When Georgia Booth, editor of Broadsheet Sydney, and I first sat down to talk about ideas for covering food, what quickly came up was our mutual desire to share a different kind of story to those Broadsheet usually produces. We wanted to tell stories from Sydney’s many different cultural groups and together we came up with what is now “Local Knowledge", a column about the restaurants, cafes and bakeries that have become meeting places for our city’s many communities. Places that connect them to their culture through food and memories of home and family. Last week we published its 100th edition.
So here are some of our favourite memories from the past 100 “Local Knowledge” stories.
Nicholas Jordan, writer:
This has been enormously educational and enjoyable for me. I’ve learnt more about food and culture working on this than I have during my entire writing career. I have a lot of memories and a lot of restaurant owners to thank for sharing their stories but one particular experience stands out, Leigh Griffith’s and my feast at Kebab Abu Ali.
Like many “Local Knowledge” trips, this was organised with the help of someone from within the community this restaurant is special to. In this case a lovely man called Hussam, who I met through an Iraqi community organisation. Leigh and I hadn’t talked to the owner before we arrived, so we didn’t really know what to expect.
We were greeted by the thick moustache, flashy rings and wide grin of Mosslem Alzargani. He took us to an enormous table with literally the biggest spread of food I had ever seen at a restaurant. It was ridiculous – there was a whole charcoal fish splayed down the centre; two spheres of pastry each the size of a small melon; lamb shanks with different coloured piles of rice; skewers of charred meats; more dips than I could name; several salads; and even more dishes I had never seen before. After Hussam, his wife, Leigh and I did our best to at least make a dent in it, we asked Mosslem (through Hussam, he didn’t speak English) to show us how it’s done. He took us to the back kitchen and, without removing any of his jewel-encrusted rings, grabbed a ball of dough and flipped it as though his fingers were ballerinas and the dough their stage. I’ll never forget it.
Leigh Griffiths, photographer:
This was the earliest “Local Knowledge” breakfast we had ever scheduled. It was 6am, and it also happened to be the morning after the Broadsheet Christmas party. The upside is that it was a typical Malaysian breakfast at Albee’s Kitchen in Campsie. As regular as it is for Malaysian-Australians, it was quite a unique dining experience for us. Nothing else in the area was open, and all the other patrons were mostly construction workers or a few early risers in need of a quick feed. Our meal was more of a feast – nasi lemak, roti canai, dahl, curry, sambal, fried noodles with eggs, sausage and of course teh tarik (a Malaysian frothed-milk tea).
I love Asian breakfasts, and this turned out to be my last LK breakfast before I moved to Asia just months after. Albee’s Kitchen was by far our best breakfast. It had everything I love about the process: unusual food, interesting people and great chats. Kim (also an LK photographer), Nick and I were under the weather when we got there, but we left with smiles and a full belly. Thanks Albee!
Kimberley Low, photographer:
If I have to pick one (a difficult task), it would be Farsi Restaurant. Just walking down the plant-covered alley to the entrance was enough to pique my interest. Upon entering the restaurant, I was reminded of childhood holidays overseas – it has the charm and character of old hotels. The brick archways, white salt and pepper shakers, pink carnations on every table, picturesque paintings of seaside landscapes – I knew I was in for a treat.
It wasn’t just the interiors that got my attention. As groups of diners exited the restaurant, owner Amir Masoumi Nejad waited by the doorway, shaking each customer's hand and thanking them for their patronage. Smiles were on every diner’s face, not just because the food was delicious, but because they’d experienced hospitality at its best – professional yet personal, earnest and gracious. And then there is the food – every single dish was right up there with the best traditional fare I’ve had. Also, let’s all take a moment to appreciate this whole butter-on-saffron-rice thing: I know it’s a given at most Persian restaurants, but the ingenuity of it all never fails to amaze me. Eating Farsi Restaurant’s version, with its koobideh kebab, juicy and ambrosial from start to end; my heart melted a little. As for dessert, saffron ice-cream is hard to dislike, but here, the fact that it’s expertly made from scratch shone through in texture and flavour. I was heartbroken when the meal was over.
Georgia Booth, editor:
Although I haven’t personally been making these weekly journeys around Sydney, in a way, I feel I have. Nick’s evocative writing, and Leigh and Kim’s wonderful photography, has allowed me to journey with them to these havens of community and good food. It’s been an incredibly enriching, educational experience for me, and has deepened my love for this city – it’s been an honour to hear the stories of restaurateurs, chefs and their families, their pride in what they do and to learn about their culture.
My deepest gratitude to everyone who has welcomed us into their restaurants and cafes and shared generously. A huge thank you also to the interpreters and community members who have helped us find them.
I’d love to hear what you’ve thought of this series – what you liked or disliked and any other feedback. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.