Crossing the bridge noodles. It's what everybody's slurping at Two Sticks, recently opened on George Street and serving up Yunnan cuisine to the masses. Where is Yunnan? You'll find it in the mountainous southwest region of China, bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. It's a long overdue introduction of this cuisine to Sydneysiders, and locals can't get enough of it.
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Two Sticks has taken up residence where EasyWay used to be, next door to Scruffy Murphy's and just across the road from World Square. It's a small and narrow dining space, made even more striking with gleaming brown tiles and an impressive archway of wooden beams overhead. The place can only seat a maximum of about 35 people - clustered in twos and threes - although mirrors along one wall make it seem bigger than it is.
View into the kitchen at Two Sticks
Queues start early here. If you're looking for lunch, then get here before midday or be prepared to join the growing swarm on the street. The place is packed with Chinese students - always a promising sign of authenticity and a good cheap feed.
Yunnan signature rice noodle soup $11.80
Crossing the bridge noodles
Crossing the bridge noodles isn't listed as such on the menu, described only as "Yunnan signature rice noodle soup" but trust me, it's the first item on the menu. They do a roaring trade with this one, and service is super fast. Expect it to arrive within three minutes of ordering.
Frozen pork slices
According to legend, crossing the bridge noodles was devised by a scholar's wife, who worked out that by delivering his hot noodle soup unmixed, she could make sure the meat wasn't overcooked and the noodles weren't soggy. She carried the boiling soup to him in an earthenware pot, covered with a layer of oil to trap in the heat. Only when she arrived, would she add the ingredients to the broth.
Others say that crossing the bridge refers to the way the ingredients are transferred from container to pot, like "crossing a bridge" in the picture above.
At Two Sticks, waitstaff set down an earthenware pot of soup at your table, slip in a raw quail egg and then slide in trays of frozen meat slices (the menu says beef and chicken but we receive beef and pork).
We're then given firm instructions to wait for one minute for the meat to cook, before adding the bowl of noodles, bean curd strips and bean sprouts.
Rice noodles with shredded bean curd, bean sprouts and vegetables
Crossing the bridge noodles
It's a bit like hotpot for one, especially as you have to fish around inside the cavernous bowl with your chopsticks. The chicken soup packs a lot of flavour - relax, there's no top layer of oil here - and there's enough cooked meat, slippery rice noodles, chewy bean curd strips and crunchy bean sprouts to keep you occupied all through lunch.
Yunnan pickled mustard greens with coriander and chilli
There's a side dish of pickled mustard greens, fresh coriander and chilli on the side too. Dump them into your soup, or keep them separate for sporadic nibbling if you prefer.
Diners inside Two Sticks - Yunnan China
The menu is mostly a mix of hot noodle soups and cold noodle salads. The mini pot noodles are all less than $10 but we can't wait for the grill section to become available, a list that includes grilled fish ($9.80), pork belly ($5.80) and eggs ($1.50). "Coming soon" says the sticker on our menu.
Crown daisy salad with sesame oil $3.80
Appetisers are a treasure trove of cheap snackage, with nothing over $4.80. Veggie dishes are all $3.80. We skip past the cucumber, lettuce salad and bean curd and zero in on the crown daisy salad, also known as chrysanthemum leaves or tong ho at your local Asian grocer.
Usually a simmered hot pot staple, here the chrysanthemum leaves are served raw but tossed with a tangy sesame oil dressing. It's deliciously refreshing, even with the hit of crushed garlic and fresh chilli slices in the middle. Mental note: totally copying this idea for dinner at home.
Spicy pork ear $4.20
We also pick our way through a side dish of spicy pork ear, a ripper of a dish that marries crunchy and gelatinous pigs ears with shredded carrot, coriander, peanuts, chilli and a mouth-numbing amount of Szechuan pepper.
Yunnan potato risotto $12.80
The Yunnan potato risotto takes about thirty minutes to come out - something they don't warn you about when you order - but it's worth it. It takes so long because they cook the rice to order, piled into a copper pot that hangs over a naked flame.
Risotto is a bit of a misnomer here. I bet if they called it crispy rice, they'd quadruple the number of orders.
Crispy rice base
Dig down to the bottom and you'll hit the jackpot: a crusted layer of rice that's been cooked to a golden crunch. Okay so there's a fair amount of oil down here too, but oh god, who cares, it's like a deep-fried rice cracker.
The rice is sweet and salty, absorbing the meaty juices from seared Chinese lap cheong sausage and lap yuk cured streaky bacon. Deep fried potato cubes provide carb-on-carb action and the frozen vegetable medley adds a little colour. It's incredibly tasty although you may start to feel a little ill towards the end. Next time I'd try and soak up the quarter-cup-of-oil with a serviette first.
Dining room inside Two Sticks Yunnan China
We're too full for dessert but I definitely have my eye on the rice balls with brown sugar sauce ($4.20) for next time.
Get here early but whatever you do, get here soon.
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Two Sticks - Yunnan China
694 George Street, Haymarket, Chinatown, Sydney
Monday to Sunday 11am til late
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2/08/2014 06:37:00 pm