Knowledge in place
Situated about 15 km from Sydney CBD is Auburn, motto: “Many cultures, one community”. It is an absolute multicultural treasure trove for food lovers.
Our trails so far have largely been about the distinctiveness of produce in one NSW region: what the French call “terroir”. But cooking is culture not nature. And if today’s Australian food is about anything, it’s about the gorgeous profusion of stories chefs and suppliers tell using fresh local ingredients. It turns out beautiful stories from afar are newly fascinating when translated here.
It didn’t start as a plan for a new trail, just a craving for great hummus. Hearing very good things, The Owl House’s Roy and Amir headed to Auburn’s Jasmin restaurant for a classic Lebanese lunch in the serious-for-all-it’s-relaxed style with which Mediterraneans seem to take their daytime meal. Perhaps fine preparation for walking it all off in the streets of Auburn afterwards.
No covered suqs: a small, seemingly unremarkable grocer’s, Sahar Super Market. A red sign offers “Western Union”. The doors open to the scent of baharat, some olfactory Scheherazade whirling us simultaneously back to childhood memories in the Middle East and forward to exotic reveries. Coles and Woolies have lots of things, but excitement isn’t one of them. And we were excited: Persian limes! Al Ameddine brand tahina! This is a worthy food trail. And Sahar’s is but one in the wonderful array of Turkish, Lebanese & Persian shops that reward the diligent ingredient shopper.
What we found has inspired many of the dishes on the new menu. Dried limes, large green Persian raisins, and premium tehina make us think of savoury dishes with a Middle Eastern touch—subtle spices and small bursts of sweetness—and all the challenge of making cocktails that will match. Later, at the bar, Amir concocts his bitter-fragrant Saffron, a cocktail made with Saffron Strega liquor, Gin and a few strands of that spice dearer than gold.
Gima Supermarket is our last stop, where the crunch of kadaifi pastry gets Roy excited anew, this time about texture and how such a crunch might speak alongside prawns. But wait: there’s sahleb too! An orchid root ground for a porridge, it’s made all over the Middle East, served warm in winter, chilled in summer. We have a new dessert inspiration for our menu.
Trails not taken
We stop at several butchers where whole goats and lambs hang: more thoughts of Aussie (Coles and Woolies?) norms against the opportunity the multiple traditions here offer. And if everyone is a stranger here in Auburn then no one is, since everyone is welcome too. The abundance of Chinese and Vietnamese supermarkets, Scheherazade tells us, is a story for another day.We’ll jump at the opportunity for our next visit to Jasmin, and not just for the great hummus. Like the rest of Auburn it has plenty of other stories that will bring us back.