My favourite Sydney festival is on at the moment – the Sydney International food Festival! Seriously can you think of a better festival?
- No overpriced ticket
- No standing in line for hours to get into VIP areas only to then have your view restricted by the overly large heads that are in front of you
- No standing in the sun all day
- Great food
- Great wine
- You can leave, and come back
- Your ears don’t ring for days
- There is a greater variety of activities/eating opportunities
- And most importantly – clean port-a-loos!
My favourite part of the festival is the Noodle Markets, which are running at the moment through the middle of the week in Hyde Park. What’s involved is all of Sydney’s best Asian restaurants (it has to be mentioned some of it’s not so good) put on a stall and sell their specialty – whether that it is Dim Sum, Spring Rolls, Peking Duck or noodles. The fifty odd medieval style tents sprawl through Hyde Park emitting delicious smells throughout the whole city centre. I find myself absently meandering towards them even when I have a perfectly good dinner waiting for me at home – who can resist a noodle market?
However, as I sit under the trees (which have multi coloured spot lights shone onto them in order to give them a ghostly eerie look – what happened to good old-fashioned fairy lights?) gorging on my third duck pancake I can’t help but feel it’s missing the mark.
In review its most definitely not the food that’s letting the team down (that’s spectacular!!) – it’s the atmosphere. It’s a weak attempt to generate the excitement that could be had at a real noodle market.
My first complaint was with the lighting. On my first trip to South East Asia I took at least half a role (this was before I had upgraded to digital – and as I haven’t yet scanned any of my analogue pictures I can’t supply the evidence) of pictures of the extreme wiring. I needed evidence for people back home, who wouldn’t comprehend nearly a hundred wires crisscrossing across the street with lanterns hanging off of them. One of my favourite markets is in Ho Chi Minh (aka Saigon), where bustling streets are lit with the soft light of fluorescent once it has shone through paper-mache. Now I am not saying that the city of Sydney should have branched out and created an obvious fire hazard, but I am sure it would have been possible to have more lines of lanterns and fairy lights flowing across the green other than the token few that lined the entrance.
My next point of order was with the entertainment. It was a strange mix of different themes that may have blended well if they weren’t all done at half-mast. First, the stage, where a strange noise was erupting from, to quote my Irish friend “Oh God what is that… is she doing the Mariah Arms?” – it wasn’t pleasant or soothing, it was grating and, even I (tone-deaf and with no sense of rhythm) could hear that the performer was missing and loosing half of the notes. What was worse was that this performer was followed by a guy with a guitar who morosely sang into the microphone only to be drowned out by the crowds that were now swarming in front of the food stands – he may as well not have been there. As I stared at the stage I had a flash back to the food markets in Chang Rai on the northern Thai border. At the time I was staying above a pub in a room that was costing no more than $2 a night on a mattress that had some very suspicious look stains (a sleeping sheet is the one thing I wont travel without!). Obviously I didn’t want to hang in my room all night and the pub downstairs was a little too loud and glary for the peace and quiet my body was craving. Instead I trundled over to the night markets, it was early so I was able to get a good table and pile my plates with a sample of everything. As I sat there the night slowly got darker and crowds start appearing. Unlike most markets it’s not dominated by the tourist crowd, this was somewhere the locals come to have a fun family night out as well – in fact in the square there are only a few other tourists dotted around. Whole families would pull together tables, sitting around laughing while eating the biggest BBQ fish I have ever seen, or dropping noodles and meat into a sizzling pot that is reminisce of Macbeth’s witches. Then, almost a hush, falls over the crowd as the stage at the front of the room lights up, I turn with everyone else towards the bright dazzling lights, chicken skewer still in hand. Out walks a transvestite clad in more sequins than you would see in a 1950’s Vegas cancan! Her head is framed with giant yellow feathers, which move and dance as though they were a natural appendage. As she begins to sing and dance the whole room is in a thrall. After she finishes her two songs a cabaret style act comes out and the whole crowd bellows its applause – I look around and watch people eagerly stuffy food into their mouths and chat away with part of their attention always focused on the stage ahead. This is what dinner entertainment should be – enthralling enough that a part of your mind is always drawn to it, but not so all-consuming that you forget the delicious food in front of you.
I actually breathed a great sigh of relief when the sounds of giant symbols and drums drowned out the stage music. I turned towards the sound expecting to be able to easily spot the dragon that should be dancing in the wake of the drums. It took me a good ten minutes to spot the dragon! It fell well below disappointment… it wasn’t a full dragon – it was a head and a tail, with no body. I know I shouldn’t compare but when faced with such a pathetic excuse for a dragon I was instantly reminded of Chinese New Year in Chang Mai (North Thailand again) where every few seconds the crowd would part to let through one of three brightly coloured dragons. When the dragons would meet each other through the fray of bodies an intricate dance would take place pushing the swelling crowd out of the way for a few moments before they would separate and once again be lost. Considering how much space was in the designated park I do feel that they could have at least added in a few more legs to their dragon.
This was also the first Noodle Market that I have been to where I didn’t have the option of placing my feet in a giant tank of water with little fish who delight in eating the dead skin from the soles. To make this a truly authentic experience there need to be a few stalls selling items such as slogan T-Shirts or porcelain bowls – and most importantly the fish!
I know I may be asking a bit much in my complaints of the atmosphere but I feel that with such an excellent array of food that lifting up these somewhat smaller and insignificant details will expand the whole experience. There is the potential here to really heighten the enjoyment of eating the amazing food with a great atmosphere.
If you disagree/agree with me please let me know your thoughts?