Recently, with the fall in the Australian dollar against the greenback to around 75 US cents, I’ve seen a rash of posts in travel media talking about what an affordable ‘travel bargain’ Sydney has become .
To put this in perspective, Sydney is a ‘bargain’ in exactly the same way that waking up drugged in a bathtub full of ice in Cartagena and discovering that you still have one kidney left is a ‘bargain’. This fact may not trouble the more cashed-up traveller, and Sydney certainly has its share of superb haute cuisine for those who can afford it. For budget travellers who visit the city, however, and especially for the legions of backpackers passing thru on their way around Australia, eating out in Sydney can very quickly eat up your budget (as anyone who’s spent an eye-watering $24 on a lowly chicken parm in a pub here can attest).
To avoid going broke, or eating food with the nutritional content of cardboard (or for those times that you simply can’t bear the thought of another night of self-catering), Sydney actually has a fairly reliable range of options for those who want to dine out without breaking the bank.
Check out the following ideas for an inexpensive bite around the city:
(1) Chinatown food courts Chinatown has its fair share of overpriced and underwhelming restaurants (pro tip: avoid anywhere where only tourists appear to be dining), but it also has a couple of superb cheap-and-dirty Singapore-style food courts. Eating World on Dixon Street is my personal favorite example, with tons of excellent ten-bucks-and-under meals (as well as some slightly pricier options). Selection runs the gamut from Chinese, Indonesian and Japanese to Chinese BBQ and even a tonkatsu ramen outlet (Gumshara).
(2) Vietnamese rolls (normally found from “Hot Bread” shops and Asian bakeries). This is arguably the city’s cheapest decent meal, and can be found all over: chicken, BBQ pork, etc. with veggies and sauces in a crusty roll. Usually $4-5 bucks. Delicious and filling. Ask for mayonnaise and pate — whether you want chili is up to you.
(3) Weeknight pub specials Found all over and varying from night to night. Usually $10 or so, but sometimes as low as $5. Expect favorites like chicken schnitzel and chips or “pub steak” (though this last should perhaps be cautioned against, as it often requires a truly unbelieveable amount of chewing). Also plenty of good-value pub lunches on offer in many of the same places.
(4) Lunch specials at Thai restuarants Not universal, but certainly a common enough phenomenon that it bears mention, many Thai restaurants offer lunch specials (with rice!) for $7-9. This is arguably one of the city’s best cheap vegetarian options. Areas like Newtown have a bunch of Thai restaurants in tight concentration, so you can choose whichever takes your fancy.
(5) Kebabs You’ve no doubt discovered this already, as there is a kebab shop on practically every streetcorner, but this fast-food option is everywhere, and a significant cut above Maccas or Hungry Jack’s. Quality varies widely, and price a bit, but you can pretty much always get away for under $10. Falafel wraps are good for vegos, and pide (pee-dae) makes a good cheap alternative to pizza.
(6) Morning cafe specials. The venerable bacon-and-egg roll is Australia’s national breakfast dish (ignore that talk from the Vegemite lobby). In celebration of this fact, each morning coffeeshops and cafes across the land offer up bacon-and-egg roll specials to weary wakers — often just $7 bucks for one with a coffee to accompany it. The caffeine-and-grease one-two punch is perfect, particularly after a big night out.
(7) Bottle shops and public parks Would any advice about any Australian city be complete without a word about where to get your grog on? If you’ve so much as breathed a whiff of Sydney’s air, you probably know already that drinking in the city makes money disappear at a rate that defies good sense, logic and the basic laws of microeconomics. Moreover, you know that Sydney’s greatest feature is its superb natural beauty, so combine these insights and take your drinking to one of the city’s many excellent public parks. A few specifically prohibit alcohol, but generally speaking this is not often enforced (provided you’re not, of course, acting like a drunk dickhead), so head to a bottle shop (one is never far away) and grab a six pack or bottle of wine (wine by the bottle is, of course, Australia’s best drinking value) to enjoy in the grassy out-of-doors. Your wallet will thank you.