungry patrons gathered around 4-5 rows deep and there were hardly any available seats at tables in the dining areas. I'm SO glad we decided to come early to beat the crowd! :)

Open air dining area in Hyde Park

The ever-popular Mamak - even the food stall at the market has such a long queue!

Witness amazing roti tossing skills at Mamak Village's stall

Jono and I agreed to get one more savoury item before looking for dessert and opted for the Steamed Pork Belly Bun from New Shanghai. Ever since dining at Momofuku Seiobo, steamed pork belly bun has become my new favourite Chinese dish (surprisingly, I never liked it growing up in Malaysia). "You think New Shanghai's will be as good as the one from Momofuku?" teased Jono. I highly doubt it but I'm still keen to try them! We joined in the queue and got us 2 buns for $9 which was served in a fast food burger box. Eek, the warm buns were totally sticking to the cardboard...The New Shanghai buns were delicious but nothing beats the mouth-watering ones from Momofuku - just thinking about it makes me drool!

Kitchen staff at New Shanghai busily making dumplings

Steamed Pork Belly Bun ($9)

To top it all off, we got ourselves Caramel and Chocolate Pancakes from Mini Pancakes (cost $10) and took our plate of mini pancake puffs drizzled with caramel + chocolate sauce and dusted with icing sugar into the Citibank VIP area which has its own dining area and bar for use exclusively by Citibank customers. All we had to do was flash our Citibank card and we were given wristbands and welcomed in. Ooo, this is nice - no need to compete with others for a table or even sharing one, and the fairy lights illuminating the place makes it a welcoming alfresco dining area. Definitely made me feel like a VIP :) We got ourselves a Coopers Pale Ale and Rekorderling Pear Cider for $16.50 from the bar - mmm, pear cider, delicious and refreshing. Yum!

Caramel and Chocolate Pancakes ($10) from Mini Pancakes

Reserved seating and a dedicated bar in the VIP area for Citibank customers only

As night falls, Hyde Park North was buzzing - sounds from the live entertainment mixed in with the clanking of ladles on woks and excited festival-goers chatting away happily as they drank and dined. No doubt popular with people of all ages, even families with young children. And because everything is served entree size, you can sample a wide variety of food from the various Asian cuisine offered. It may have the Asian hawker-style food market setting, however, as most dishes cost an average of $10, dining at the Night Noodle Markets can make your night out a rather expensive one (we spent almost $70 tonight). Make sure you carry sufficient cash with you (the food stalls take cash only) else you will have to join in the long line to withdraw cash from the ATM machines available on site.


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