Lakemba, a melting pot of cultures and exotic bites!

During the 70s when I was growing up in Sydney, the food landscape was fairly bleak. Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken were considered trendy and were also very popular. However, there were some pockets of ethnic communities who brought their food traditions with them when they settled here. The Greeks had Marrickville, the Italians had Leichhardt and the Lebanese had Lakemba.

Written by Topaz Moon

These days, Sydney’s Lakemba is more of a melting pot of Middle Eastern, Sub-Continental and Sub-Saharan countries. Cuisines represented include Lebanese, Afghani, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Chinese, Christmas Island and there is even a restaurant that specialises in Indian style Chinese food – a real thing, apparently – from an ethnic Chinese population that settled in Calcutta during the late 19th century.

Lakemba is fantastic for grocery shopping. I go there to buy vegetables like okra, eggplant and tomatoes. The fresh ginger I find there is ridiculously cheap at $8 per kilo, whereas ginger usually goes for around $22 in the supermarkets. There are also many grocery stores specialising in Lebanese (dates and honey) and Sub-Continental ingredients like spices, oils and rice.

Diagonally opposite the Lakemba railway station is a butchery called Darwiche, which sells a great range of halal meat. My favourites are the kofta mince and chicken breast pieces marinated in yoghurt and spice. I always make sure my freezer is stocked with these two items and I cook them – separately of course – in a moderately hot oven on baking paper. They are delicious served with hot Lebanese or Afghan bread and hommous or fresh salad.

Lakemba during the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan

Last year I hosted a couple of Belgian girls at my house. One evening during Ramadan, my sister and I took them out to Lakemba for the Iftar (breaking the fast) street food extravaganza. This happens every evening during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan; as soon as the sun goes down, the coals are lit to cook a myriad of gastronomic temptations that can be eaten right there on the street. The girls were totally gobsmacked at the hustle, bustle and mix of cultures. They had never experienced anything remotely similar during their travels around Europe. To them, it was very exotic! On Saturday nights during Ramadan, Haldon street is blocked to cars and is transformed into a giant street party with food; my God the food, and the crowds! It gets very crowded, especially on Saturday nights.

Lakemba during Ramadan

My favourite things to eat during this special time are skewers of succulent tandoori chicken smothered in mint riata and salad, wrapped in warm naan bread. Other delicious foods include freshly cooked vegetable samosas – deliciously spicy and served with cool green-tinged coriander yoghurt sauce, fish curry, and a certain beef and lentil curry soup that had me dreaming about it for ages until I had to go back and get some more. For dessert you cannot go past the Palestinian style knafa – layers of orange coloured vermicelli noodles cooked in sticky sugar syrup with a smooth rich layer of cheese in the middle – I cannot tell how many times I have made the journey to Lakemba (a bus and a train to get there) late at night just to satisfy my knafa craving. When Ramadan ends, it’s this that I miss the most although there are a few places to get it during the rest of the year.

Other popular delights during Ramadan are the Camel Burgers, curly fries, Koshary from Egypt, rich dark coffee made over hot sand, corn on the cob, and freshly squeezed juices.

6 favourites eating every day in Lakemba

Afghan Sufra Bakery and Restaurant

I love the bread here. I am addicted to its springy texture, long shelf life and natural wholemeal taste.

This place also does a roaring trade in takeaway dishes of lamb and chicken skewers wrapped in naan, as well as a selection of hot dishes from the bain-marie: exotic biryanis spiced with saffron, dahls and other delicious looking curries. Afghan Sufra only has a few tables and they are always crowded with locals. Cheep, cheerful and delicious. For me though – its all about the Afghani style wholemeal bread.

Afghan Sufra Bakery and Restaurant
122 Haldon Street, Lakemba
NSW 2195, Australia

El Manara Lebanese Restaurant

My favourite Lebanese place in Lakemba is El Manara which has been around a long time. I highly recommend the hoummus, foul, felafel, kofta, tabouli, chicken, and lamb. Basically anything on the menu is delicious and freshly cooked to order. It represents very good value for money. I really would not bother going to any other Lebanese place in Lakemba – they are simply not as good. Unsurprisingly, El Manara is also very popular with the locals.

