Happy Chef, Sydney

I’ve been in Sydney for nearly two weeks now and have been doing my utmost to sniff out the best Asian eateries in and around Chinatown.

After days of wandering round at lunchtime, I soon learned, by way of queue size, which restaurants were held in high regard by the locals and which to avoid. Along with queue size assessment and some targeted Google-ing, I’d soon compiled a list of five or six restaurants that were a must try, Happy Chef in the Sussex Centre food hall being one of them – the best broths in town, I’d heard. 

Food halls in Chinatown don’t look too dissimilar to those found in U.K shopping centres; rows of cheap plastic chairs and tables encircled by shoebox-sized food outlets, all serving food on the sort of plastic trays school gruel was dolloped upon. Unlike the U.K., you’ll find not a Macca’s or Bessie’s Baked Potatoes in sight, for the food halls here serve as street stalls would down a Bangkok or Kuala Lumpan back alley; a cheap and sociable way of getting good grub. 

I must admit to being a little sceptical upon arrival; the neon backboards awash with pictures of every dish is something that would normally send me packing back in the U.K, rightly or wrongly so, but with over 10% of Sydneysiders being born in Asia or from Asian heritage, along with the fact that I was one of the only Caucasian faces in the entire place, I figured these restaurants must be doing something right. I guess this as close to authentic Asian cooking you can get without hopping on a plane. I stayed. I’m glad I did.  

I’d read online to look no further than No.1 on the menu, the combination noodle soup, and for $9, that’s less than £5, I could not argue, though the picture was hardly the most flattering. 

The guy taking the orders spoke broken English, and upon ordering, simply pointed to his belly and said ‘contains guts.’ This was of course fine with me; I love all things offally and am quite happy to eat ears, feet, guts, snouts and tongues. 

My combination noodle soup took only a couple of minutes to arrive - I could see huge vats of broth simmering out back, so it was just a case of cooking the meat and noodles. 

Well well well! How a clear urine-coloured broth can taste so good I do not know, it was oily yet crisp and incredibly aromatic. I’m finding it hard to describe the unadulterated satisfaction gained from every spoonful of this broth consumed - I suppose it’s kind of the Asian equivalent of drinking a stonking, rich, meaty gravy straight from the jug for a pre-pudding after finishing a Sunday roast, just bloody good.

The combination soup certainly lived up to its name; from prawns and tofu, to slices of pork loin and pig’s liver, to blood jelly and intestinal tract, oh and this weird spongy white thing, which I haven’t a clue from where or which animal it came from, it had the lot.

I’m a huge liver fan, but the slices of off-grey coloured pig’s liver were chewy and tough – boiled liver just isn’t right. The spongy white thing was tasteless as well as confusing. Although disappointing, these hiccups were too minor to negate from the rest of the dish. The tofu was delicious, the prawns were as you'd expect,  but the two stand out proteins were the bloody jelly and intestinal tract, by quite some way.

The intestine had an incredibly rich and meaty taste, far superior to that of the pork loin, and the texture of the blood jelly was unlike one I’ve ever come across – almost melt-in-your-mouth, yet still with structure. The taste was subtle yet superb, I could have happily chomped my way through a noodle soup full of the stuff.

As I’m sure you will have realised, I rate this place; cheap, no frills food that just tastes so so good.

I’ll be back for laksa.

blood 'jelly'

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