It’s the holy month of Ramadan and with it comes one of the year’s greatest food events in Sydney: Lakemba’s iftar market. Every night during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (when those who adhere to the faith fast from sun-up to sundown), the suburb’s main drag transforms into a chaotic marketplace.
From sunset to sunrise every inch of the street is lined with barrel-sized pots of biryani, charcoal barbeques with rows of meat and bright-orange plates of knafeh (sweet cheese dessert).
The streets are jammed with people, some rushing to break their fast and others just stopping in for a freshly fried jalebi (a fried dessert) or a camel skewer. It’s wonderful but utterly chaotic, which is why we’ve put together this guide to help you choose the best snacks. There’s some pretty ordinary grub you’ll want to avoid, the camel burger being one of them. The skewers of charcoaled barbequed meat are pretty good everywhere, but other than those, these are our highlights.
Sunset is at 5pm but the market doesn’t get going to about 6.30pm. It really gets pumping at 8pm and stays that way late into the night. If you want your experience to be bustling, go on Saturday, the only day Haldon Street is completely closed to traffic. Don’t drive – parking sucks at the best of times, but during Ramadan it’s horrific. Also, bring cash. Hardly anywhere takes card.
Murtabak at the Burmese stall outside Best Price Supermarket
There’s a tonne of murtabak (griddle-fried roti stuffed with spiced meat or egg) stalls this year, and most are pretty good. The Burmese chefs win because they make it to order. You may have to wait five to 10 minutes, or even 15 on a busy night, but it’s worth it for the level of spice. We’re not talking about chilli here, it’s more curry powder and cumin, although if you want chilli ask and they’ll give it an extra hit.
Biryani and haleem at Khushboo
Railway Parade also has a string of excellent restaurants, all with stalls. The best of the bunch is Khushboo. This year it’s got a duo of biryani (mixed rice dish) options, one with beef and one with goat, plus a few deep-fried goodies and a simmering pot of haleem (a lentil and beef stew with the texture of dal but the richness of a tonkotsu-style ramen). So you don’t fill up on just one thing, get a box with both and a pakora to go.
Jalebi at Dhaka Delights
Another Bangladeshi special, this time a dessert. Jalebi are syrupy-sweet, squiggle-patterned desserts you see in the front window of Indian restaurants. Dhaka Delight serves them in a tissue, which is the worst material for carrying a hot, sticky treat that’s recently been crisped in a lake of boiling oil. We’ll excuse that, though, because it’s a delicious, hot, sticky treat that’s recently been crisped in a lake of boiling oil.
Satay and kambing soup at Island Dreams Cafe
This Christmas and Cocos Islands restaurant is famous for its satay and that’s exactly what you want to get here: skewers of lamb or chicken smoked and blistered over a street-side barbeque while being slathered in a spicy peanut sauce. They are tender, sticky, spicy and smoky, and as good as any other in the city. If you’re there on a weekend check for the kambing soup, a thick broth rich with lamb fat.
Knafeh at Knafeh Al Andalos
This is the only place we’re going to recommend you go inside. Why? Because this is where you go for a bit of calm amid the chaos, and a bit of quiet after the constant yells of “carrot juice” and “camel burger”. And here you can get a bit of sweetness after all that meat. Also, if you sit down for a stretchy slice of syrup-ladled Palestinian knafeh you can get a mint tea and relax a bit.
Ramadan Nights is on until June 6 on Haldon Street and Railway Parade in Lakemba. cbcity.nsw.gov.au/event/ramadan-nights/lakemba