Definition of Cheap Eats: A meal that costs $10 or under in the local currency without a sacrifice in quality or flavor.
Address: 3/76 Ultimo Rd, Haymarket NSW 2000, Australia
Recommendation: Any of their Donburi bowls
Notes: Kura is a little slice of home to those who emigrate from Japan to Australia. On the corner of Ultimo and Thomas, one of many gateways into Chinatown, this tiny joint only fits 8-10 people comfortably at a time. Run and owned by a small group of Japanese cooks and hostesses with a loyal customer base, this is as authentic as it gets without being in Japan. You may see English on the menu, but it’s certainly not the main language spoken here. What’s more, the food is affordable, cheap even. For lunch, I ordered a donburi bowl with chicken and egg over rice. A simple, understated dish, but not lacking in flavor, quality, or protein. Everything in the bowl meshed well together and seemed to melt on the way down. The meal left me with a full tummy, but I still wanted more. A mark of a quality meal.
Market City – Website (click on food court to see options)
Address: 9-13 Hay St, Haymarket NSW 2000, Australia
Notes: It’s safe to say that I lived in Market City for the duration of my stay in Sydney. At 9am, when stores started to open, I’d pop in for a smoothie from New Zealand Natural or bubble tea at Easy Way. For lunch or dinner, I’d make my round through the food court to see what sounded good. Vietnamese? Chinese? Korean? Indian? It was hard to choose, but I did eat at least one meal in Market City every day. I quickly learned that the Chinese food tasted the freshest during the lunch hour, and just by observing, the lone Indian stand was not very popular compared to the ramen shop next door. Though the food is not remarkable or comparable to the street food of S.E. Asia, it was cheap ($10 AUD and under). My favorite dish was the Bún bò Huế from the Vietnamese stand. When the weather cooled down in the evening, such a spicy soup really hit the spot. For being cheap, tasty, and not inducing a gag response or upset stomach, Market City always had me coming back for more.
Underground Food Courts
In America, food courts have a reputation of being low quality, but that’s not the case in Australia. The underground food courts of high end department stores, like David Jones and Myer, are of equal quality and price as restaurants above ground. From Mexican to Asian, crepes to cupcakes, and pizza to kebabs, the eclectic palette of food available is well-suited for Sydney’s diverse population. Underground food courts really are a “hidden gem” because visitors might not think to look there for a decent meal, and if it weren’t for my friend, Hannah, I wouldn’t have known either. Seek refuge in an underground food court during the summer for a comfortable stomach refueling. The red velvet cupcake in the photo above can be found at a concession stand in the basement of Myer for $3.
Foodie Friday Market at The Rocks – Website
Address: Jack Mundey Place, Playfair Street, The Rocks, Sydney, NSW 2000
Recommendation: Okonomiyaki (Hero Sushi stand) or Chicken Tikka Masala Wrap (I forget the name, but it’s right next to sushi stand)
Notes: On Fridays, take the free shuttle bus (555) that runs up and down George St. towards Circular Quay. You’ll know when to get off when you see the white tents lining the side streets of Jack Mundey Place, and you won’t have to walk far to find food. Japanese, paella, kebabs, mini cupcakes, and wraps/sandwiches, whatever you’re craving, there’s something to satiate it. Admittedly, some of the foods are a bit heavy for the summer season, but still delectable. My recommendations are okonomiyaki and/or dumplings from the Hero Sushi stand or a chicken tikka masala wrap from the stand next door. If you get the okonomiyaki, split it with a friend because the portion size is huge. The best part about finding lunch at the market is that you can sit and eat by the harbor then go enjoy some time at the Museum of Contemporary Art nearby (free admission).
Address: 696 George St, Haymarket, NSW
Recommendation: Chicken Laksa
Notes: My first night in Sydney, I took an evening stroll within the borders of Chinatown and immediately thought it should be renamed Asiatown. If you’ve traveled extensively throughout Asia, you could’ve mistaken the place for the streets of Beijing, Hanoi, Osaka, Bangkok, or Penang. Penang Kitchen was one of the first restaurants I passed, and given what little exposure I’ve had to Malaysian food, I made a note to come back and try it. In the middle of the afternoon when crowds were scarce, I was greeted by a mother and son duo who smiled and escorted me upstairs to the dining area. The son handed me a menu, but I already knew what I wanted. I saw it on Anthony Bourdain’s special in Penang: chicken laksa. A near neon orange soup came my way, topped carefully with green onions, shredded carrots, and been sprouts. I didn’t have to eat it to know how delicious it was going to be. First, the temperature warned my lips I was in for a spicy roller coaster. With my first sip, my tastebuds were on fire and my sinuses immediately cleared up. It was fantastic. The head chef is from Penang, and while I can’t say the same about the ingredients, they were so fresh and tasty, it didn’t matter.
Bill’s – Website
Address: 359 Crown Street, Surry Hills NSW
Recommendation: Ricotta pancakes with bananas and honeycomb syrup
Notes: Located in Sydney’s bohemian, hipster neighborhood, known as Surry Hills, is the restaurant home to the city’s breakfast guru, Bill Granger. The reason why I listed Bill’s as a bonus is because it’s on the pricier side compared to all the restaurants and food courts I’ve mentioned above, but I recommend treating yourself to a nice breakfast at this place. It’s best to go early in the morning when it opens to avoid rush hour crowds. Bill’s is a casual sit down restaurant, clean, modern, and has friendly staff.
See also: Favorite Cheap Eats: Brisbane Edition