Manara Lebanese Restaurant Lakemba

Manara Lebanese Restaurant Lakemba Menu

El Manara Lebanese Restaurant
143 Haldon Street, Lakemba
NSW 2195, Australia

King of Sweets

My God, I dream about this place! The Lebanese sweets from here are first-class in terms of quality and price. Drenched in sugar syrup, scattered with pistachios or stuffed with dates – I could go on and on. Did I mention the almond shortbread?  Did I mention the cinnamon-flavoured semolina cake with clotted cream? This place is Lakemba Royalty, hence the name.

King of Sweets Lakemba

King of Sweets
127 Haldon Street, Lakemba
NSW 2195, Australia

Dhaka Delight

This establishment specialises in desserts from Bangladesh and is always busy with locals looking for a sugar hit. Having said that, I have only ever had the sweets from here a couple of times. The sweets are very rich and sickly-sweet for my taste but are nonetheless very delicious, dripping as they are with sugary syrup and stuffed with nuts and clotted cream.

No my friends, this is not the reason for coming to Dhaka Delights. The reason to come here is the contents of their bain-marie. Hot, freshly cooked morsels of spicy Bengali deliciousness. Samosas, pakoras, all manner of savoury delights of the deep-fried variety that get snapped up quickly by knowledgeable locals. When I was a kid growing up in the white-bread Sydney of the 70s, one of my favourite things to eat from the local fish and chip shop was something called the Chiko Roll – basically a deep-fried log of pastry stuffed with cabbage, carrots and some kind of mystery meat with seasoning. The Chiko Roll was the Australian version of a Chinese spring roll. Of course, Chinese migration to Australia started back in the 19th century with the gold rush so this I guess was a homage to that. Here at Dhaka Delight they have their own version of this shining example of the fry-olated arts. It is the chicken and vegetable roll from this fine establishment and it is one of the tastiest fried snacks ever – it certainly has a real kick of chilli. I always get this when I come to buy my Lakemba groceries.

Dhaka Delight
33 Railway Parade, Lakemba
NSW 2195, Australia

Ali Flavours of Pakistan

This establishment has a huge supermarket and butcher next door of the same name. I come here to buy spices and the ready-made meals in takeaway containers from the restaurant. My favourites are the Deggi Haleem – a spicy paste-like melange of beef with dahl and barley, all manner of spicy dahls, Chicken Handi – a curry spiced with turmeric and chilli, and their boneless chicken biryani and tandoori chicken. I keep my freezer stocked with a selection of these and just nuke them in the microwave as required. They are excellent value for money priced at between $8 and $12 per container.

I’ve never eaten in the restaurant but their selection of curries looks delicious and the takeaways mentioned above are always top quality. What is the standout item from here are the samosas, they are freshly cooked and possibly the best I’ve ever tasted. I would happily go to Lakemba just for a few of these spicy triangles of potato and vegetable goodness.

Ali Flavours of Pakistan
158 Haldon Street, Lakemba
NSW 2195, Australia

Island Dreams Cafe

My sister introduced me to this place a few months ago. It is a very Malaysian/Indonesian influenced cuisine from the Christmas Islands. Their daily specials are in the bain-marie. I’ve had the beef rendang, the vegetable and tofu coconut curry, the chicken biryani, and their spicy fish cutlets. Its all very delicious and is good value for money.

Island Dreams Cafe Lakemba

Island Dreams Cafe
47-49 Haldon Street, Lakemba
NSW 2195, Australia

There are so many other interesting looking places to eat in Lakemba, perhaps in time when I’ve tried a few other places I will do part two of this fascinating eat street.

Topaz Moon hails from Australia and is the local expert when it comes to the Sydney food scene, thanks to her deep and spiritual connection with food. For Topaz Moon, food is not just about eating. Food is all about feeling and adventure! When she is not blogging, Topaz Moon likes to “get to know” her many personalities over some chilled red wine. She first met Bossy Flossie during a seance and they have been bosom-spirit-buddies ever since!

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