by Jodi Panayotov
It's taken more than a hundred years but Sunnybank, a one-time semi-rural suburb with market gardens, has overtaken Chinatown as home to Brisbane's biggest Asian community and hence is now the in-spot to go to for authentic Asian eats and shops.
Its shopping centres, the biggest ones of which are Sunnybank Plaza, Market Square and Sunny Park, converge on three corners of Mains Rd and McCullough St. And all three, just like the suburb, contain a melting pot of South-east Asian cultures, shops and cuisines. Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian, Japanese, Korean, Singaporean and Vietnamese eateries sit side by side, supermarkets sell mixes of produce from multiple countries and a dozen different languages are spoken in the streets.
Yuen's Fresh Fish Market
To follow is a bit of an overview on the various eating, shopping and even touring options at two of the main shopping hubs:
At first glance Sunnybank Plaza may look like your average 70's shopping mall that is replicated dozens of times throughout Brisbane, but this one is the gateway to Brisbane's little Asia.
Dotted around both inside amongst the usual retail chains, out and underneath are a goldmine of traditional South East Asian eateries and provedores – bakers, butchers, herbalists, tea shops, grocers, noodle shops and restaurants frequented by the local Asian population.
Outside the main entrance is a slice of Japan, with what is arguably the best ramen in Brisbane at the tiny hole-in-the-wall noodle shop Hakataya (which can be spotted by the perpetual queue out the door) another roomier noodle star Mappen and its neighbour MOS Burger, a Japanese chain of burgers that in the home country are akin to (but much better than) the local McDonald's.
Head inside and first stop is Formosa, a modern supermarket brimming with hard-to-find Asian greens, pastes, sauces, noodles and frozen foodstuffs. Pass the Hello Kitty coin-operated car and into the main thoroughfare amongst traditional Chinese herbalists and tea shops is the fabulous Sunrise Butcher who, within their tiny shiny premises make the most delicious spicy Chinese sausage and whose window is strung with melt-in-the-mouth duck and soy chicken and fridges are packed with everything from pork ribs and belly to chicken feet, quail and crocodile meat.
Hot Cake House is a go-to for crispy pancakes with red bean, custard or chocolate and Breadtop the tong-your-own Japanese bakery chain for another sweet stop. And for something different try a traditional Taiwanese dessert from popular chain Meet Fresh – sit down to a huge bowl of refreshing fruity crushed ice treat or their signature royal jelly.
Sunnybank's most popular Yum Cha haunt, the massive chandelier adorned Landmark, is also within the Sunnybank Plaza confines – look for the grand entry and queues on a weekend morning.
Leave the air-con carpeted comfort of the main building via the Commonwealth bank exit and across the road and downstairs in the car park is a secret little hideaway of South-East Asian restaurants and eateries that is unknown to all but the local Asian community who duck down here to shop for groceries and a cheap bite to eat.
Welcome Fresh Food is a bustling narrow-aisled supermarket packed to the hilt with Taiwanese, Chinese (and some Japanese) fresh and processed staples and with a herbalist medical centre in its fruit and vegetable section. Annexed to one side is a little no-frills Taiwanese café, Happy Hours Tea Bar that would have to be the cheapest spot in town to grab a traditional breakfast (think pork buns or Chinese hamburgers) or mega-sized lunch (meat and three veg from the bain-marie for less than $10).
Other cheap eats nearby can be had from the Vietnamese Corner BBQ, Sichuan Chinese from The Little Cube and Taiwanese from Home Town Asian Delight.
Pho Hien Vuong Pasteur
*To learn more about the ins and outs of Asian cuisine and shopping at the Plaza join one of the fantastic entertaining and informative monthly food tours with chef Tony, which involves doing the rounds of the eateries and shops and culminating in a sit-down meal in one or more of the restaurants. Contact Sunnybank Plaza management for details.*
Facing off diagonally from Sunnybank Plaza is the older outdoors Market Square with line-ups of shops and eateries connected by concrete passageways and the unmistakable smell of Asia in the air. In fact step inside the square and there's not a Caucasian business to be seen, just a melee of Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, Singaporean and Malaysian restaurants, grocers, supermarkets and providores.
Highlights of this shopping precinct are, dining-wise, Pho Hien Vuong Pasteur, home to the best pho in Sunnybank, if not in Brisbane, and Malaya Corner, the spot for roti carni, Hainan chicken rice and char koay teow.
In this section Yuen's supermarket is a large relatively modern affair where you can find just about any South East Asian staple, with, out back a fantastic fresh fish market (not for the squeamish or faint-hearted) where customers self-serve both fillets and whole fish or seafood, or fish for their supper from the tanks of live seafood.
Otherwise head slightly out of the square and onto the connection of Lewina St where the gargantuan High Fresh supermarket, a mecca for Chinese and Taiwanese foodstuffs, spills out of its back entrance onto the concrete and beside it is a nondescript doorway which is the secret stair entrance to a little food court hidden away above the supermarket.
Little Taipei may be its name but the hawker style stalls inside are a mix of Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, Korean and Malaysian. And, like the little slice of authentic Asia under Sunnybank Plaza, this one is also well worth a visit for some great budget bites.