Photo Of The Day: A Sunburst From Australia’s Blue Mountains

VernsPics, Flickr

Just outside of Sydney, Australia‘s city limits are the Blue Mountains. The region has gorgeous plateaus and cliffs that are covered in lush greenery that seem as though they have never been touched. Flickr user VernsPics slept in a cave and rose with the sun to get this unbelievable sunrise peeking through the clouds.

If you have a great travel shot, submit it to our Gadling Flickr Pool and it too can be chosen as our Photo of the Day.

Photo Of The Day: Blue Mountains

blue mountains

The Blue Mountains of New South Wales are characterized by deep gorges and tree cover that appears from a distance to be bathed in a blue haze. The Three Sisters, a formation of three rock towers, are one of the region’s highlights. Today’s Photo of the Day depicts Meehni, the tallest of the Three Sisters.

Today’s Photo of the Day was taken by Flickr user verargulla, whose work has been previously featured on this very page. Want to see your images chosen not just once but multiple times as Photo of the Day at Gadling? Then upload your photos to Flickr’s Gadling Group Pool – that’s the only way to make it happen. And don’t be shy. Our tastes are quite broad.

Sydney’s Chinatown means cheap eats, Australian seafood, famous noodles

“NOOOOOOOO!”

That’s the sound of me, arriving at Chinese Noodle Restaurant (Shop 7, 8 Quay St.), in Sydney’s Chinatown/Haymarket district. Two years I’d waited, eight thousand miles I’d traveled, to feast upon my beloved #4 pork noodle combo. Instead I found the following handwritten sign:

“Dear Customers, We will be closed…for kitchen renovation. We apologize for any inconvienience” The restaurant was scheduled to re-open the day after I returned home. What the hell was I going to do?

The answer, it turned out, was drown my sorrows in roti and cendol (an addictive concoction of coconut milk, palm sugar, and rice flour jelly) at Mamak, a newish, affordable Malaysian restaurant down the street. And it was good. So good, I returned three times in as many days. As the song goes, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

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As for my #4 obsession, allow me to explain why a plate of spicy, saucy ground pork atop dense, chewy noodles keeps me awake nights (I have issues, I know). These aren’t just any noodles. Chinese Noodle Restaurant specializes in hand-pulled wheat noodles from the northwestern Xinjiang province. Owner/chef Cin (like Cher, he goes by one name) hails from the region, and each day, he can be observed in the tiny kitchen, working his magic with ropey lengths of dough.

I don’t know about post-remodel, but in the seven years that I’ve been eating at CNR, the small, dingy dining room didn’t have much else in the way of decor, aside from some plastic grapevines–the kind you see in cheap Italian joints–festooning the walls. Because that totally makes sense in a Chinese restaurant. Anyway, it didn’t matter, because it’s all about Cin’s food. It’s not just me: one friend, a business traveler, is manic about getting her pork dumplings en route to and from the airport, and another, a chef from Port Macquarie up north, also hits the dumplings whenever he’s in town.

While CNR obviously has a cult following, there is something to be said for an open relationship. I’ve often referred to Haymarket as the “Disneyland of Chinatowns,” because of its wide, clean streets, tidy shops, and orderly throngs of locals and tourists. Sussex St. is the main thoroughfare, but the compact district has dozens of great markets, food court stalls, and restaurants to choose from. I lived in the Bay Area for many years, and while San Francisco’s Chinatown is a must-visit tourist attraction, it’s not where you’ll get the best Asian food (that would be the Richmond district), and the heaving crowds are off-putting. Oakland’s Chinatown has some fantastic Vietnamese holes-in-the-wall, but it’s seriously lacking in atmosphere. And other Chinatowns across the planet–New York, Vancouver, Honolulu, Buenos Aires–all are fascinating in their own right, but to me, Sydney trumps them all.

