With each successive wave of migrants come new ideas, new wealth, and new food. Little attention had been given to the cuisine of Yunnan province in China, but as Sydney continues to swell with cashed-up migrants looking for familiar dishes in cool hangouts they now have a haven in the form of Two Sticks. Clad in a saffron hue, the exposed beams remind me of the insides of a rib cage as I take refuge from the ever-crowded George Street. From our time in the queue to our seat by the kitchen, there’s no denying that it’s busy and bustling with the frantic pace of waiters struggling to meet the orders of a full house, ironing out unforeseen kinks before the full menu is made available.
Before long, my entrée of Yunnan Signature Fries had come before me. Chunky, crinkle-cut, stock standard fries (as if from a frozen McCain’s packet) were seasoned and stir-fried in a Yunnan-style special sauce. You don’t eat this for the potatoes, they’re merely vessels for the mildly numbing chilli peppers that dance on the tip of the tongue while fermented black beans mask the sensation of limp lukewarm fries.
Looking like Hainan chicken dressed in chilli and fried spring onions, the dish was curiously named Two Flavour White Cut Chicken. Tasting cool to the touch, it became an addictive delight of spiciness matched up with the icy whisper of poached chicken. Salty and sweet. Nutty and herby. The interplay of Szechuan peppers, coriander, peanuts and ginger serves as a reminder of what summer is – a struggle between hot and cold. Eating this was akin to sunbaking on the beach and then taking it to the waves of refreshing seawater.
Every region has a dish they can proudly boast about and Yunnan is no different with their Crossing the Bridge Noodles known here as the Yunnan Signature Rice Noodle Soup. Served in a comically sized spherical clay pot with a platter of beef, chicken, bean curd sheets, chives, bean sprouts, pickled vegetables, quail eggs, chilli, shallots, coriander and rice noodles. A veritable grocery list for some, it’s not as daunting once everything is thrown into the pot, slowly cooked by the steaming broth. Taking a spoonful from this soupy roulette and you’ll be comforted by its hearty stock that’s neither chicken nor pork (but both!). Traces of spices, pockets of zest, punctuated by the spaghetti-like slippery rice noodles, it’s a symbol of home for those who truly miss it. For others, it’s an acquired taste, especially if you’re not used to the coarse and firm bean curd sheets cut into thin strands of noodles.
For dessert, my partner opted for the Soybean-Flour Rice Ball, typically a powdery flavourless glutinous rice ball. But what separates this from mochi balls is its warmth and the roasted soybean-flour that it’s dusted in, lending it a crushed peanut-like flavour. Smear a ball with a bit of brown sugar sauce and it becomes a familiar and yet foreign treat. It’s rich without being decadent.
I like Two Sticks. I like that it doesn’t pretend to have a soul – it is simply good food in a comfy setting, done fast. It’s a summation of what we all know what chopsticks to be. A place that accurately marks where China is today – serving up the past in a funky interior. Does that sound like such a bad thing?
~ Jambon Cochon