Kebab shops and washing powder. These are the two things which stand out as we make our way on a fooding adventure around Auburn. Fooding works best with foodies and in the company of Deborah, Bowb, Sue and Sarah, we assemble one Sunday in a day totally dedicated to eating up Auburn.
There are plenty of kebabs to be eaten in Auburn, Sydney's Turkish heartland. Kebab shops here are as much a part of the urban streetscape as pho noodle houses are in Cabramatta it seems. And they look great too. Boats of filled pide are moored in the front window, thick trunks of yeeros rotate slowly at the back, and the smell of freshly baked Turkish bread wafts over us, scented with the faint hint of toasted sesame seeds.
We start by skipping towards an enticing display of pastries, staring longingly at pyramids of baklava, pale crumbly pillows of buttery shortbread and goodie-filled baskets wrapped in cellophane and decorated with ribbons.
Two doors down, much time is spent examining the aisles of a grocery store filled with such delights as pomegranate molasses and sour cherry jams as well as the aforementioned giant boxes of washing powder, in bulk weights of 10kg and no end of variety.
Breakfast for everyone is sought in the form of banh mit, crusty soft bread rolls filled with Vietnamese pork slices, pate, grated carrot, cucumber, coriander and lettuce. I, however, satiate a long-time craving for mankoushe, or Lebanese pizza--an addiction which shows no sign of abating.
The mankoushe is fresh from the oven at Sarah Pizza, a crispy disc of zaatar-topped pizza, a slight crack forming where it has been folded in half, wrapped in a sheet of greaseproof, and bundled into a paper bag. The pizza is hot and tasty, and eager bites meet a perfectly crunchy exterior that easily gives way to a dense but fluffy core. The topping is thick and herby: a dark green paste of thyme-based zaatar mixed with olive oil, the tangy taste of sumac lingers and roasted sesame seeds provide a nutty crunch.
Deborah leads the way to Real Turkish Delight, a shop which is nothing like the chaos of boiling vats of rose-flavoured syrup enveloped in thick clouds of icing sugar that I had romantically envisaged. Instead it proves to be a fancy and refined establishment--the kind of place where you feel compelled to speak in hushed tones and when it all becomes too much, succumb to giggling quietly. There are spotless glass cabinets filled with shiny silver platters, proudly bearing handmade chocolates lined up neatly in rows. The Turkish delight offerings, which are not as numerous as I had initially expected, are enclosed elegantly in Ottoman-themed packaging. There is no chance of messing one's clothes here, or coming away with sticky fingers or icing sugar stained cheeks.
We leave with an assortment of goodies: some handmade chocolates, a bar of rosewater Turkish delight, a box of hazelnut delight rolled in shreds of coconut. I can’t resist the gold-ribboned package of chocolate seconds: 6 chocolates for only $2. They have a few slight imperfections, but the dark chocolate is smooth and the fondant filling is light and tastes of peaches and mango.
Arzum Market is our next stop and we spend over half an hour rummaging through this tiny but well-stocked grocery. There are smoked salamis hanging alongside dry goods, jars of jam and honey, tins of pate, rows of spices and a deli case packed with meats, cheeses and olives.
The jars of honey entrance me for several minutes. Some contain whole figs, fat and swollen, but it’s the jars of nuts covered in honey that command my attention. One variant has diagonal stripes of crushed almonds, walnut, peanut and pistachio divided into an earthy rainbow; the other has whole nuts in rows, jammed up against the glass. Deborah is torn between the two, and as we discuss the virtues of one over the other, she suddenly asks the shopkeeper behind the counter his opinion of both.
After confessing he hasn’t really tried either, he instead opens another jar of plain honey, inviting us to sample it with freshly torn strips of soft fluffy Turkish bread. "Try some", he beckons, his gentle eyes crinkling with a welcoming smile. We dunk our bread into the honey, a thick golden syrup which is light on the tongue with a sweet floral nuance. Its tastiness only adds to Deborah's dilemma.
The shiny red contraption in the middle of one aisle has me stumped for a moment until I notice the folded cardboard packaging on a shelf which explains its purpose: a giant baklava baker to fulfil all your rose-syrup coated dreams.
In the back left corner are giant bags of pistachios, propped up on the floor like sacks of jasmine rice. Deborah ponders over a box of cereal with chocolate flakes, and from the multitude of fruit teas I finally choose a box of apple-flavoured tea.
On my way to the register I pounce on a cheerfully packaged wafer disc which instantly reminds me of the Carlsbad wafers we munched on from a street vendor in Prague.
Later consumption reveals a triple layer wafer disc glued together with the faintest trail of melted marshmallow. It is not entirely like the Carlsbad I remember, but it is light and crispy and would marry perfectly with ice cream and a sprinkle of peanuts.
