Taste Tours: Ramadan Festival, Lakemba

Egyptian-Australian guide Sahar with her trainee assistant guide, a registered nurse and refugee from Syria

Stepping into the main street of Lakemba during Ramadan Festival is like carrying an Access All Areas foodie passport. The aroma of Malaysian satay mingles with shish kebabs grilling over charcoal. Tobacco smoke competes with the scent of cardamom-infused coffee, and hungry crowds mill around the fluoro-lit food stands.

Ladies in hijabs, burqas and niqabs stroll with big-eyed babies. Groups of tracksuit-clad men chat in Arabic. Everyone huddles against the cold.

The Taste Tour group meet outside Island Dreams, a cafe that intriguingly offers Cocos and Christmas Island cuisine. Our first stop is not inside; it’s on the street where we taste chicken satay while our guide, Sahar, introduces herself.

The ladies selling satay

Sahar says she hopes to dispel any negative ideas we might have about Lakemba, and explains that she is proudly AustralianĀ andĀ proudly Egyptian.

From here, we walk to our next stop: a Bangladeshi street stall where we try a rich, spicy lentil curry studded with beef. It’s hot in both ways and it warms us against the night air.

Next up: murtabak (stuffed pancake) filled with lightly spiced egg, chicken and onions, followed by Egypt’s nation dish, koshary.

Egypt’s national dish, a mix of lentils, pasta, chick peas and rice

The street gets even more crowded. There are lines for the more popular dishes. Hawkers sell grilled corn, hibiscus, carrot and lemon and mint drinks. Fair ground vans sell chips on a stick and soft serve dipped in 100s and 1000s.

We taste camel burgers (a lot like a Big Mac!), sahlab, a hot rose-water and cinnamon milk drink from Syria, and chicken shawarma.

Everyone claims to be full, but the booza (Middle Eastern icecream) we fit in has a gum-like texture, a faintly condensed milk flavour and is rolled in crushed pistachios.

Our tour finishes with a tasting of knafeh (a sweet cheese, semolina, turmeric and pistachio dessert) and sweet, black coffee made over a bed of sand. Sahar says they make it like that because in the desert, the sand gets hot enough to cook on. This recreation uses a bain marie full of sand.

The highlight? Meeting a 10-month old boy named Omar. This smiley little guy and his dad stopped for a chat. Omar’s dad and I talked about all the usual stuff. We showed off our sons. We gooed and gahhed.

Standing on the street surrounded by a tapestry of nationalities, this moment was pure delight.

Taste Tours train refugees to become tour guides, introduce curious guests to new food experiences, and help unlock the tasty secrets of Sydney’s suburbs. What they do is as much about raising cultural awareness as it is about food. As their shirts say, ‘Eat for Good’.

To book a Ramadan Taste Tour, click here.

 

 

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