It’s not just the close proximity to Sydney’s CBD, and many other city attractions like the Opera House and Harbour Bridge (both a 15 minute walk away), because San Francisco can rival that. And it’s merely a bonus that Haymarket has a lot of hostels (“backpackers”), some of them excellent and geared toward a more diverse demographic than the college crowd. FYI, Haymarket really comes alive at night, so it’s nice to have digs nearby, even if you opt for one of the high-end hotels in the CBD.

Aside from how pleasant it is to just wander the streets without being trampled or skidding out on a giant phlegm glob or errant puddle of urine, it’s the seafood that makes Sydney’s Chinatown special. Australia is famed for its indigenous flora and fauna, and that applies to seafood, as well. Australians and visitors alike prize sweet, meaty, mud crabs from Queensland, blue swimmer and spanner crabs, Moreton and Balmain “bugs” (slipper lobsters), freshwater crayfish like yabbies and marron, mild Sydney Rock oysters, King George whiting from South Australia, wild and farmed barramundi, farmed abalone and Australian salmon.

As an aside, if you visit the Sydney Fish Market in nearby Pyrmont, browsing the stalls can be likened to a jewelry store (if, like me, you prefer crustaceans to carats). Rows of brilliant, gem-colored catch glitter under the lights: sapphire-hued crabs, tiny, emerald-striped pipis (mollusks), ruby Coral Trout dotted with neon blue, psychedelically-splotched parrot fish. Over 100 species and 50 tons of seafood are auctioned and sold every day at the world’s second largest seafood market (next to Tokyo’s Tsukiji). There’s also a cooking school and tours of the auction floor and sashimi pavilion–something I highly recommend.

Back in Chinatown, Golden Century (393-399 Sussex St.) is the place for excellent, Hong Kong-style seafood, like salt-and-pepper squid and braised abalone. You select your dinner from the many tanks lining the front windows. Be prepared for your waiter to bring still-wriggling sea creatures to the table for your approval before dispatching them to the kitchen (I hope PETA isn’t reading this). This is the place to indulge in some first-rate Australian seafood, if you can spare the cash. Golden Century is also open until 4am, and a popular late night chef’s hang, should you have a drunken craving for congee and some local color in the wee hours.

Speaking of local color, the infamous B.B.Q. King (18 Goulburn St.) is a post-shift tradition for many of Sydney’s chefs and cooks. It’s also the ultimate drunken, post-clubbing/bar-trawling restaurant (open until 1am-ish, which might mean 3am), where plates of fried rice and roasted and barbecued duck and pork are cheap and plentiful. It’s located next to a porn shop, and the irony of the hanging carcasses and sides of meat in the restaurant windows never fails to amuse me. It’s an utter pit, the waiters are beyond surly, and the food is mediocre. Yet, I adore it. It’s one of those places that should only be patronized whilst ripped to the gills, but it’s a great little slice of late-night Sydney.

For cheap, no-frills, snacking, there’s Mother Chu’s Taiwanese Gourmet (86/88 Dixon St.). This family-owned restaurant is at the lower end of the Dixon St. pedestrian mall. It’s all about the outrageously delicious, made-to-order scallion pancakes, which are about a buck fifty a pop. I’ve never had luck with the entrees, but it’s popular with noodle soup and congee-loving locals. The staff are wonderful; you can watch women rolling out dough and stuffing dumplings. They’re not above giving you a bit of sass, either, so take some time to chat with them.

For higher end yum cha (dim sum, but the term technically refers to the full experience of drinking tea while dining on it), I loved the Regal. In June, it merged with Marigold (883/689 George St.), which I’ve consistently heard is very good.

You’ll find an array of more spendy, touristy restaurants along the mall (as well as annoying hawkers trying to lure you with menus). Save your dollars and instead head to Dixon House Food Court (corner of Dixon and Little Hay Streets.) or the Sussex Centre Food Court (401 Sussex St.). You’ll find the usual suspects in both: greasy steam-table Chinese noodle and rice dishes, but also tasty street food items, hot pot, Korean, and Malaysian food. In Dixon, try the pressed-to-order sugar cane juice, and bubble tea/Asian dessert stall.

