Chinese cuisine is a bit of a misnomer; China doesn’t have a single cuisine. There are more than 25 different styles of cooking spread across the country’s 34 regional divisions. Of all those variations there are four particularly famous cuisines: Cantonese (by far the most common in Australia), Sichuan, Shandong and Huaiyang (a cuisine from Jiangsu province). Despite their popularity and renown in China, the latter two are underrepresented in Sydney, restaurants specialising in them are almost non-existent.
That’s probably down to the small population of Chinese from those regions. The Jiangsu people in Sydney know about Lisa Wang’s quaint Burwood restaurant, My Chinese Kitchen. Wang once owned another restaurant in Fairfield by the same name, which served more general Chinese food. She got bored, so she moved to Burwood where the food of her hometown would be appreciated. “The chef is very special in this cuisine. I thought in Fairfield he can’t do whatever he likes. Just Aussie Chinese like sweet-sour pork and Mongolian lamb. Boring, anyone can do it. He’s a very good chef.”
In China the cuisine is famous for being delicate, skilful and focusing on fresh produce and seasonality. Wang calls it flat, a somewhat unflattering way of saying it’s less punchy and more subtle than China’s other cuisines. “Our food is very nice. It's not greasy with lots of oil. We don't use much chili. It's mild. We use lots of fresh ingredients.” Though Wang admits that here, many ingredients aren’t available or aren’t produced to season as she’s used to in Jiangsu. One obvious example is the yellow river eel, which Wang imports from China for a dish of crisp eel fritters reminiscent of whitebait. Other dishes are better quality here, she says, because of Australia’s produce. The most popular is John Liu’s (Wang’s husband) tender and rich pork ribs in a spiced shallot sauce.
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Another well-known feature of the cuisine is the abundance of sugar. Having been a historically rich region in a country where sugar was a luxury, many of the dishes have a vestigial sweetness from a history of showing off wealth. My Chinese Kitchen serves a traditional Huaiyang fried dish of finely sliced, sweet, soy-soaked fish that has less sugar than it would traditionally be made with. “The original one is very sweet. When you taste [it] it’s similar to dessert. It's too sweet for me.”
Wang is from Yangzhou, one of the main cities of Jiangsu. When asked if her hometown has any specialities, she excitedly flips the menu to show off some saucy pork meatballs and the Huang Qiao cake, a filo dumpling made with lard and filled with either red-bean paste or pork floss. “This is very traditional and famous in my hometown,” she says.
My Chinese Kitchen
2/195A Burwood Road, Burwood 2134
(02) 9715 6699
Wed to Mon 11am–3pm, 5pm–10pm