When Maeve O’Meara was in her early twenties, before she became one of the most recognisable figures in Australian food media, she went on a European adventure. Sitting on a rock, overlooking the Acropolis in Athens, she had a catharsis.
“I was looking out at this white, ancient place, and I thought, ‘I never want two days of my life to be the same’,” O’Meara tells Broadsheet. “And I got my wish.”
O’Meara, a television presenter, journalist and author, founded her tour company, Gourmet Safaris, over 24 years ago. What started as a fun outing with her mothers group, members of which urged her to take them to Sydney’s suburbs to try different cuisines grew into the television series Food Safaris, and a tour business that both celebrates Australia’s own multicultural communities and ventures as far afield as Turkey and Santorini in search of amazing food.
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“It’s a lovely way of opening up the world,” she says. “It brings me joy. Gourmet Safaris has been my best playtime – I’ve had mad ideas and been able to follow them. It's been a lovely thing to be a bridge between worlds.”
No one knows the food villages that sprawl across Sydney quite like O’Meara. Broadsheet sat down with her over lunch at CBD Turkish diner Maydanoz to find out her five favourite hidden haunts in Sydney.
Taruhachi Bento, North Sydney
I love the way food-lovers pass their discoveries around. Taruhachi Bento came to me from someone who came on one of my tours, who just loves Japanese food. He asked if I had found it yet, and I hadn’t. You have to go down a passageway with no windows next to Aldi in North Sydney. Once you find it, there’s a late-night Tokyo bar vibe with lots of bottles lining the walls, and Godzilla and Dr Seuss cartoons … You don’t feel like you're in Australia at all. And I treasure those moments – feeling like you’re somewhere else because of the smells and the flavours. The menu is beautiful: sashimi, sushi, grilled fish, bento boxes and an extensive wine and whisky menu. And the owners, a husband and wife, like to sing karaoke late at night.
5/83 Mount Street, North Sydney
Cook & Co, Auburn
This Turkish restaurant, by husband-and-wife team Sedat and Arzu, is tucked away down an alleyway in Auburn. It has become very popular; people have started lining up because it’s so good. But it’s still hidden, and an absolute find. This is where we do the Turkish breakfast on our Gourmet Safaris tour. People need to see how beautiful Turkish breakfasts are – so abundant and regional and specific. Sedat is a chef from the Black Sea region and, on our tour, he demonstrates how to make a particular dish in front of the group. His extensive breakfasts include cilbir (Turkish eggs); tahini-topped flatbread cooked in the woodfired oven and served with buffalo curd, honey and walnuts; touch-your-heart red-lentil soup; pide served warm and plump; and grilled meats cooked over charcoal.
Tan Hong Phat, Cabramatta
We’ve been exploring Cabramatta for more than 20 years and this roasting house is one of those traditional places where all the locals go. It’s located down an alleyway; look for whole pigs being prepared – they’re rubbed with salt and roasted in ovens that look like spaceships. There are roasted ducks, soy sauce chicken, a huge range of delicacies like duck tongues and intestines, and all sorts of interesting vegetable dishes. There are always people lined up out the front. For big celebrations, you can buy a ready-roasted duck and make a roast duck salad with a mountain of herbs from any of the shops nearby, and it looks like you’ve created the most wonderful dish yourself. It’s a bit of a find.
6/48 Park Road, Cabramatta
(02) 9728 7142
Maydanoz, Sydney CBD
This stylish modern Turkish restaurant is hiding behind the bus stop at Wynyard. When I first met [owner and chef] Somer Sivrioğlu at Efendy, we started talking about doing Gourmet Safari Turkish trips together, and a month later we were on a plane. Since then, someone in Turkey rang and asked him to be on Masterchef and now he has become a household name there. Chef Arman Uz has created a wonderfully, imaginatively, largely vegetarian menu here which is plant-forward (Maydanoz is Turkish for parsley) and beautifully presented. There is a haloumi kebab with a beautiful marshmallow-y haloumi from Tilba, that arrives above smoking rosemary ash – it’s like something from church. Murray cod collars are a big favourite here – skewered and grilled and served with toum, mixed herbs, Ezme salsa and pickles. You eat it like a kebab, rolled up with Turkish bread. A great find here is the lunch special during the week, which includes a glass of wine. It’s one of those menus that makes you want to taste it all – I think it’s a three-visit minimum place.
This article was originally published on September 14, 2022 but was updated on May 5, 2023 to reflect the closure of Stix Marrickville.