All over Sydney there are pockets of ethnic diversity which fly well under the radar, and cuisines that I haven't yet explored. Fairfield is one of these suburbs, and when I saw Thang Ngo of Noodlies post of a Fairfield food tour, sponsored kindly by Fairfield City Council, I was eager to get one of those coveted spots. Fairfield, being located so close to Cabramatta, offers no less than 133 nationalities amongst its 190,000 residents - and 900 different local businesses that canvass all of this diversity!
This tour was designed to promote and educate the 6 bloggers, and hopefully, the wider Sydney food blogging & reading community, of the amazing diversity of food that is available in Fairfield. I definitely walked away (or rolled away, should I say, since we ate so much!) from the tour appreciating this, but what I appreciated even more was the generosity and warm spirit of all the locals - we were welcomed like family everywhere we went, and I was just struck by how humble and real they and their food was. For these business owners, they are not in the food industry for the accolades, the cookbooks, the appearances on Masterchef - they are in it because they love it, it is their passion and their joy, it is their link to home and it is their livelihood. Some of the people we met had been professionals in their home countries, some had escaped with next to nothing but the clothes on their backs... all had come to Australia to seek a better life, and I was so humbled to have been the recipient of their generosity.
My thanks to Helen Pijaca of Fairfield City Council for being the primary organiser of the event, and for Thang Ngo for hosting the tour and engaging with his readers to promote a local suburb of which he is so passionate about. I enjoyed the day thoroughly, and I can't wait to go back to all the different places we visited.
Paula Continental Cakes
First stop of the tour was our meeting point: Paula Continental Cakes. I had read about Paula's from blogs such as chocolatesuze and Grab Your Fork, so I was looking forward to sinking my teeth into some dulce de leche - which they had in abundance as it featured in pretty much every cake!
We were treated to teas and coffees and trays of assorted delicacies from the kitchen. There were churros with caramel, chilento, alfajor de maizena, torta de milhoja and torta de tres leches. We had the opportunity to taste test one each, and we were soon naming our favourites - for me it was definitely the torta de tres leches: the sponge cake was light as air, two layers sandwiching the dulce de leche, and topped with a meringue that dissipated as soon as it touched the tongue. I was such a fan that I headed back after the tour was over to pick up the cake to take away!
|These churros were also exceptional... highly recommended!|
|From top left: torta de tres leches, torta de milhoja, something that Thang |
named "baby's arm!" and alfajor de maizena
Shop 2/9 Barbara Street, Fairfield
Open 7 days a week: 7am - 5pm
Ph: (02) 9726 2369
Afghan & Arab Bakery
Our next stop was just around the corner from Paula's was to Afghan & Arab Bakery. As soon as I stepped inside and saw the owner and head baker Habib, I practically squealed in delight as I had just seen him a few days earlier on Food Safari! He was as smiley and polite as he was on TV, and demonstrated to us how he baked his bread in the cavernous clay ovens that just emanated so much heat in this tiny bakery.
Habib was an old hand at making the bread, in a 5 minute demonstration for us, he had stretched out the dough and slapped it into the clay oven no less than 8 pieces of bread! He explained how he was about to enter into a distribution agreement with IGA, the hours that he baked, the quantities. We had the opportunity to try his bread fresh from the clay oven, as well as a sweet variety that he made with ground fennel and cardamom seeds.
I was so taken with the bread that I bought a bag of the long Afghan bread to take home - and I've been eating it happily all weekend, dipped in hummus!
Afghan & Arab Bakery
2/13 Nelson Street, Fairfeld
Open 7 days: Mon-Fri 8am-midnight, Sat 8am-5pm, Sun 5pm-midnight
Ph: (02) 9728 1832
Mykababayan (Sans Rival)
Filipino food - oh, I have been intending on trying this cuisine for so so long, especially since I've become such good friends with dear Ramenraff. I was so excited to see that I would have the opportunity to do so as part of this tour, and with Thang's personal recommendations as well - as he is a regular at this restaurant!
This place was a find. Located right next to Fairfield train station, it is a completely unassuming and hidden find. Styled like a grocery store, you step inside and find a hot food counter and a few tables set up. This store was a riot of colour - there was just so much to look at, and I adore grocery stores where I have not a clue as to what the offerings are - as I usually do, I picked up a few unknown items to take home to try!
