Three choices with rice from Island Dreams Cafe – $15.50
Alimah Vilda and her family have been serving Cocos Keeling Island food at their cafe in Lakemba since 1996. Many dishes are similar to the Malaysian fare found in Sydney, but Island Dreams’ recipes date back to the time when some Malays left the kingdom in the 19th century and landed at the Cocos Keeling Islands.
Much of the menu costs around $15, with some dearer dishes that can be shared. The hot bar gives the best variety for your money – get rice plus your choice of three mains – from options including beef rendang; fried fish cutlets with chilli, soy sauce and vinegar; roast potato and mixed vegetables; or chicken-liver sambal – for $15.50. You can also get fried rice, turmeric rice or scented coconut rice with two choices for the same price.
There are also weekend specials. On Fridays, chicken biryani with rice and vegetable acar (pickles) is $15, and packets of coconut rice and anchovy wrapped and steamed in banana leaf are $8.
Takeaway daily 10am–9pm or free delivery daily from 3pm within a 10-kilometre radius. Minimum order for delivery $45.
Mushroom cheesesteak from Fat Franks – $12
Fat Franks at Wetherill Park is tucked away in a shopping complex that’s been extremely quiet during lockdown. If you live in the area it’s worth visiting for a classic Philly cheesesteak. The soft hoagie roll stuffed with thinly sliced rib eye, fried onions and Cheez Whiz is comforting, savoury, fatty and filling. It’s the ultimate lockdown food.
The plain version is traditional, but you can also add mushrooms and capsicum or have it with chicken instead of beef. Hungry? Get a plain cheesesteak meal deal, with chips and a drink. That is filling on its own – but general manager Carmelina Catanzariti says sometimes hard days call for bigger meals.
Assorted banh cuon from Bánh cuốn Kim Thành – from $12.50
There are other items on Bánh cuốn Kim Thành’s menu, but banh cuon, its headliner dish of translucent, fermented rice-flour rolls, has given this Bankstown eatery its loyal following.
The shop opened in 2014 and is named for owner Anthony Dinh’s mum, Kim Thành, who became known in the community as the banh cuon lady.
“Banh cuon is a traditional north-Vietnamese street food made from steamed rice-flour rolls stuffed with minced pork, wood-ear mushrooms and onion,” says Dinh. “We serve with vegetables, fried onions and our homemade Vietnamese fried ham. When you eat, you dip in our special fish sauce.”
While one order makes a light meal, Dinh recommends sharing a few dishes between four. “We suggest minced steamed rice rolls; egg steamed rice rolls with minced pork; fried steamed rice roll with egg; and vegan steamed rice roll with tofu, king oyster mushrooms and water chestnuts.”
Takeaway daily 9am–5pm or delivery through V Supermarket Delivery.
Mezze dishes from Damascus Restaurant – $10 each
Talal Almardoud ran a successful catering business serving Syrian cuisine for eight years before opening Damascus Restaurant earlier this year.
Most mezze dishes are around $10 and an assortment is enough to feed a group of housemates or a family.
There’s creamy homemade hummus, which can be ordered with or without spiced, minced meat and nuts; kibbeh nayeh, raw minced beef mixed with crushed wheat, onion and herbs; crunchy falafels sold by the dozen; and handmade sambousik, pastry pockets filled with cheese or meat.
When asked to name a favourite dish, Wedad Jiniat, Almardoud’s wife, recommends shish barak, delicate dumplings filled with spiced mince, cooked in yoghurt and served with rice. The dish is $22, but with the addition of a few lower-priced mezze, you can still feed a crowd.
Knafeh from Yummy Yummy Knafeh – $25 per kilogram
On a normal day, Yummy Yummy Knafeh runs through six trays of the textural, syrup-soaked Palestinian sweet, but during lockdown owner Mohammed Zarqa says Lakemba is deserted.
It’s a stark contrast from the Ramadan night markets when Haldon Street heaves with Muslims breaking their fast, and non-Muslims joining in on the festivities. During the markets, Zarqa calls out over the crowds, lifting slices of the dessert so the cheese filling stretches and breaks before being handed over to customers on a plate.
Although knafeh is a sweet, lockdown seems like the right time to eat dessert as a meal. There are plenty of places to get knafeh in Lakemba, but Zarqa’s is exceptional.
“I’m using quality ingredients, organic ghee, the Palestinian cheese is a premium, organic cheese, quality pastry all the time fresh, Aussie pistachios, I’m making own syrup using saffron,” he says.
When asked if he thinks his knafeh is the best, he’s modest. “I cannot say mine is the best. Some people say they make the best, I will not say that. People decide. But at Ramadan, my queue is the longest queue.”
Takeaway Friday and Saturday 4.30pm–8.30pm. Call 0435 718 555 to order.
Three birria tacos and soup from Chololo – $15.99
Chololo makes birria tacos, a Tex Mex-style dish popularised in Tijuana, LA and Texas. The dish is based on an ancient south-Mexican goat stew called birria. Chololo’s take involves slow-cooked beef stuffed in soft tacos with cheese then fried on a grill.
“To make the meat, we use chuck and short rib cooked for four hours with around 30 chillies and spices. It’s very tender and flavourful,” says co-owner Julia Nguyen. “We don’t waste anything. We dip the taco in the oil from the slow-cooked meat before grilling, and the juices left over make a consommé that you can dip the taco in.”
Chololo has taken the dish one step further and put ramen noodles in the consommé. “There’s so much flavour in the soup and I wanted to do something more with it. We started adding noodles and it’s completely changed the game.”
The addition of ramen increases the price to $21, but three tacos plus ramen is plenty of food for two people.
Takeaway Tuesday and Thursday to Sunday 5.30pm–9.30pm and delivery via Menulog.