Words by Henry Mason Photography by Lisa Ruth
Sydney’s Chinatown, a bustling and colourful corner of the city, is like a treasure chest of surprises waiting to be explored.
The vibrant streets are lined with tantalising aromas, colourful lanterns, and the promise of adventure. But it’s not just a place for adults to savour the flavours of Asia; it’s also a haven for my two little lady explorers – a 7 year old daughter and a lively toddler, seeking fun and excitement. So, we grab our chopsticks and get ready for a day of laughter, dumplings, and surprises.
Upon entering Chinatown, we’re immediately greeted by a sea of red lanterns that seem to defy gravity. They hang from above, like a magical canopy, and whisper stories of the Orient. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘Step inside, young adventurers, and let the fun begin.’ And so, we do.
As we meander through the lively streets, the kid’s eyes grow as wide as saucers, filled with wonder and anticipation. Chinatown’s narrow alleys are like mazes leading to hidden gems, and children love a good mystery. We discover a fabulous toy store that has it all, from classic kites to the latest gadgets. The toys on display are so enticing that even the grown–ups can’t resist. Who can say no to a remote controlled dragon?
Of course, one of the greatest pleasures of Chinatown is the food. For us, Chinese food is tasty and fun but for the kids, the culinary delights are nothing short of an adventure (PSST! Don’t forget fortune cookies – kids adore them and they make for great family fun and laughs – I’m still waiting to meet a “Tall Dark Stranger on a train”. Moreover my wife would like to meet her).
Beyond the main drag, we discover distinct pockets of Asian cuisine. Strolling around Pitt and Goulburn Streets, we find ourselves in the heart of little Thaitown, where the air is filled with the fragrant scents of Thai delicacies. And if we wander over to Pitt and Liverpool Streets, we find Koreatown, a hub of Korean culinary delights. Sussex St is known as Little Indonesia.
Not sure where to begin our gastronomic journey? When it comes to old school Chinese cuisine, The Eight’s Yum Cha is already a local legend, and Emperor’s Garden is renowned. However, we found ourselves at a favourite dumpling house, and the kiddos can’t contain their excitement. My eldest takes her dumpling order very seriously, even arguing with Dad over who gets the last prawn dumpling. It’s a hilarious sight to behold as this tiny food critic debates the merits of each dumpling as if it were a matter of life and death. ‘More soy sauce and chilli, please, Dad!’ becomes the battle cry of the day.
But Chinatown isn’t just about food; it’s about the quirky and colourful shops that line the streets. We stumble upon a store filled with lucky bamboo plants, trinkets, and curiosities. I convince the kids that these bamboo plants are magical and can grant wishes. (No doubt creating future psychic trauma.) My eldest picks out her own lucky bamboo and whispers her secret desires, giggling she does so. ‘I wish for a pet dragon!’ she exclaims, causing us to burst into laughter. Subtle.
As we continue to explore, we’re serenaded by the enthusiastic cries of street performers. One musician plays an exotic Asian string instrument, and there’s even a music festival flanking Darling Harbour this evening. The place is buzzing. Suddenly, we hear the thud of drums and clashing cymbals. Dragon dancers! Kids love the dancers in a dragon costume and my 7 year old prances around behind them, much to the amusement of passersby. Who knew that Chinatown would bring out the little performer in her? It’s a delightful spectacle that fills the streets with excitement and adds an exotic touch of colour.
After our delightful culinary journey, we decide to head to the nearby Chinese Garden of Friendship, a tranquil oasis located near Darling Harbour. This beautiful garden offers a serene escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. As we meander along its winding paths, my toddler and I can’t help but marvel at the elegant koi fish gliding through serene ponds and explore the hidden gems of Chinese culture.
But the real fun for the kids begins behind Chinatown, where water fountains invite playful splashes and laughter. These fountains have been a beloved attraction for families for ages, providing a refreshing oasis on hot days. We also find amusement here, adding to the excitement.
In the end, our day in Sydney’s Chinatown is an adventure filled with laughter, scrumptious dumplings, and exotic surprises. As we leave the area, my children are clutching their lucky bamboo plants and waving goodbye to the red lanterns that welcomed us. Chinatown works its magic, leaving us with memories of an unforgettable day filled with joy and, of course, the hope for pet dragons. Chinatown is not just for grown ups who like food, it’s a funky precinct where anything is possible, and that’s what makes it such a special place for families and children to visit.
Five fast facts about Chinatown & families
Historical Haven: Sydney’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in the world, with a history dating back to the 19th century when Chinese immigrants settled in the area. It’s not just a place to eat; it’s a living museum of rich cultural history.
Foodie Paradise: Chinatown offers a culinary journey through Asia, with restaurants serving dishes from China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and more. For families, it’s an opportunity to explore diverse flavours and introduce kids to new cuisines.
Lively Festivals: Throughout the year, Chinatown hosts vibrant festivals, including the Chinese New Year celebrations. The streets come alive with parades, performances, and dragon dances, providing endless entertainment for families. Psst! Don’t forget the vibrant Night Markets.
Hidden Treasures: The narrow alleyways and quirky shops in Chinatown hide countless treasures waiting to be discovered. You’ll find unique souvenirs, trinkets, and curiosities that make for great keepsakes or gifts for the little ones.
Family–Friendly Fun: Chinatown is a family–friendly destination with something for everyone. Whether it’s exploring the bustling streets, the fun fair behind Chinatown, indulging in delectable food, or participating in impromptu dragon dances, it’s a place where kids and adults alike can let loose and have a blast.