The western Sydney suburb, located about 19 kilometres from the CBD, has seen cultural shifts over its history. After the end of the White Australia Policy in 1973, Indian people migrated to Australia in higher numbers. As India’s economy grew, parents started to send their children to study in Sydney, around 2002 onwards. Between 2001-11, the proportion of the population of Harris Park born in India more than tripled from 14% to 43%. “We wanted to live in an area on a train line and when Parramatta became too expensive, Harris Park was the next best place,” said the owner of Taj Sweets, Ramesh Sharma. “When the council saw the property prices hit a million dollars, and that the restaurants on the main road were becoming popular, they spent lots of money improving footpaths, better signage and allowing outdoor seating.”
The cabinet at Taj is stocked full of traditional treats such as gulab jamin, balls of fried dough drenched in syrup. The sweet masala pan consists of mixed nuts which are coated in a smooth, date-like exterior. The dilbhar has a dense base of pistachios and rose water, and the texture is a bit wet and drippy. Don’t leave without trying the warm hajjar halwa. It’s a dessert of ginger, carrot and cardamom. Enjoy it all with a glass of spicy chai.
Along Harris Park’s main road, Wigram Street, you’ll find old houses that have been turned into stores selling traditional trinkets such as elephant statues. Religious ornaments are displayed in shop windows. Head to a beauty salon to have your eyebrows threaded. Bindiya, the owner of Barakha Beauty Parlour, was born in Gujarat in India’s north-west. She’s been threading since she was 16. For the ancient beauty practice a piece of cotton is used to remove hair off the top of the skin, rather than from its root, with gentle strokes. “You can make a better shape with threading,” she says. “It is less pain than waxing.” She’s right, it’s like having someone lightly pinch your skin.
If street food is your thing, head to Chatkazz. The contemporary space has an open kitchen and old movie posters and decorative tiles on the walls. For lunch try pani poori, a pastry filled with potato and red beans. The jini dosa is made with capsicum, carrot, cabbage and spices, wrapped in a crepe-style fried bread. It’s topped with a dusting of cheese and a fresh-coconut and tomato dipping sauce. It smells like a pizza and tastes even better.
In the afternoon visit The Saree Shop. Magnificent silks in all colours are beautifully folded on shelves around the room of an old terrace house. It’s fun feeling the luscious materials draping over your body. You instantly feel like a queen. Some are embroidered with careful patterns; others are heavily beaded.
For dinner, head to Billu’s. The family-run restaurant relocated from Epping to Harris Park in 2002. Order the smoky tandoori chicken, which is served on the bone. The hearty kadhai paneer, a vegetable curry with generous hunks of cottage cheese, is also worth ordering. The Billu’s team will also soon open a restaurant at Barangaroo.
A second dinner option is Ginger Restaurant. Housed in an old cottage, the place has been making north-Indian dishes for seven years. Owner Nitin Setia says the butter chicken and goat champ masala are his best sellers. “Thirty years ago, when huge groups of Indians began migrating to Australia, our food wasn’t popular because it was too expensive,” he says. “Now people want fresh food with good quality ingredients and they are willing to pay for it.
Taj Indian Sweets 91 Wigram Street, Harris Park (02) 9633 2118
Hours: Mon to Sun 10am–10pm
Barakah Beauty Parlour 9–96 Wigram Street ,Harris Park (02) 8677 3540
Hours: Tue to Fri 11am–7pm Sat 10am–6pm Sun 10am–5pm
Chatkazz 4/14–20 Station Street, East Harris Park (02) 8677 0033
Hours: Mon 5pm–10pm Tue to Fri 10am–10pm Sat & Sun 9am–10pm
The Saree Shop
42 Station Street East, Harris Park
(02) 9687 7123
Hours: Tue to Fri 11.30am–5pm Sat & Sun 11.30am–4pm
Billu’s 62 Wigram Street, Harris Park (02) 9687 7785
Mon to Wed, Sun 10am–10pm
Thu 10am–10.30am Fri & Sat 10am–11pm
Ginger restaurant 94 Wigram Street, Harris Park (02) 9635 9680
Hours: Tue to Fri 5pm–10.30pm Sat & Sun 10am–10.30pm