Rowena, one of the owners, took the time to talk to us about each one of the dishes that we were sampling. A petite, softly spoken woman, she explained how the food that they offered varied daily, depending on what they felt like cooking and what produce is available. The offerings are also incredibly cheap - two choices as to dish + rice on the side for less than $10 - will all food cooked on site. This was home food, made with love... food that you'd get at a friend's house, made without fuss, probably also with no recipe - a bit of this, a bit of that, and it just all works.
My favourite three dishes were of the jackfruit & seafood in coconut sauce, the abodo chicken and the deep fried banana and jackfruit dessert. I was relieved that we had to move on to our next stop, as I would have sat there and demolished the entire lot!
Mykababayan (Sans Rival)
13/52 - 68 The Crescent, Fairfield
Ph: (02) 9727 3146
Al Jamil Market
This was an unscheduled stop on our tour, but one we were all happy to make. It was en route to our next stop, and we went in to visit and say hello to Jamil, the owner and operator of this incredible Afghani and Iraqi supermarket. We were immediately taken with all the big boxes and vats of foodstuffs we could buy by weight - pumpkin seeds, cracked wheat, sweets, dried fruits. The vibrant colours, smells and unusual products immediately intrigued us, and we fast dispersed in this grocery store to explore and learn.
We were all taken with the warm generosity of Jamil - he is the kind of man who would invite you to his home, feed you until you begged for mercy, and then send you off with bags of food to take home. As it was, he was grabbing handfuls of sweets and shoving them into MissPiggy's handbag, or opening the fridge and handing out cans of drink to everyone!
A former scientist in his home country, he had come to Australia in the 1980s. He was assisted in the store by his wife and son, and they had imported food from Iraq and Afghanistan for the local community. It was immediately evident he was a community man - one that took great pride from his family, his social network and his heritage. We made some purchases at his store, and I went back afterwards to buy some more of the amazing apricot sweets that we had sampled earlier!
Al Jamil Market
25 The Crescent, Fairfield
Ph: (02) 9745 9980
Al Dhiaffah Al Iraqi Restaurant
Thang had raved about this restaurant before we got to this stop. He told us about how this was also a restaurant that he frequented regularly, so I was eager to try it. I was also hoping that we would get the chance to try the rice dish that had been featured on Food Safari last week - so when we walked in and the owner bought out this huge platter of lamb shank and rice, I was delighted!
Upon seating, dishes began arriving at our table in quick succession and soon, there was barely room for us to place our napkins! The lamb shanks were just melt in your mouth, but there is a very special place in my heart for the mixed meat plate. Wrapped in fresh, hot flat bread, dipped into the hummus and accompanied by the crunchy pickle, this was just a delight.
This restaurant is completely unadorned and simplistic in its decor and presentation of the food, but this is all about home style food, true to the Iraqi culture. I had a peek at the menu, and this place is cheap as chips - we're talking approximately $15 per head, with servings big enough for a box to take home. I will definitely be coming back here for the mixed plate!
|My mouth is watering just looking at this picture...|
|The incredible generosity of the business owners was evident by the feasts they prepared|
13 The Crescent, Fairfield
Ph: (02) 9755 0870
Read a review of the restaurant from Grab Your Fork here.
Frank's Lebanese Restaurant
Chargrilled chicken. Garlic sauce. Chips. Sound familiar? This is universally loved (except by vegetarians) all over Sydney, all chanting the El Jannah name. I had never heard of Franks before, but I was happy to try it with an open mind... and dare I say it, it is up there with EJ! Considering it doesn't have the crowds, and it has amazing falafels and the smokiest and most delicious babaganoush I have ever eaten, I think this may be my future choice!
Franks is a sizeable restaurant located on one of the main shopping streets of Fairfield, not far from the station. It sells whole chickens for $12.90 for takeaway - an absolute bargain - and we had the opportunity to meet Frank himself who talked us through the dishes that we were trying... all whilst being careful to not reveal careful family secret ingredients!
