Last Sunday was a scorcher, with the temperature hitting over 41C (105.8F) but Perth’s passion for yum cha and food markets brought the crowds to Yum Cha in the Park at Northbridge Piazza, part of this month’s Eat Drink Perth festival.
At 10am, there’s no sign of life yet at the yum cha stalls, but there’s a whole lot of sizzling going on at the three stalls opposite.
I have a quick chat with Roy from the Jumplings stall. Roy’s Jumplings are gyoza, Japanese dumplings, made by his small family-run company, using all Australian ingredients. Roy’s got three varieties of Jumplings steaming away merrily. My mouth is watering at the thought of tasting these little pleated pillows.
We start with a trio of Roy’s duck Jumplings, served with Kewpie mayonnaise. They are moist and delicious! The meaty filling is quite sweet and very moreish. I reckon I could eat LOADS of these.
Next, we try chicken Jumplings and tofu shitake Jumplings, served with Japanese soy and chilli sauces. They’re tasty too, tender and savoury – but I’ve been won over by the duck.
We have a chat with Yvonne of Red Hot Spatula, who’s serving up her famous pulled pork sliders, wok fried Singapore noodles, Vietnamese style chicken salad and iced lemon tea. The iced lemon tea is strong and refreshing, a welcome drink for this stinking hot day.
Mi Shanghai’s grilling lamb skewers. The smoke smells awesome.
The Chung Wah Association lion dance troupe puts on an energetic performance.
I love the spectacle of the lion dance, especially when there’s multiple lions. Their movements and interactions remind me of cats playing. The flutter of eye lashes and flicks of the stubby fluffy tail make the lions really come alive. I can’t help but admire the athleticism and agility of the dancers inside the lion costumes.
The lions saunter through the crowd, getting up close and personal with the spectators. A couple of young kids are frightened and have to be ‘rescued’ by their mums and dads but one curious little girl boldly reaches out to pat the lion and gets the thrill of her life.
There’s a balloon man wowing a small crowd with his deft balloon twisting. Turtles and circus elephants are very popular items today.
We’re also entertained by the Chung Wah Association’s cultural dancers, ever graceful and all smiles.
Meanwhile, the lines for yum cha are long… and they’re still growing. There are stalls from two Northbridge Chinese restaurants, Dragon Palace and Golden Century.
Utopia Bubble Tea has passionfruit and peach tea, and four varieties of milk tea: original, honey dew, summer love and winter love (wishful thinking on a hot day like today!).
The yum cha staff work hard to serve the hungry crowd. Yum cha stocks are replenished as restaurant staff arrive pushing trolleys carrying hot steamer baskets and fully loaded metal trays.
Shaded seating is a precious commodity today so I leave Jac to hold on to our table while I wait in the Dragon Palace line for siew mai (steamed pork dumplings) and har gow (steamed prawn dumplings).
I go back to join the queue at Golden Century to get Jac some chilli pepper squid but by the time I get to the front of the line there is none left and the staff can’t tell me when/if there’s more on the way. I have to make do with BBQ pork pastries instead. I’m a little frustrated at this point, returning to our table hotter, sweatier and squidless. The pastries are buttery, filled with tender saucy BBQ pork – they’re pretty good.
Up on the stage, the call goes out for eight people willing to take part in a chicken feet eating contest. After much encouragement and fast-talking from the host with the microphone, eight volunteers gather on stage. As it turns out, most of the contestants confess that this will be their first time eating chicken feet – are they courageous or crazy?
The host gives the instructions before eating begins: “You must eat the chicken feet down to the bones. You are welcome to eat the bones as well if you like. You may use the chopsticks or your hands.”
Several chicken feet munching rounds later, we have our champion Rob. Chung Wah Association President Sammy Yap congratulates the winner and runner-up. I’m very impressed – I thought it would be a whole lot messier.
Congratulations to the City of Perth for putting on the event. Clearly, the people of Perth love street food stalls and markets, and we want more of them! Food market events are a great way for local food businesses to gain exposure and interact with the public. The Chung Wah Society made a wonderful and important contribution – the lion dance troupe, cultural dancers and chicken feet eating contest kept the crowd entertained and gave the event a fantastic festival atmosphere.
