Adventures at Auburn
If you're on an Ottolenghi bender and cooking out of his numerous books, then you've got to make a trip to Auburn to stock up on all those glorious ingredients which make up so many of his signature dishes. Not finding dried blue borage flowers at Coles? Or preserved unripened grapes? Auburn grocery stores have you nicely covered. Ingredients lining the shelves burst with freshness, and the prices will leave you wondering if you're back a couple of decades.
But you don't have to be an Ottolenghi groupie to visit Auburn.
While you're there, leave some time for lunch, snacks and coffee. There's variety to boggle the mind. Because of the proximity to the mosque close by, muslims from all over the world have settled here, so the food on offer reflects that. From Uyghurs and Turks to Lebanese, Iranian and Iraqi regions, and even Malaysian, you'll find some delicious morsel to entice you.
Also, if you're in the mood for some kitsch re-decorating, there's wonderful varieties of home decor like rearing silver stallions to adorn your front door, golden plastic doilies for coffee tables and hot pink shag coverlets if you like it a little racy in the bedroom.
If you're setting up a new kitchen, there are endless general stores that have everything from pressure cookers to nesting saucepans, meat grinders and pasta machines.
We sped along Parramatta Road, Lorrie and I, towards our Auburn food adventure. Targeting Auburn for our explore had us both excited; as enthusiastic cooks we were both eager to unearth the various middle eastern and other muslim community's treats both to taste, and to cook with. Lorrie, armed with her ginormous shopping tote and her equally big camera is also getting ready to cheerily walk up to just about anyone and ask to take their photo. Now that's a talent. Check her blog for wonderful images of our day out together.
New Star Kebab Restaurant might have a reputation for tasty grilled kebabs of all varieties but Lorrie and I certainly felt an aggression from behind the counters. It is pretty deplorable that there are men who think that treating women without respect is acceptable. Our dish of kebabs didn't feel quite so appetizing once we'd experienced this behaviour.
Anyway, the food made for some nice pictures....
We stopped for simit at Menzil Turkish bakery. Simit is an age old Turkish breakfast bagel, some soft and doughy, others baked so the crust is crisp. Either way, they are generously covered with toasted sesame seeds. The fragrance of za'atar and oregano waft after us as we wander away from the store.....
We were beginning to feel the heat of a particularly warm spring day, wandering in and out of various stores, and decided to stop when we came upon Auburn Fresh Juice Centre. Neat piles of fresh sugar cane and various other fruit make a pretty display, along with a modest freezer chest of tubs containing halal ice cream with flavours such as saffron, pistachio and rose. Lorrie and I chose the saffron and rose petal , enjoying the icy cold flavours . The Afghan youngsters behind the counter were charming and friendly.
We follow our noses round the bend and find ourselves in the modest bustling front space of the Kabul International Restaurant and Bakery. Steel racks are stacked with warmed floppy flatbread the size of coffee tables while opening up towards the back is a long brick oven with tandoors built into them. The diminutive chef and his towering assistant, armed with long sticks, fling their massive pieces of dough studded with nigella seeds, others with sesame, into the tandoor.
Just as quickly as they are tossed into the hot coals, the large pieces of bread are fished out, steaming, with aromas swirling. It is heady. Customers hurry away with three and four pieces of these light and supple pieces which are folded over and tucked into shopping baskets, or under the arm. These warm and airy afghani breads cost a mere gold coin.
Laden with various bits of shopping Lorrie and I, flagging from the sensory overload of shops and restaurants, decide that a coffee would restore some order and allow us to take stock. And we walked into the perfect place to attend to our needs. Gaziantep Sweets is located on Station Road.
The vast space of the sweet shop struggles with just how to present itself to its customers; Wrapped around the edges of the back and side walls are immaculate glass cases filled with middle eastern sweets of many varieties. The rest of the tiled expanse has clusters of some green padded velvet chairs at melamine topped tables, and yet other grey office-y looking chairs around more tables. A venetian style chandelier hangs askew, its generous size dwarfed by the acres of white tile.
We're not daunted though, as the atmosphere is cheery and we are greeted by friendly service. Of course our coffee has to be accompanied by some sweetmeats- it would be sacrilegious not to partake. So we cruise the length of the gleaming display cabinets, trying to decide.... I settle very quickly on a green pistachio paste roll, and a classic baklava to use as a benchmark test. As the halal ice cream at the Auburn Fresh Juice Centre had been unremarkable, I thought I should try a little taste of what Gaziantep had to offer. Asking for the same flavour to make a direct comparison, this rose petal ice cream was fragrant, and deliciously light.
Lorrie is keen to try something that is listed on the board as 'havuc slice' with Turkish ice cream. It turns out to be a delicious pie slice shape made up of a filo pastry base, a semolina and crushed pistachio layer, and then a thick slab of turkish ice cream. The slice is topped with another layer of syrupy filo pastry. It might sound decadent- it was, but also hugely delicious and memorable!
It all arrives without delay along with our coffees which were, in my estimation, pretty perfect.
The hand made pastries are flaky with layers like the wings of a little insect, they are so light and translucent gold. Biting into them- they taste absolutely hand made, despite the neat and uniform appearance of the little pieces. The morsels are delicious, delicately sweetened to a perfect note, complementing our robust cups of coffee without coating our tongues with saccharine. The modern day baklava has truly evolved and is a far cry from the nuggets of pastry layers glued together with honeyed crushed nuts of years past.
Our final stop is the one we are most looking forward to: a cruise up and down the aisles of Zam Zam grocery store! A multi-generational fleet of good looking middle eastern men call out welcomes as we step into their little store.
The aisles are narrow, but the shelves are spotless and orderly. And so our journey begins- from the fresh food aisles of blood oranges a quarter of the price of what we've been paying this season in the city, to mounds of carrots and beans which look like they've only just left the farm.
Into the dry goods area with packages of red and golden preserved plums, dried blue borage flowers, barberries, figs of all description, orange water, lucerne water, willow catkins water, chicory water, whitethorn water....... the pretty labels with drawing of the herbs line the shelves.
Lorrie and I wonder at the golden carrot jam, shelled and peeled broad beans ( can you imagine?), fresh dates, pomegranate syrups of various intensities, halwa, boxes of turkish delight, fried and baked nibbles, and cans of chopped, peeled and diced vegetables I'd never heard of. Heaven!
It is a good thing Lorrie's car is parked right outside, for she and I make trips back and forth with various packages and sacks of blood oranges. The little Fiat500 is laden for our trip home.
I can only imagine that the month of Ramadan is a veritable moving feast in Auburn. But go anytime- you'll find lots to see and savour Beautiful Afghani women strolling with their round faced children, regal Persians in flowing robes, young Arabs flexing their muscles and sporting dark glasses, and every other variety of human. It makes you feel good to be amongst such a mix of cultures, and when you stop to chat, people are as interested in you as you are in them.
Darband Persian Restaurant
Jasmine Lebanese Restaurant
Sambandha Nepalese Restaurant
Peranakan Place Nyonya Cuisine
Tarim Uyghur Handmade Noodles
Zam Zam Supermarket
Kabul International Restaurant and Bakery (for Afghani bread)