(小吃 – Xiao Chi ) means “small eat”, it is a popular food culture in China (I know that because I have just visited that country recently) where you don’t feel like a big meal but just want something light. It can be street food where you just grab and go, or hanging out with a group of friends in a cafe house to share a few small plates with. Either way, this popular food culture has finally reached our shore and now you can also try a few Fujian specialties here at Three Lanes Seven Alleys, a new eatery recently opened on Dixon Street at Haymarket Chinatown.
The restaurant name is derived from the historical street district in Fuzhou, Fujian province, the Three Lanes and Seven Alleys is the largest well-preserved historical heritage site in China, with the layout dates back to the Tang (618-907AD) and Song (960-1279AD) dynasties, almost 1,000 years ago. It is a popular tourist spot where many flock here to admire the ancient architecture while chowing down some local snack food.
“Ni Hao!” The waitstaffs greet us enthusiastically (and loudly) as soon as we step into the restaurant. The decor is simple but effective, the famous Fuzhou street scene is chalked on the black walls, mismatch funky furnitures are scattered around the dining area and make sure to pay a visit of the restroom, you will feel like walking through a zen garden with pebbles pavers.
We are sitting right at the back of the restaurant and occasionally we will get a waft of that distinctive pungent stench coming from the kitchen which we can’t quite put our fingers around it; until we read the menu and figured out what the smell was.
The notorious stinky tofu is on the menu and we have to have it. From my recent trip to China, I’ve learned that there are two types of stinky tofu – one version is where the tofu has been fermented till it turns a dark grey in colour, whereas the other version will be just normal tofu but served with a stinky chilli bean paste sauce. Here at 3L7A serves up the latter version, cubes of tofu have been deep-fried with a golden shell, and the little saucer the side is filled with that funky fermented chilli bean paste. There is only one way to describe it – it tasted like the juice dripped out from some rotten flesh. Definitely not for the faint hearted.
This restaurant specialises in two things – small eats and soups. The soup menu here is extensive, some with Fujian noodles or sweet potato vermicelli. The Fujian fish puree soup comes in a clear broth with thin slices of soft white fish inside. I believe the Asian carp was used in this dish, a popular fish in Asia for its pearly white soft flesh but also comes with a series of dangerous Y-bones that makes the fish a nuisance to eat. You seriously do not want to have the bone stuck in your throat, so take your time and savour slowly. But we do find the broth is excruciatingly salty.
Offal-ly satisfying with the pork intestines on a bed of slippery transparent sweet potato vermicelli swimming in hot and spicy broth. The distinctive flavour of pork intestine is not something everyone can get used to, it is offset by the sour pickled mustard green that has a nice crunch.
If you are looking for something more substantial, then go for the signature rice noodles in a hot pot which is big enough to share between two. We opt for the fish head with chilli sauce hot pot, a large salmon fish head almost filled up all the space inside of a cauldron-like bowl, half submerged in a fishy chilli and tomato soup with assorted fixings bobbing around. It comes with a serve of rice noodles on the side so you can slip them into the hot soup and slurp away. If you are still hungry, they also generous enough by offering a top-up of another serve of rice noodles, absolutely free.
I like the fact that this restaurant is not your typical Chinese restaurant but offering something a little bit more unique to the Chinese small-eat culture. So don’t expect sweet and sour pork, or beef and black bean sauce, you won’t find it here.
Three Lanes and Seven Alleys
50 Dixon Street, Haymarket, Chinatown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9281 7770 Opening hours:
Sunday to Wednesday 12pm – 9.30pm
Thursday to Saturday 12pm – 10pm