As with any new event, there were a number of teething problems. Obviously, the extremely hot weather was out of the City of Perth’s control, but a few things done differently would’ve helped significantly.
More seating and shade required
Perhaps they weren’t expecting such a big crowd to turn up on such a hot day. More shade and seating would’ve been especially appreciated near the stage area so people could watch the performances in (relative) comfort rather than chasing shadows on the lawn for a shaded spot to sit on. It would’ve been even better (though I understand perhaps not possible) if the queueing could’ve been under shade too. Perth’s passion for food markets should not be underestimated – I think we’ve proven that with the Twilight Hawkers Markets throughout summer and with this event too.
Stallholders to be punctual
The two yum cha stallholders, Golden Century and Dragon Palace, both arrived well after the advertised start time of 10am (10.20am) and then took some time to get their stalls set up and stocked up and ready for business. Thank goodness for Mi Shanghai, Jumplings and Red Hot Spatula – they hit the ground running and were selling food at 10am. Without them, there would have been no food ready for the punters who turned up hungry and ready to eat at 10am. That would’ve been awfully embarrassing for the organisers.
Better use of the space to improve traffic flow
At its peak, the long queues snaked through the seating area and there was a lot of “excuse me” going on as people tried to squeeze past those waiting in line. I realise access to power supply plays a significant part in the positioning of stalls, but there was a lot of empty lawn in the centre of the piazza that could’ve been utilised to spread the seating out a bit more and thus improve the flow of traffic (related to my earlier point about more shade/seating).
More yum cha stalls and more servers per stall
At its peak, the queues to get yum cha were very long. By the time you got to the front of the line the items you were after were not always available. The advertised menu was extensive – there was plenty of food and it was all freshly cooked but not all items were available at any one time. It really was luck (or in my case, bad luck) what items were available by the time you got to the front of the queue. They really needed more yum cha stalls and more people to serve multiple lines at the same time. The original promo info about this event mentioned a third participating restaurant – a third yum cha stall would’ve definitely made a difference. But even with three stalls, the queues would’ve been long.
It was frustrating to wait 20-25 minutes in the sweltering heat to finally get to the front of the line only to find out all the chilli pepper squid and egg tarts were sold out, with no guarantee of when the next batches would be delivered and no system in place to reserve items. I wasn’t prepared to get back in line again and wait for another 20-25 minutes each time in the blazing sun, hoping I’d get lucky with the timing.
For the money I spent, I didn’t feel like I satisfied my yum cha cravings. I had fun but left feeling dissatisfied. On the day, I wished I’d skipped the park and stuck to yum cha in the restaurant. In fact, I know several people who did just that – they took one look at the queues and instead went to have yum cha in air-conditioned comfort at one of the restaurants on James Street.
If this event is on again next year, I hope the issues described above will be addressed. I really do think it’s wonderful that the City of Perth has embraced food market events and they will continue to have my support. I have no doubt that if Yum Cha in the Park returns next year, it will be even bigger and better. And fingers crossed next time I will get my egg tarts and Jac her chilli pepper squid.
Did you attend Yum Cha in the Park? What did you think?
Featured in this post
Red Hot Spatula – food catering for all occasions.
Red Hot Spatula will be at the Twilight Hawkers Market tomorrow Friday 16 March and at the Asian Night Market in Claremont Quarter on Thursdays 22 and 29 March.
Find Mi Shanghai in the food courts at Enex 100, Perth CBD and at Carousel Shopping Centre, Cannington.
Chung Wah Association (lion dance troupe, cultural dancers and the chicken feet eating contest)
The Chung Wah Society is the representative body for the Chinese community in Western Australia.
128 James Street
Northbridge WA 6003
Telephone: (08) 9328 8657
Utopia Bubble Tea
67 Barrack Street
Perth WA 6000
Telephone: (08) 9326 1990
Golden Century Seafood Chinese Restaurant
191 James St
Northbridge WA 6003
Telephone: (08) 9328 2388
Open daily 10am to 3pm; 6pm to 10.30pm
Dragon Palace Chinese Restaurant
66 Francis St
Northbridge, WA 6003
Telephone: (09) 9228 2888
Lunch: weekdays 10.30am to 3pm, weekends 10am to 3pm
Dinner: 6pm to late
Related to but not to be mistaken with Dragon Seafood Chinese Restaurant on James St