When the Chinese celebrate the New Year, is not just a day or two off work, it’s a festival full of ancient traditions that spawns at least two weeks. The Chinese calendar follows the cycles of the moon which is why the Chinese New Year is also known as Lunar New Year. Sydney is blessed to have the largest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of mainland China. We headed down to Chinatown to find out what the fuss was all about.
We started off at the launch of the Chinese New Year, which centred on a weekend-long day and night market in Belmore Park. We were astounded at the circus of lights, colours, noises and smells that we encountered. At twilight, the park was lit up with traditional red Chinese lanterns and a large central piece that was a snake made out of bowls, rice steamers and ceramic spoons. It was all very aesthetic and tactile – well suited for the Year of the Snake. There was something for everyone: a big tent with workshops showing children how to fold paper animals, including a snake that moved; traditional Chinese products and red paper lanterns abounded; food and martial arts live demonstrations; and, later,a karaoke competition and a DJ-powered dance floor pumping out Asian Hip Hop.
The variety of food at the night market was amazing, with long queues for some of the stalls. In particular the Red Chilli Sichuan played host to the longest, thickest queue. We decided to come back later and try it, but the queue was just as long and thick. I made a mental note to try that food another time. When you see Chinese people queuing for Chinese food, you know it’s got to be good. We then headed up to Dixon Street to check out the range of restaurants from an all you can eat buffet to formal table-clothed restaurant meals.
We chose a restaurant just around the corner on Goulburn St, which had a long, but fast moving, queue to recommend it. Mamak, a Malaysian roti restaurant, was well worth the wait for traditional roti. Following dinner, we joined yet another but much smaller queue for some amazing little freshly cooked hot Chinese doughnuts with custard fillings - aptly called Emperors puffs - from a little hole in the wall at the Paddies Markets end of Dixon St. At 30 cents each you can’t go wrong (but try letting them cool a little before tucking in). Queuing for restaurants is very common in Europe and apparently Asia, but Australian’s are not accustomed to it. It was refreshing for me, after years of overseas travel, to know a little patience would lead to a damn good feed. Our only regret was for having not queued for the Red Chilli Sichuan.
The launch of the Chinese New Year was just an appetiser. The two-hour long Twilight parade last Sunday (February 17) already attracted more than 100,000 people and proved to be one of the highlights of the Chinese New Year but there still is more to come this weekend:
- Don’t miss the thrilling competition of the flamboyantly decorated Dragon Boat Races at Cockle Bay. A family favorite and free event, held this weekend Saturday 23 - Sunday 24 February, 8am - 5pm, at Darling Harbour.
- On Saturday (23 February) check out the free exhibition of contemporary Asian Australian Artists at the Sydney Town Hall.
- Sydney’s restaurants are serving up delicious Lunar Feasts throughout Chinese New Year - just look for the queue. Or join a Chinese Tea appreciation workshop and Yum Cha.
- Discover the fascinating history, myths, stories and tales of Sydney’s Chinatown on a Chinatown Historical Tour on Saturday 23 February.
- Get up close and learn more about snakes during a snake keeper talk at Taronga Zoo (free with zoo entry). Or join a Mandarin speaking Guided Walk, Saturday 23 February and Sunday 24 February, at 11am and 1pm.
- The Powerhouse Museum has Chinese language tours and story reading for children and families all weekend.
For more information on the many events visit www.sydneychinesenewyear.com/