Visiting Sydney with a Small Boy – it's all happening at Taronga Zoo

I love the way little people define their world. It reminds me of how we used to say our night prayers when we were small, listing off like a mantra all those we loved. I was listening to Dermot tonight as he chatted away happily to himself in a sing-song voice in the next room, reciting “MaMa, DaDa, Claire, Mikey, NaiNai, YeYe, NaiNai… and then, after a pause,  huati (slide), che (car), huo che (train), haishui (the sea), before repeating the list of names again and eventually drifting off to sleep, content in the boundaries of his little life.
He had an exciting day today – a trip to the beautiful Taronga Zoo in Sydney which involved a bus ride to Circular Quay, a ferry across Sydney harbour, a cable car to the zoo’s main entrance and, later, a train ride across town to dinner in The Chef’s Gallery, a Chinese restaurant near Darling Harbour. But that wasn’t enough to wear him out before bedtime so we had to end the day as he had begun it with his other NaiNai, with a visit to the local playground up the road here in Randwick before returning home with a dirty face, a cheeky grin and a few more bruises from slides and football.
Sydney is a wonderful city for children and as I gaze at my daughter Claire’s growing belly I envy that new life inside her and the childhood Claire and Mike can hope to provide for him or her in this beautiful, child-friendly place.
Over the two weeks we have been here, I’ve watched Dermot change from being a shy little boy, used to spending most of his time in a 21st floor Beijing apartment, to one who can’t wait to get out the door each morning and on to the next adventure. I’ve watched him begin to connect with other children, making eyes at the pretty six year old girl in the playground this evening until she eventually joined him on the see-saw and trying to get involved in an impromptu game of football.
We’ve fed ducks in Centennial Park, paddled at Clovelly Beach, had a Christmas morning picnic at Bronte Beach, visited the Sydney Aquarium, attended barbecues in Claire and Mike’s friends’ back gardens and walked the windswept promenade at Bondi, and all that apart from five days down the New South Wales Coast at Culburra Beach.

Some unlikely looking Santas on Christmas Day at Bronte Beach
Some unlikely looking Santas on Christmas Day at Bronte

And unlikely looking Supermen with their YeYes too
And an unlikely looking Superman with his YeYe!

Getting around Sydney with young children is relatively easy – the buses, ferries, trains and even the Taronga Zoo sky-train are designed to be accessible and locals will go out of their way to make sure that space is made available for a child in a buggy.
Spotted in the window of a Sydney Bus
Spotted in the window of a Sydney Bus

Children lead an outdoor life here, well protected from the sun with high factor suncreams and body suits or snuggled in children’s tents on the beach for their afternoon naps. Running buggies are a common sight and birthday parties start as early as 10 am in the cool shade of Centennial Parklands.
Feeding the Ducks in Centennial Park
Feeding the Ducks in Centennial Park

Many restaurants are geared up for toddlers with high chairs and kids menus. The Chef’s Gallery provided Dermot with his own bowl, Chinese spoon and mug today, complete with illustrations of a monkey. The major attractions are expensive but you can get better value at Sydney Aquarium by buying tickets on line in advance and the best value way to get to Taronga Zoo is to buy an all-inclusive ferry, sky-train and zoo entrance ticket at Wharf 2 on Circular Quay. In general children under four are free and of course the beaches and parks are free for all to use and equipped with dedicated spots to set up your barbie for breakfast or lunch.
If I was to do just one thing with children here it would be bring them to Taronga Zoo. It has to be one of the most beautifully laid out zoos in the world with stunning views over Sydney Harbour. As you rise above it in the Sky Train to the entrance at the very top you get a bird’s eye view of the elephant enclosures and the big cats. The tall giraffes have the best views of all looking out onto Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Happy Giraffes
Happy Giraffes

The Australian walkabout takes you past kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and many other native species I had never heard of although Claire has encountered some of them in the wild. In keeping with the ethos of the zoo, the kangaroos and wallabies aren’t even fenced in, it’s just the daily visitors that have to stick to the paths. It’s obvious that the guides and keepers love their jobs and the animals in their charge. The gorillas are disdainful, the meerkats cute, the platypus delightful and the Tasmanian Devils not as angry looking as I expected. There is a great programme of talks and close-up encounters too. Needless to say Dermot was as excited by the che – the sky cars passing overhead – as he was by any of the animals.
A cable car with a view of Sydney Harbour
“Wow YeYe!”

Arriving at the zoo by ferry is an added bonus. I am constantly smitten by the sheer, exhilarating beauty of Sydney Harbour and I can think of no nicer daily commute.
Happy days on Sydney Harbour
Happy days on Sydney Harbour

"Hi NaiNai!"
“Hi NaiNai!”