By this stage of the tour, all of us were talking about the restrictions in our clothing and how full we were. However, when faced with the platters of chicken, the fluffy yet crispy falafels, and the assorted dips, we tucked in with relish - and it did not disappoint any of us.
|I wanted to steal the huge tub of garlic sauce!|
|Our spread. That babaganoush (forefront) was just AMAZING.|
16 Smart Street, Fairfield
Ph: (02) 9724 3000
Opening hours: 12 midday - 10.30pm 7 days
By the time we reached Green Peppercorn, our last destination, we were all at the point of uncomfortable. Perhaps even beyond!
Green Peppercorn, located inside the Fairfield Hotel, surprised me with their funky and modern decor. It is a big restaurant, and it was packed to the brim for a Saturday lunch with couples, families and groups of friends celebrating birthdays which is not surprising considering it was just named Best New Restaurant in the 2013 SMH Good Food Under $30 awards! We were escorted into the private dining room where a table was set up to provide us with a cooking demonstration and we all settled in with Yalumba wine (or sparkling mineral water for boring types like me) to enjoy the remainder of the afternoon.
|Interior of the restaurant|
We then settled in to a Laotian feast. What struck me was how fresh all the food was - it was definitely a cuisine that is showcased through fresh produce - we had dishes filled with assorted fresh herbs, crunchy lettuce, crisp bean sprouts. There was so much texture in each one of their dishes, and my favourite - hands down - was Nem Khao: a crunchy rice salad mixed with cured pork, shallots, chilli, kaffir lime leaves and peanuts, served with a bowl of iceberg lettuce leaves and mint ($13.90). The dish came out as a mixed arrangement, and was designed to be eaten laden onto the lettuce leaves and then wrapped up and eaten by hand. It was incredibly fresh and light, and I loved every single bite of it.
We were also served the famous family sausages, Som Tam (papaya salad), larb and Nam Tok (tiger beef salad). We were all groaning by this stage - with both pleasure at the dishes we were eating, but also out of sheer gluttony. Yet somehow, when they cleared our plates and bought out the assorted desserts, we somehow got our fifth or sixth wind and cleaned out the desserts as well!
The infamous fried ice cream from Holy Basil is also served at GP (as the two owners are brothers), and yes, it is as amazing as it is reputed to be. We were also served black sesame creme brulee, coconut pandan creme brulee and black sticky rice with coconut ice cream. The two winners for me was definitely the fried ice cream and the black sticky rice. I couldn't stop going back for more and more... despite my breathing getting more and more shallow as my body physically ran out of room from all the food!
For those who have not yet tried GP, please make the effort to come out to Fairfield to visit it. The food is nothing you will ever have experienced before, and SMH agrees - hence the recent accolades! A word of warning though - due to the overwhelming popularity of the restaurant, either come early on the the weekend, or be prepared to wait for at least an hour. My tip is to make a special trip sometime from Monday to Thursday, when they accept reservations... I'll be at GP sometime next week on one of those days!
1 Hamilton Rd, Fairfield (Fairfield Hotel)
Ph: (02) 9724 7842
Opening hours: Lunch - 12pm - 3pm, Dinner - 5pm - 10.00pm / 11.00pm (see website)
* Note: reservations only accepted Mon-Thurs.
So at 3.30pm, five and a half hours after we started, the Fairfield feast finally ended. We were also beyond full by this stage, but all of us were incredibly humbled by the generosity that we had experienced that day. As I drove home, all I could think about was how all these locals had set up small businesses in their community - to provide for their community, to bring food from their heritage and culture to Australia. It was amazing to hear that some of these businesses had been open for so many years, supported by the local community, especially when you read about all these city restaurants opening and closing in a heartbeat.
I made a vow at that point to support local restaurants more - the popular, hot new restaurants don't need me as much as the small guys do. They don't have financial backers, they don't have the profile, they don't have the fancy ingredients - all they have is heart and the community, and the least we can do is visit them every once in awhile.
Many thanks to Helen from Fairfield City Council, Thang Ngo, and all the restaurants and businesses that made our day. This tour was just an eye opening and mouth watering experience for me, and I loved every single moment of it.
Also, thanks to Green Peppercorn for their goodie bag and Lenovo and SBS for their showbag! I had a tough time lugging the goodie bags and all the items I had purchased throughout the tour back to the car but it was all worth it when I got home and could share my amazing day with my husband, and now with you all.
If you were like me, and had never ventured out to Fairfield, then please do. Go visit the supermarkets, try the different restaurants, and blow your mind with the unexpected. Remember, support the community and the people!