K’s father bought us gift vouchers for a Gourmet Safari for Christmas last year and we finally got around to going on the tour last weekend, choosing to do the United Flavours of the World tour. I wanted to go on this tour as I thought it would capture the best of the multiculturalism and food diversity of Australia.
We started out bright and early at 8.30am on a Saturday morning, with a group of around two dozen people meeting at Central Station in Sydney to get on our coach bus. Our fellow gourmet travellers were all older, averaging around 50 to 60 years old. We were very much the young people on the tour. As soon as we started our journey, our tour guide Alex explained how the stops on our tour would be based in south-west Sydney. In his words, “South West Sydney is where raw materials for Sydney’s gastronomes are produced”. In other words, you can buy a gourmet chorizo from an expensive deli in the city, or you can go to the south-west and get it straight from the source.
For those unfamiliar with Sydney neighborhoods, south-west Sydney is an older and more industrial part of town, with a large migrant and ethnic population. It’s not an area that I’ve ventured into yet in my year in Sydney, as I live on the North Shore of Sydney, which is arguably the wealthiest and most white-bread part of town. This was all going to change though! Our first stop was Sunshine Meats, located in Milperra.
We were introduced to the Portugese owners of this business, and given a history of how they came to make some of the most popular small goods in Australia. We had a tasting session as well, led by owner Maria Pereira, her daughter, her niece, her mother, and her aunts. Talk about a family-run business! Some of the items we tasted included: chilli chicken breast, chocolate turkey, smoked beef, pork chorizo, chilli chicken chorizo, and a caramelised onion jam.
The most interesting part of the meal was when Maria demonstrated how to cook chorizo on an individual barbecue. That’s the two little pigs you see in the last photo above – essentially, you pour alcohol into the well in the ceramic barbecue and light it on fire. You then skewer a chorizo (or any other meat!), and let it cook over the flames. It creates this perfect crispy outside, while the inside remains nice and juicy.
I can’t even begin to describe how tasty each and every item at Sunshine Meats was – this was probably evidenced by the fact that we left the shop after having spent $50AUD on chorizo, chicken and jams.
Our next stop was Gato’s Patizzi in Carramar.
For those who don’t know, pastizz (or pastizzi in plural) is a type of crispy pastry that originates from Malta. There was an influx of Maltese immigrants in Australia in the decades following the Second World War, and they brought their foods with them, pastizzi included.
We were given a history of this particular business by Charlie, the current owner. He explained his family’s history, with his grandfather, his father, and now his brother and himself running a pastizzi business. His cousin Doris makes all the pastizzi, and is one of the best pastizzi makers in the world – her record is 4000 in a day. He gave us some colourful history about how the Maltese have always been involved in organised crime in Sydney – and told some curly stories about how they had their finger in all the dodgy crime pies!
There’s a real art to making pastizzi, and Doris showed us how she made it. It was incredible – she literally made a whole tray’s worth in under five minutes. We sampled a few different flavours as well, and were impressed enough to walk away with a packet of apple pastizzi and a packet of ricotta/blueberry pastizzi. The hand-made pastizzi will make a big difference to some of our meals, considering we normally buy the machine-made frozen ones from the supermarket. Delicious!
Next stop – Afghan & Arab Bakery in Fairfield.
Have you guys ever seen people make traditional Afghan flat bread? I used to eat it all the time in high school at my friend’s house as her family was Afghan. It’s made in large stone ovens that get up to 400 degrees Celsius. The dough is stretched over a pillow, then the baker reaches into the stone oven and slaps the dough against the side of the oven. It’s cooked in a matter of minutes, and has this beautiful herby taste and stretchy doughy texture.
We left with a bag of bread, $2.40AUD for three flat bread! Considering the size of one flatbread, I’m contemplating using one as a pizza base this week and making pizza at home. It will hopefully be delicious.
These two were quick pitstops (we didn’t linger over the food like we did elsewhere), but I still managed to try some goodies. La Torre is renowned for their caramel – or dulce de leche for those who speak Portugese. The quick and easy way to make it is by heating up condensed milk until it caramelises – but La Torre makes it the traditional way with cream and brown sugar.
I taste-tested the dulce de leche in a sponge cake, in a filo pastry, and on its own. It is incredibly sweet, the type of caramel that gives you a toothache if you eat more than a few spoonfuls of it…which doesn’t explain why I bought half a kilo of it. Why? I don’t even know!
At Tierras Latinas, we were able to try a few interesting corn-based products. Most people are probably familiar with ‘normal’ corn – e.g. the type with smallish yellow kernels. At Tierras Latinas, we tried a corn juice made from a purple variety of corn, and also fried corn kernels made from a variety of corn with large white corn kernels. Really interesting flavouring – it wouldn’t be my first choice, but it would do in a pinch. Nothing caught my tastebuds here, so no purchases made.
Next stop – Hai Au Lang Nuong Vietnamese restaurant in Canley Vale for lunch!
I’ve eaten a fair share of Vietnamese food in my time…in fact you could probably fill a tanker with the number of bowls of ph? and bún bò hu? that I’ve eaten. Don’t even get me started on the number of g?i cu?n that have hit my stomach over the years. I actually wake up in the mornings drooling because I’ve been dreaming about the food I’m going to eat when I eventually visit Vietnam.
Even despite my long history with Vietnamese food though, Hai Au was a new experience and a half. As you can see from the photo above, a lot of the food they prepare comes from the grill, street-food style. They even have dishes where you can barbecue your own meats over a charcoal grill right at your table. Our tour group had a banquet ordered for us, of all of the restaurants signature dishes. I particularly liked the grilled betel leaf wrapped around a spicy pork mix, but the lotus stem salad (see above) was pretty good as well.
Following the South-East Asian trend, we then spent the last part of our tour in Cabramatta – a Sydney suburb with one of the worst reputations.
Cabramatta does not have a good reputation. Much like a lot of south-west Sydney, there is a large migrant population which can result in a lot of gang activity (per media reports). However on a positive note, the melting pot of cultures in the area means that you get a fantastic range of restaurants, grocery stores, and other food outlets. This was the Cabramatta that our group explored.
Guided by a local resident Peter Nguyen (see halfway down page), we explored some local shopping strips in Cabramatta. K and I actually got some funny looks from the locals on the tour – we’re obviously Asian, and they couldn’t understand why we were with all the white Australians on a tour of an Asian part of town. Being in Cabramatta just felt like being at home – back in Melbourne, my parents live in a suburb with a high Asian population which is exactly like Cabramatta.
For that reason, there wasn’t anything all that ‘new’ about this part of the tour. It wasn’t an environment or cuisine that I was unfamiliar with. We bought a pandan waffle for dessert (rule of thumb – never walk past a pandan waffle stand without buying a waffle), and I was tempted to get some fresh sugar cane juice as I hadn’t had any since China.
The guide makes the tour – and this was particularly true with this gourmet safari. Our food guide Alex was incredibly knowledgeable, not just about the shops we visited and the food we tasted, but about other cuisines as well. He was clearly very well travelled, and frequently took tour groups to places around the world to try new foods.
The whole process was easy – simply show up and get on the coach, and they’ll drive you around for the whole day, and make sure you get fed and watered along the way. The range of locations and cuisines was diverse – and apparently the tour leaders change locations throughout the year depending on what’s in season and what’s new on the market.
Overall, I rate Gourmet Safari’s United Flavours of the World tour a 9 out of 10. The only downside is the amount of eating you do in the space of one day…if you were able to spread the tour over a whole weekend, you wouldn’t need to be uncomfortably full by the end of the day.