For an authentic taste of China in Sydney, I can also strongly recommend The Chef’s Gallery – we visited the one near Sydney’s Chinatown but there are several branches around the city. The Three Cup Chicken, Sichuan Green Beans and Red Braised Pork Belly were among the best we’ve tasted. The noodle master swinging his rope of noodles in the open kitchen made MaMa feel right at home.
Shane and Shan’s time here is drawing to a close and they return to the icy Beijing winter in a few days before relocating to Ireland at the end of the month. We will miss them until we meet again. They will be sad to leave Sydney and us too no doubt and MaMa will miss them and Dermot very much when they leave Beijing. As for Dermot, who knows what goes on in that little head of his as he processes all the change and new experiences. I just hope some subliminal memory of his time here in Sydney will stay with him for life.
"Do More of What Makes You Happy!"
Claire and Mike’s fridge door – “Do More of What Makes You Happy!”


Kaffir Lime Chilli Prawns – a taste of Asian Fusion

It was the Friday night before Christmas, the fire glowing in the grate, the Late Late Show on in the background. An ordinary pre-Christmas Friday night, except that for us it was not. It was to be our last night in front of the fire this Christmas, unless you count barbecues. The following day we set out for Sydney to visit our daughter Claire and her husband Mike and to meet up with our son Shane, Shan, Dermot and Shan’s MaMa who had arrived there a week ahead of us from Beijing.
Instead of attending to the last of the packing, I was pulling together a folder of recipes I could cook on the barbecue or in the wok while I was in Australia. I started this blogpost that night and haven’t had a moment to finish it since. Sometimes living life to the full eats into the time for blogging.
A dish that I cook often is Kaffir Lime Chilli Prawns. I got the recipe from Chi Asian Takeaway in Galway when I was researching recipes for the Taste of China section of the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival Website in 2013. It is a light, fresh-tasting, vegetable rich dish that reminds me of the kind of Asian fusion dishes I’ve sampled in Sydney so I brought the recipe with me.
Fast forward a fortnight and here we are in the steamy heat of a suburban, summer Randwick evening. Christmas day is already a happy memory. We spent five days over the New Year holiday at Culburra beach in southern New South Wales. Now we are back in the Sydney suburbs and, as an antidote to the copious quantities of barbecued meat we’ve eaten in recent days, we had an Asian feast this evening of prawns, di san xiang (earth three fresh), stir-fried Chinese cabbage with chilli and ma po dou fu. Shan cooked the three Chinese dishes and you will find links to recipes for them above. I made a big platter of the prawn dish. Shan’s MaMa declared the meal hao chi – good food.
I’ve many tales to tell of our adventures in the southern hemisphere and of our Australian, Chinese, Irish celebration of Christmas and the new year. Now that I am back in a wifi zone I am hoping to catch up with a few blog posts in coming days.
Meanwhile I hope you enjoy the recipe below as much as we did and happy new year to all my lovely readers. I hope you continue to enjoy the blog in 2015.
Kaffir Lime Chilli Prawns

Kaffir Lime Chilli Prawns
Kaffir Lime Chilli Prawns

Serves 2 as a main course or 3 – 4 as part of a multi-course meal

  • 18 large prawns, peeled, de-veined and slit from head to tail
  • Two slices of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • ½ onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 – 2 red chillies finely sliced
  • a stalk of lemon grass, white part only, finely chopped
  • ½ red pepper, finely sliced
  • 8 mange tout
  • 10 green beans, halved
  • 8 cherry tomatoes
  • 8 kaffir lime leaves
  • groundnut or sunflower oil

For the sauce

  • 2 tbs Sri Racha hot chilli sauce
  • 2 tbs tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 8 tbs water
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • pinch of sesame seeds

To garnish

  • A few sprigs of fresh coriander
  • A handful of roasted cashew nuts

Preparation and cooking 

  1. Mix the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
  2. Heat up a wok and add a few tablespoons cooking oil. Once the oil gets very hot remove it from the heat source. Add the chopped ginger, onions, chillies and lemon grass and quickly stir them in the hot oil.
  3. Return the wok to the heat and add the red pepper, mange tout, green beans, cherry tomatoes, kaffir lime leaves and prawns. Continue to toss in the wok.
  4. As the prawns begin to firm up and turn pink, give the sauce a quick stir and add it to the wok, all the time stirring and tossing. Once the sauce has thickened turn off the heat.
  5. The dish is ready once the prawns are cooked and nicely pink. The whole process usually takes less than 5 minutes. Garnish with fresh coriander and roasted cashews and serve immediately with steamed rice.