I'd known about Island Dreams Cafe in Lakemba in Sydney's south west for years, but never got around to eating there until last year. Island Dreams specialises in food from Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and it wasn't until I visited that I realised the local cuisine offers a unique take on many Malaysian dishes.
WHAT IS ISLAND DREAMS?
A café serving Christmas Island and Cocos Islands cuisine. Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are both territories of Australia, with populations of 1,400 and 600 respectively. Located halfway between Perth and Sri Lanka, the cuisine is broadly Malaysian-based, with influences from Indonesia, India and China.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Aquamarine walls, seashells and paintings of frangipani will settle you into island-time at this relaxed and cosy café in the middle of Lakemba. A bain-marie of hot foods provide fast food for locals, or you can order from the menu. You’ll find families and couples at lunchtime, but by night it’s a popular spot for Somali locals who congregate over tea in-between prayers.
Roti $2 each
WHAT SHOULD I ORDER?
Homemade roti ($2 each) is mandatory - it's a crisp and buttery flatbread that is cooked fresh and best savoured with scoops of curry sauce. Martabak ($7.50) is the filled version, flaky roti wrapped around a mixture of egg, shallots, grated onion and bean sprouts, that is a meal in itself.
Island lemon chilli chicken ($9.50) or ayam panggang, is another house specialty: bone-in chicken doused with a complex sauce made from a secret blend of spices that includes ground coriander seeds, cumin seeds and whole chillii. It's a family recipe from owner Alimah Mohd’s grandmother.
Nasi lemak $8.50 (only on weekends)
Regular Malaysian dishes include mee goreng fried noodles, mee rebus curry noodles, beef rendang and homemade curry puffs.
Sambal udang chilli prawns $15
Chilli fiends will revel in sambal udang ($15), fiery prawns cooked with fresh tomato, onion, chilli, tamarind and lemon.
Somalian tea $3.50
Skip the teh tarik ($3.50), a tea-bag version of what should be a strong sweet Malaysian frothy tea, and order the Somalian tea ($3.50) instead. It's a strong brew topped with foamed milk, flavoured with cinnamon.
Uncooked dried fish crackers
Takeaway bags of colourful fish crackers by the cash register are also worth investigating, the crackers made from scratch by Alima’s family in Port Hedland, Western Australia. It’s a labour-intensive, week-long process involving fresh mackerel scraped by hand, ground and mixed with tapioca, boiled, refrigerated, sliced and then dried in the sun. The fish crackers are a revelation of flavour, and a small bag will set you back a mere $2.
Tamar date biscuits
Tamar date biscuit
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This article appears in the January 2011 issue of Time Out Sydney in the Food & Drink section. Read online.
Time Out Sydney reviews:
ATL Marantha, Kensington (Indonesian fried chicken with edible bones)
Balkan Oven, Rockdale (Macedonian burek)
Durban Dish, Baulkham Hills (South African bunny chow)
Hijazi's Falafel, Arncliffe (Lebanese breakfast)
La Paula, Fairfield (Chilean empanadas, lomitos and sweets)
Sea Sweet, Parramatta (Lebanese sweet kashta cheese burger)
Sizzling Fillo, Lidcombe (Filipino pork hock crackling)
Tehran, Granville (Persian cuisine)
Tuong Lai, Cabramatta (Vietnamese sugar cane prawns)
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1/20/2011 01:44:00 a.m.