This growth has been built in three waves and over two decades, according to Hurstville Councillor, Nancy Liu. The first wave came when former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, granted residency for 20,000 Chinese students in Australia following the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. Hurstville’s affordable rents, busy train line and proximity to Sydney and Wollongong university campuses were a lure for these new students.
Nancy says the 1997 British handover of Hong Kong to China provided the second influx of migrants drawn to Hurstville’s property prices and a vibrant local Chinese community. “And I’m part of the third wave, from early 2000, of skilled Chinese migrants,” says Nancy, who arrived in 2000 from China’s Hebei province near Beijing.
A local ritual for many residents is yum cha at Sunny Harbour Seafood Restaurant. One of the largest in Sydney, it spans three floors and seats more than 750. Owner, Sunny Cheng, came to Australia 25 years ago as a 17-year-old to study English. He stopped studies after just three months when his money ran out and started working two jobs. “In the morning, I’d work at the Sydney Fish Markets and, at night, in a Chinatown restaurant,” Sunny recalls. Over a period of four-and-a-half years, he learnt their trade. Today, he owns a fish shop and two restaurants in Hurstville (his first restaurant on Forest Road, Sunny BBQ Restaurant, is still going strong). Hailing from Chiu Chao (Teo Chew in Cantonese) in China’s south, Sunny says their cuisine is deceptively flavoursome. “It’s plain but tasty,” he explains.
As an only child, Aaron Mi’s parents wanted him to be independent, so in 1989 when Aaron was 22 years old, they sent him off to Australia to study – a long way from the family home in Shanghai. “When I came to Australia I had no friends, no relatives,” Aaron recalls. He desperately missed food from home. “Back then, I couldn’t even cook fried rice. I had to call my mother in China to ask. Phone calls were very expensive then, about three dollars a minute!” In 2006, when Aaron opened the first Taste of Shanghai branch in Ashfield, a suburb known as ‘Sydney’s little Shanghai’, it became an instant hit, helping to fuel the locals’ love for Chinese dumplings. Aaron says the more recent Hurstville branch was a no-brainer. In fewer than 12 months, Taste of Shanghai has become one of the suburb’s most popular eateries.
Tony Zong of Chilli Garden restaurant came to Australia in 2000, and he’s brought out a well-known chef from Sichuan province to bring contemporary and authentic Chinese to Sydney. “Sichuan is now very popular in China with the young generation,” says Tony. “Our food uses a lot of chilli and Sichuan pepper.” While the restaurant’s decor is upmarket, Tony reckons his key to success is keeping prices affordable. “The money must be right,” he asserts.
“When I first arrived in Hurstville, most people spoke Cantonese; now it’s about fifty-fifty with Mandarin,” calculates Nancy, who has lived in Hurstville since her first day in Australia. She says she loves living in Australia’s most Chinese suburb. “You get authentic food from different regions of China: Cantonese, Shanghainese, Sichuan and more,” she explains. “And there’s always plenty of combinations and variety.”
Photography Alan Benson
As seen in Feast magazine, February 2014, Issue 28. For more recipes and articles, pick up a copy of this month's Feast magazine or check out our great subscriptions offers here.