There’s a saying about Chinese food traditions: 南甜北咸东辣西酸 – loosely translated as: ‘Sweet South, Salty North, Spicy East, Sour West’. It’s a phrase that highlights the stereotypical flavours of different regions of China but, more importantly, emphasises just how varied Chinese cuisine is. Chances are, if you’ve eaten Chinese food in Sydney – dominated mostly by Southern Chinese, Shanghainese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese eateries – you’ve probably only eaten half of China, if that.
Enter newly opened Chatswood Chase eatery, Mrs Mi, which is one of the first Sydney restaurants to specialise in Northern Chinese cuisine, specifically from the Shanxi region. It’s a niche that has been sorely lacking in Sydney’s Chinese food scene, especially because food culture in Northern China is so different from the South; think dumplings, noodles and buns over rice, and stronger overall flavours.
While the food court location does not particularly enhance Mrs Mi’s ambience, its design embodies the rustic nostalgia of traditional northern China villages, full of grey stonework and an open kitchen designed to look like a street food cart, with bright pink accents to bring the place into the 21st century. Taste of Shanghai Group Managing Director, Mr Aaron Mi and his chefs spent several weeks learning about Shanxi cuisine from fifty local elders at Li Jia Zhuang in China to bring back to Sydney, and the attention to detail has extended to its décor, which was designed by an Australian architect.
The Mrs Mi Cherry Tomato in Plum Juice ($7.80) introduced a huge burst of sweet plum juice that mingles with the flavour of fresh tomato. As a dish itself, it’s a vivid, almost overwhelming blast of acidity to whet the appetite, but something to eat with great caution.
Mrs Mi’s handmade Frost Flower Pan Fried Chicken Dumpling ($12.80) features 锅贴 guo tie dumplings that are made in Northern style – long, thin and stuck together with fried batter. It boasts a very fresh meaty filling with subtle notes of chicken, corn and white lettuce and arrived piping hot, to be dipped in vinegar.
The homemade dumpling skin that is characteristic of Northern Chinese cuisine is displayed to its full advantage in the multicoloured dumplings (pictured in the background of this photo). The skin is soft and smooth, with just the right amount of chewiness. My favourite filling was probably the green Shrimp Dumpling with Spinach pastry, which features a prawn and chive combination filling, though I also enjoyed the subtly sweet chicken and corn filling in the Chicken Dumplings with Purple Sweet Potato pastry, and the light touch of spiciness in the Crab Meat dumplings with Beetroot pastry. The more typical Mrs Mi Xiao Long Bao ($9.80) also utilise this amazingly soft and fresh dough. For those who want to try something other than the normal pork filing, the slightly spicy Spicy Crab Xiao Long Bao ($13.80) is a great alternative, though it’s a little oilier and heavier than the pork.
Mrs Mi’s specialty dish is its knife-shaved noodles, shaved into a gigantic pot of water by the slightly creepy, slightly zen robot chef out front and cooked for exactly three minutes. Noodles are utterly central to Northern China cuisine and it’s pleasing to note that the homemade dough produced soft, smooth noodles with a great, chewy texture. Mrs Mi’s Braised Beef Brisket Noodles ($14.80) combines one of Taiwan’s most famous dishes with Shanxi influences. The flavours, however, are adapted for the Australian palate to be less salty, less spicy and heathlier overall, as is the ethos of the place. The bone soup that the noodles come in is made overnight, with no added MSG.
Another extremely distinctive Northern China dish is the Szechwan Style Shredded Pork ($16.80 + $6.80 with buns) which is coated with sweet chilli sauce. The pork is meant to be placed inside 窝窝头 (wo wo tou) – a steamed ‘corn bread’ that’s a specialty in the North. The grainy and dense texture can be a little divisive if you’re not used to it, but I found that Mrs Mi’s were quite soft with a pleasant, fresh and fragrant scent. This is definitely a must-try for those wanting to experience the difference between Northern and Southern Chinese cuisine.
Mrs Mi’s Taiwan Style Fried Chicken ($15.80), served piping hot, is a perfect guilty pleasure dish; the sort that needs to have a 2AM takeaway option (just me?). Its flavours are reminiscent of Japanese karaage, complete with incredibly tender chicken, but with a softer breadcrumb coating that doesn’t feel as oily as other types of fried chicken. Other Chinese staples – cooked noodles, cooked vegetables and fried rice – are also offered on Mrs Mi’s menu and solidly executed, but I would strongly recommend you to take advantage of the specialties on the menu.
We finished our meal full to bursting, but there’s one last star dish to recommend – the Watermelon Coconut Milk with Sago ($5.80), also known as Xi Mi Lu (西米露 or sago pudding). Adding watermelon to this popular Asian dessert doesn’t feel like it should work but, remarkably, it truly does. Served cold in a cutely nostalgic Communist-era tin mug, Mrs Mi’s version is a drink instead of pudding and would be a perfect summer drink to take away. It hits the perfect level of sweetness and textural variety and is probably one of my top recommendations from Mrs Mi.
It’s about time that Sydney’s Chinese food scene expanded to reflect a more nuanced understanding of the diverse food cultures in China, and Mrs Mi is a great place to start for expanding your Chinese culinary understanding.
Shop 40B, Chatswood Chase Shopping Centre
345 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood, Sydney
Phone: (02) 9904 6375
Web: Mrs Mi’s Facebook Page
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Mrs Mi.