A friend tells me that Strathfield is “Little Korea”. My daughter says “people only go there to change trains or go to school”. Today I’ll find out who is right.
It is a cool, clear day. A few people are warming themselves in the sun on the wooden benches in Strathfield Square. Children chase sea gulls while water tinkles down the tiered circular fountain. I look around. A sign advertises free dancing in the square. The shop signs across the road are in Korean and English.
Nervously, I enter the first supermarket I come across knowing nothing about Korean food or culture. Looking at the shelves, I think I recognise toothpaste and shampoo from the shape of the packaging, but I wouldn’t know what to do with most of the packaged foodstuffs. A woman and the cashier chat away in Korean.
Back on The Boulevard, restaurants advertise traditional Korean food, Korean BBQ, and Korean Street Food. In another supermarket (I’m feeling more confident now), I ask if I can take a photo. The woman is happy with that but says with a gorgeous smile and the glint of gold on a tooth “not of me, I’m too ugly”. She is far too modest.
Outside the Churchill Street entrance to Strathfield Plaza, an easily missed plaque and tree remember the seven people who were killed in a massacre at the plaza in 1991. I vaguely remember this. Inside the Plaza, I inspect the drinks on offer at Gong Cha, a Taiwanese chain but I’m not brave enough to sample one of the brightly coloured teas.
Korean food explained
Around the corner I chat to the lovely man at Food World. He explains that the range of Korean delicacies on display are side dishes. The little pinkish ‘sausages’ are spicy fish roe. Pickled clams, octopus and seasoned peanut beans are in dishes alongside seasoned marinated crabs about the size of my palm. The stewed lotus root are flat roundish discs with holes arranged in a flower pattern. He suggests I order Bulgogi when I stop for lunch. It is apparently sweet and may be more to my taste.
Around here, restaurants offer a variety of cuisines. There’s Malaysian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian and Indian. More evidence of the multicultural nature of Strathfield.
I head up The Boulevard to explore “The Golden Mile”, the expensive real estate area of Strathfield bounded by Hunter Street, Carrington Avenue, Homebush Road and The Boulevarde. But first I am pleased to discover that at least one of the historic houses I have read about are clearly visible from the road. I wasn’t sure if I would get to see them.
The Federation Free Style architecture of Heritage listed “Lauriston” is visible over the fence on the corner of Margaret Street and the Boulevard. Further along is the Victorian Italianate styled “Brunyarra”. Previously owned by a milling family, a judge and Albert Grace of Grace Brothers it, like “Lauriston”, is now part of Santa Sabina College.
The Golden Mile
As I turn down Carrington Street, I look forward to seeing the prestigious houses of The Golden Mile for myself. A low red sports car with a personalised number plate is parked at the side of the road engine running. It roars off.
I pass old houses and new, restored houses and renovated houses. Some have windows with little diamond shaped leadlight panes and crests. An old woman is dozing on a chair alongside her garage door. As I fiddle with my camera settings she senses my presence. In answer to my question she says no to a photo. What a pity.
The Boulevard is a busy four lane road and I cross with care to view the Santa Sabina Chapel and Holyrood more closely. The facade of a former City Bank was all that remained after a fire in the city in 1890. It was bought and moved stone-by-stone to Strathfield to form the facade of a residential home. In 1911 the home was renamed Holyrood after the palace in Edinburgh that it supposedly resembled. It too is now part of Santa Sabina College.
In Torrington Street, a man is cleaning his gleaming black 1936 Cadillac. It seems particularly long and I ask if it was once a hearse. Apparently not – it has been stretched to accommodate more passengers.
The houses in Agnes St are big and bold. Many have fountains in the front yard, some dry, others still flowing and yet others where flowers have been planted in the bowls. Two houses are being demolished, most likely to be replaced with something bigger. In this part of Strathfield, at least, the gardens are immaculate. Lawns are green and mown, hedges trimmed.
Strathfield Park is the oldest public park in the suburb. In the late 19th Century, it was a private golf course and for a time during WW ll was used as an army camp. It is a pleasant walk through the various sections, including a paperbark grove, indigenous species walk and rainforest walk. However, the sensory walk is disappointing.
Out of my comfort zone
It is time for lunch and I walk briskly back along The Boulevard to the shopping strip. Not knowing how to choose where to eat, I decide on a restaurant whose name I recognise from my research. I am really out of comfort zone now. I am the only westerner. The staff have little English. The bilingual menu helps.
The lunch special, Bibimbap, isn’t available, so I end up with the Beef Bulgogi as recommended by the chap at Food World. It comes with side dishes of kimchi and some fishy strips. The main, served with raw cabbage and rice, is sweet and not dissimilar from a Thai stir fry. The kimchi is quite palatable and I’ll certainly have it again.
Today has been a challenge
Emboldened now, I return to Food World to buy some side dishes. In particular I want to try the lotus flower stem, and I also get marinated peanuts and radish. The radish is great with my salmon dinner. The lotus stem is woody and probably better with a Korean dish.
I have challenged myself today have been enriched by the experience. I think I’ll come back with friends to try different Korean dishes. My friend and daughter were both right. Strathfield is “Little Korea”. It is also a transport hub. But it is so much more, with grand historic houses, a lovely park and an impressive “Golden Mile”.