Standing in a supermarket in Eastwood, I am trying to fold a dumpling, competing against 10 other people. The judge is Martin Che Chung Young, who has deftly demonstrated how to do it. His are so good, says his daughter Susan Young, that when he announces he’s making them at home the whole family drops what they’re doing to gather for the feast.
Sadly, mine looks very little like Martin’s. Most of the others look pretty ordinary too but Martin kindly declares a winner.
Martin and Susan are our guides on a Hong Kong street food tour of Eastwood. Taste Cultural Food Tours started in Bankstown in 2010, organised by the Benevolent Society to make cultural connections through food, build community pride and create jobs. Now 20 tours cover 15 suburbs across Sydney, and profits help fund local projects such as community cooking classes and training for new migrants. The program has been so successful, it has just become a separate social enterprise business.
The tours are led by people familiar with each area. Chinese-born Martin came to Australia as a student and has lived in or near Eastwood for 40 years. This bustling suburb of Ryde is packed with Chinese and Korean businesses, and anyone visiting for the first time might be bewildered by the vast number of eating options.
As we eat, Martin and Susan share family stories. Susan passes around photos of her and her siblings in 1976, on their first trip to Hong Kong when they first tasted the street food. Susan was eight and still remembers her dad buying siu mai from a vendor, how delicious they were.
We finish up on the other side of the train line at Hong Kong Recipe, hidden in a non-descript neon-lit mall. It’s a typical Hong Kong restaurant, Martin says: very noisy. Despite consuming so much food along the way, everyone tucks into lunch, including ma po tofu and king prawns in egg sauce. We hear more family stories, how Martin first saw Susan’s mum working at a famous Chinatown restaurant and nightclub in Sydney.
The adventure ends with a round of Hong-Kong-style coffee tea – an innovative combination of the two that doesn’t taste as bad as it sounds – and the fresh, flaky custard tarts Martin bought at the bakery earlier. They are familiar to us, but their quality comes from local knowledge.
Finally, it’s time to disperse. We will probably never see each other again, but we will remember this couple of hours, sharing food, stories and competitive dumpling construction.
Taste Cultural Food Tours cost from $95, see tastetours.com.au or call 0417 206 323. Bookings made before July 26 receive a 20 per cent discount.