Thai Kee Supermarket (399 Sussex St.) is great for any Asian ingredient you might desire (think canned and dried goods for souvenirs), as well as snacks like delightfully squishy rice and mung-bean sweets. Paddy’s Market is of historic importance, in that it’s been a Haymarket landmark for 150 years. Unfortunately, its current incarnation is a jam-packed, cacophonous multi-story mall/produce/household goods/souvenir market. If you feel the urge to purchase a fake Akubra hat or tacky t-shirt, this is the spot.

Whatever your budget, Haymarket is a vibrant distillation of the many Asian immigrant cultures that have made Australia their home, and for that alone, it’s worth a visit. I’ll see you at the noodle joint.

Win a surf vacation to Byron Bay, Australia

Have you ever wanted to visit Australia? How about learn to surf? If you said yes to either one, or both, of those questions, then we’ve got just the contest for you. Tourism New South Wales is sponsoring a contest in which one lucky winner, and their guest, will be whisked off to Australia for five days of fun and sun on the lovely beaches of Byron Bay. Once there, they’ll learn how to surf and go kayaking with dolphins, while enjoying the famous Aussie hospitality.

To enter the contest, simply click here and fill out the form, which includes a short survey with a couple of travel related questions. From there, you’ll sit back and wait for the contest to end on November 30th. If you’re picked as the winner, you’ll get round trip airfare from Los Angeles to Brisbane courtesy of V Australia, five nights stay at the luxurious Byron at Byron Resort, surfing lessons from Mojo Surf, and much more.

But if you’re not lucky enough to win the contest, you may just want to take a trip to Byron Bay anyway. After all, it is one of the best beach destinations around. To plan and book your own Australian adventure, check out Springboard Vacations where you’ll find a host of options for visiting Oz. For example, their Ultimate Spa Package includes 10 days of pampering at some of the best resorts down under, while their Learn to Surf Package gives you everything you need for a six day aquatic adventure, including two free surf lessons and a bike tour of Sydney.

Between the sweepstakes and these great package deals, you don’t have any excuse to not visit Byron Bay soon.

Round-the-world: Sydney’s sustainable design shops

Increasingly, small independent shops are creating new aesthetics to pair up appropriately with eco-friendly and otherwise sustainable product and wares. Sydney boasts several boutiques that are in one or another way ahead of the global curve. Following are three shops, all opened within the past year or so, that merge sustainability, upcycling, and even a sense of community with retail purpose. These shops sell mostly portable objects. They are thus ideal places for visitor to Sydney to find gifts as well as usable household items.

Shelf/Life, a home furnishings store at 50 Reservoir Street in Surry Hills, is full of gorgeous little items yet somehow feels spacious and delicately filled. Opened in December 2009 by Jess Yee, Shelf/Life (see a photo of the after hours storefront above) focuses on strong design and craft both ethical and well-made. Standouts include letterpress greetings cards, fair trade crafts, handbags, recyclable polypropylene cups by Melbourne’s KeepCup, and handmade candles by Sydney’s own Gascoigne & King.

I Ran the Wrong Way, also in Surry Hills (at 378 Cleveland Street) takes a folksier approach. Opened last year by Melinda Tually, the shop’s tiny space is crammed with beautiful eco-friendly and fair trade items, like strikingly bold Cambodian fish feed bags that have been transformed via creative upcycling into laptop bags. Also of note is the shop’s jewelry collection, which is drawn from local and overseas sources both. Tually is an enthusiastically green-minded sort. Check out her shop’s impressive “eco creds” here.

A Coffee and A Yarn
at 413 King Street in Newtown is another fantastic shop. A Coffee and A Yarn is exactly what is sounds like: a yarn shop that doubles as a café. The shop combines the current revivalism of the craft of knitting with an appealing and very social coffeehouse setting. During my visit, owner Ellie Teunissen led me through her yarns with beaming enthusiasm, pointing out several of Australian provenance. The icing on the cake? “We wanted to do a very good job with the coffee.” Mission accomplished.

Check out other posts in the Capricorn Route series here.