I also pick up two boxes of Turkish delight, both made in Turkey of course. The rosewater and the rosewater natural have exactly the same ingredients but the price is so significantly different that I feel compelled to buy both and find out why. Extensive taste-testing that evening declares the natural (and more expensive) variety the winner: it is less harsh in sweetness, softer in texture and subtler with the flavour of rosewater.
There is a brief visit to Buket Bakery, where the pides filled with meat or spinach are stretched out long and thin. The counter is stacked with still-steaming bags of Turkish bread but I make my only investment in a box of chocolate and vanilla shortbreads which are powdery sweet on the top, dense and almost crunchy on the bottom. They are light but addictive and melt on the tongue with cups of tea after dinner that evening.
Down the road we step into Tamleni Indian Supermarket. The aisle of chutneys stretches as far as the eye can see, and up the front we admire the shiny silver thali trays with their indented compartments, pondering aloud that they could easily accommodate TV dinners or the ingredients for a Japanese obento box.
We break for lunch at Mado Cafe, a Turkish feast covered in a separate post, but rest assured that dondurma, that fantastically stretchy Turkish ice cream features heavily.
After three hours of shopping and eating, we begin to disperse and drift homeward. It is only bowb and I who remain to browse Atin Ito Pinoy, a corner shop which specialises in Filipino fare.
Bowb heads to the train station, and me, the neverending glutton, continues to explore what streets remain. First a trek down a suburban street to inspect up-close the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque, a building which is much smaller than one would guess, its two minarets rising majestically. Much of the marble and stone used was imported from Turkey, the carpets inside woven in Istanbul.
Back near the main strip I admire the lamb tongues in the butchers window before being drawn into Veysel's, a commercial catering equipment company where one can purchase deluxe kebab machines, thermadeck pizza ovens, chicken rotisseries and all sizes of pide shovels.
The Afghan Market has an enticing array of lentils, spices and bottled condiments; even better, the man behind the counter is watching Saturday Kitchen on a giant plasma screen. I pause at the register to watch, and wish there was a chair to sit on.
I come away with a canister of garlic powder and a jar of brinjal pickle, a sweet chutney made with aubergines or eggplants. "Perfect with cold meats and cheese" reads the label, a statement which imprints in my brain on the afternoon journey home.
Delights abound in Auburn, and with my appetite whetted, I can’t wait to get back. That evening I head straight for the fridge; it's true. A thick dollop of brinjal pairs perfectly with a wedge of crumbly vintage cheddar cheese.
So you wanna do a food tour?
1. Find a friend. One will do, two is better. Any more than four or five and you start to look like a tourist group. You may have to hand out name tags and nominate someone to hold the tour leader umbrella.
2. Pick a suburb. Any will do.
3. Commit yourselves to at least two hours of dedicated shop browsing.
4. Research is not necessary; most shopkeepers are more than happy to answer questions, and most will be chuffed if you show a genuine level of interest. The point is to take the time to browse happily. If food is art, then every grocery store is an art gallery.
If you are keen to make the most of your day, you may wish to have a quick browse through The Food Shoppers' Guide to Sydney by Helen Greenwood and John Newton, or the SBS Eating Guide to Sydney by Maeve O'Meara and Joanna Savill. You are just as likely to find hidden gems on your own though, and sometimes the suspense of your mystery tour is half the fun.
5. Wear comfortable walking shoes, bring a backpack for all your goodies, and take a camera if you are really hardcore.
156 South Parade, Auburn, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9649 5373
Shop 1/3-5 Station Road, Auburn, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9649 9787
Monday to Saturday 8am-6pm
61 Rawson Street, Auburn, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9649 9327
Buket Cake Shop
67 Rawson Street, Auburn, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9643 2135
103 Rawson Street, Auburn, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9649 2290
Atin Ito Pinoy
2D Auburn Road, Auburn, Sydney
Tel: +61(02) 9643 9797
18 Civic Road, Auburn, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9649 1544
Shop No. 1, 2-4 Station Road, Auburn, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9749 2009
Related GrabYour Fork posts:
Auburn dining: Al Sofra Pizza, Pide and Kebabs
Auburn dining: Mado Cafe
Auburn food shopping: Harkola Food World Wide warehouse
Auburn photographic food tour, August 2006
Foodbloggers' tour of Ashfield, March 2006
Foodbloggers' tour of Chinatown dim sum shops, July 2005
Foodbloggers' tour of Rozelle to Balmain, November 2004
Foodbloggers' tour of Strathfield and Homebush, July 2005
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7/03/2006 11:43:00 p.m.