Eating Cheaply (and Well!) in Sydney

While Australia was a little hard on our wallets, Sydney (surprisingly) was not so bad. It’s a great place to go for budget travellers. Due to the size of the city, there is fierce competition between restaurants, hostels, internet cafes, etc. We ate very well the entire time we were there, and never spent more than $10 per person per meal- sometimes only $5. An obvious choice for cheap eats (and cheap internet, cheap haircuts, cheap anything) is Chinatown. It can be a little touristy, but just venture beyond the main drag and you’ll find more authentic restaurants. From George Street, turn left onto Ultimo Road and left again onto Thomas Street. The whole next block is lined with restaurants, and near the end of the block on the right-hand side there is a food centre- like a shopping mall but filled with cheap restaurants. Many of them specialize in homemade noodles or dumplings. It’s not just Chinese over here, either; you can find Korean, Indonesian, and more.

For inexpensive Middle Eastern food, head to Surry Hills. The whole area is good hunting ground, but Cleveland Street between Elizabeth and Bourke Streets is a good place to start. Actually, this area used to be called Little Beirut about 100 years ago. It’s been somewhat gentrified now, but it still retains a fairly large Middle Eastern population. Devonshire Street between Chalmers and Elizabeth Streets has a string of cheap Asian restaurants- we enjoyed some Thai here one night.

For the cheapest harbour-view lunch in the city, here is what you can do. Leave your accommodation around an hour or hour and a half before you want to have lunch. Make your way over to the Central Baking Depot on Erskine Street and pick up a loaf of freshly baked bread. Your next stop is 1 Martin Place, underground level. There is a little shop here called the GPO Cheese and Wine Room. Pick out a couple of their lovely cheeses- I would estimate 100 grams per person, but that depends how much you like cheese! Don’t get any wine, though, you can’t drink it (at least not legally) where you’re going. Finally, stop by the David Jones Food Hall, on the underground level of David Jones department store on Market Street. They sell all kinds of wonderful dips and spreads by weight. We liked their red capsicum dip and eggplant & garlic dip a lot, and I thought the Moroccan dip was very interesting (Bob thought it was too sweet.) They also have antipasti, if you prefer to go that route. You can pick up something to drink here, too. Finally, take all your purchases over to the Royal Botanic Gardens. For less than the price of a restaurant meal (depending on the dips/ cheeses you have chosen,) you can have a lovely picnic overlooking the Harbour Bridge.

Our picnic lunch

For a foodie excursion, take a trip to Cabramatta. Cabramatta is a suburb of Sydney, about 45 minutes away by train, and a return ticket costs a very reasonable $6.40. When you get off the train (coming from the east), immediately cross over the tracks, then cross the street in front of you, Railway Parade. The street ahead will fork; take the right fork (John Street.) It should be fairly obvious by now, but Cabramatta has a very large Vietnamese and Chinese population, and the area near the train station is jam-packed with noodle shops, banh mi stalls, Asian supermarkets, and all manner of consumer goods. The main area is bounded by John St to the south, Hughes St to the north, Hill St to the west and Railway Pde to the east. Inside this square is a warren of alleys. It’s easy to spend an afternoon getting lost inside. The local government sponsors a food festival here in October, which I think would be great fun. Even if you’re not here at that time, you can still see the posters many restaurants display in their windows, denoting their signature dishes. Very helpful- good going, Fairfield City Council!

Finally, I’ll share with you our best cheap food “find” in Sydney- $5 Thai food in Glebe. $5 for pad thai, red curry, green curry, and I think they had pad see ew  and a few more as well. All come with chicken- and to add tofu is free. Shrimp costs $2 more. To top it all off, cans of soda are $1- a rare find in Australia! You can find this magical little restaurant on Bridge Rd, near the intersection with Glebe Point Rd. Enjoy!

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