9.30am Saturday 25 June, if my memory serves me correctly, saw me clutching an umbrella in Bankstown City Plaza, praying that the fat drops of lazy rain rain would go away and come again another day.
I was bright and early, baited by the allure of free one-hour themed food tours. I'm no stranger to Bankstown but usually we head here for a quick bowl of steaming pho before we skitter back home or detour elsewhere. We might stock up on some baklava, or grab a couple of takeaway boxes of bun thit nuong, but with Bankstown often lauded as a cultural melting pot, a "celebration of multicultural Australia", I knew there was probably a lot more potential here than I was currently appreciating.
There were five different tours advertised:
1. Wok It Up
2. European Eats
3. Tantalising Tea
4. Little Lebanon, and
5. Know Your Noodles.
And yes, wouldn’t you guess by this post’s heading, but the first tour I signed up for was Little Lebanon!
First stop: Amesia Continental Groceries
(formerly Green Valley but who needs to change the sign!)
The man selling corn outside is a regular fixture. Fresh corn cobs are plunged into boiling water until cooked, and then the fat juicy kernels are basted with butter and dusted liberally with salt and plenty of pepper. Locals swear his corn is the sweetest and juiciest there is, and only $2 for at least 10-minutes of cob-gnawing fun.
I must have walked past this shop hundreds of times but never ventured inside. What a fool.
Wow. Who knew? Reminiscent of a Moroccan or Turkish spice bazaar, the earthy rainbow of herbs and spices not only looked great, but smelled fantastic as well. Mounds of paprika, peppercorns, cloves and caraway, it was like a pick-n-mix candy store for the spice fanatic.
They also sell Lebanese spice mix (sabe b'harat makhlootah), mansuf and za'atar for those so inclined =)
Lentils or pulses?
And you can't have guests without offering something to eat. Our kind hosts proferred hot crunchy patties of felafel, which were the garlickiest (yum!) I've ever tasted.
Next stop: Chahade El Bahsa Sweets
We headed across the main square and down to Chahade El Bahsa, famous for its zroud al sitt (ladies' arm). These filo pastry fingers are filled with clotted cooked cream (ishta) and fried in butter until the core is melted, and the outside is a golden brown.
Unfortunately these aren't normally ready until 1pm, but nevermind, there was plenty of other eye candy to keep the salivary glands occupied...
I was ecstatic to finally discover the Lebanese name for my favourite baklava pastry. I've always called them 'the pyramids' and even enquiries to Lebanese bakery owners resulted in puzzled shrugs. "Is all baklava," they've admitted. "They all called baklava."
Which never made sense to me. I suspect they were just trying to fob me off. So I'm hoping these really are called boukaj. Resolution at last!
Our sample here was something I've purchased before--kenefe, a semolina dessert with a cheesey base. What I had never realised before was that it's supposed to be heated (in the microwave will suffice) whereupon the cheese will melt into a mozzarella-on-pizza like consistency. Oh boy this was good. It tastes so much better heated!
One hour seems like an awfully long time but it really wasn't. By now forty-five minutes had passed and we still had two stops to go!
Stop 3: Olympic Continental Delicatessen
I've been in here a couple of times, but today we were led through aisle by aisle by the store's kind and charming host. We saw Armenian pastries, Lebanese porridge ("Beautiful with garlic," she advised. "Garlic? For breakfast?" I asked. "Oh yes. Lebanese love garlic. Always a good time for garlic.") and olives galore.
We were taken aback by the banquet of samples... lamb kibbeh (minced lamb with spices), sambusak bil lahmeh (pastry filled with lamb and pinenuts), hummus and plenty of homemade tabbouleh.
Our host confided that hummus can easily be made using tinned hummus, a splodge of tahini and adding a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika and parsely. "All the Lebanese housewives do this," she said.
Stop 4: Olympic Continental Butcher (Kahil and Sons)
Our final stop was only next door. You can see in the pic above that they were already cranking up the barbie and dispensing samples of lamb kofta and maqaneq (Lebanese spicy sausages).
An inhouse smokehouse produces a variety of Balkan smallgoods but along the counter I was more intrigued by these lambs tongues... baaaa...
Phew! What fun! And only twenty minutes late for my next tour!
Click here to read about my next tour, European Eats.
Amesia Continential Groceries
Shop 40, Compass Centre, North Terrace, Bankstown, Sydney
Tel: 02 9790 0465
Chahade El Bahsa Sweets
288 Chapel Road, South Bankstown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9796 4818
Olympic Continental Delicatessen and Butcher
41 Bankstown City Plaza, Bankstown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9790 1669
Related GrabYourFork posts:
Bankstown Bites Food Festival 2005: European Eats
Bankstown Bites Food Festival 2005: Tantalising Tea
Bankstown Bites Food Festival 2008
Bankstown Bites Food Festival 2009
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Punchbowl - Rabeih Sweets
Yagoona - Nhu Quynh Fresh Tofu and Soy Milk
Yagoona - Rodriguez Brothers
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8/16/2005 11:40:00 p.m.