This is how Local Knowledge works: each week I contact a community group that represents a particular cultural or language group in Sydney – sometimes an official welfare-providing organisation, sometimes a Facebook group, or a local football club, for example – and I ask them, “Where do you like to eat?” I interview the chef, eat some food and write the story.

In the write-up, I don’t get to go into much detail about my own experience or discuss what I liked or didn’t like because the story is really about them. Well, all that changes for my annual round-up. Here’s what I loved, what I found fascinating and what I found so different to anything else I’ve eaten, I have no idea what to think about them.

What I loved
Song Fang Khong’s crisp rice salad
I loved almost everything at this tiny Lao restaurant in Fairfield (apart from the raw-beef larb – see below) particularly the affable owner and my enthusiastic translator. I also enjoyed the fried quail; the herbal, house-made Isaan sausages; and, most of all, the crisp rice salad. It’s made by deep-frying rice, adding in hunks of fermented sausage, peanuts, dried coconut, shallots, herbs and roast chilli. It’s texturally exciting and bloody delicious.

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Tuga Pastries’ Portuguese tarts
I ate a lot of Portuguese tarts in 2019. I tried the tarts at Sweet Belem, Cherry Moon, Royal Bakery, The Portuguese Bakery and some other bakeries. Tuga’s were the best. Everything about them is perfect – the layering, the crunch, the custard, the slight char, how they feel in your mouth and how they make life seem instantly better.

I loved the story behind …
La Favela
Not every restaurant in this column is popular for its food. Some draw a crowd purely for nostalgic reasons, or just because they’re a meeting place for expats. Bondi’s La Favela is one of those. It’s a comida por kilo eatery (a buffet you are charged on the weight of the food) and because there aren’t too many in Sydney it's always busy. I really enjoyed hanging out there and hearing its background story of unrequited love. “I had a Brazilian boyfriend. He left me,” the co-owner, Daniela Sandoval, told me. “I cried for three months. I went to my best friend’s house crying and I said, ‘Let's do something. I want to invest in something to think about something else’. That day we had the idea to open a Brazilian restaurant.” (For my money, my preference for Brazilian food in Sydney is Ovo Cafe.)

I don’t know what to think about ...
Phnom Penh Mini Restaurant’s fermented rice dessert

It tastes like wine – a sticky, rice dessert that tastes like wine. It’s served with the same shaved coconut you find in many Thai and Cambodian restaurants, but it’s alcoholic, soupy and bewilderingly reminiscent of Korean makgeolli (a milky, off-white and lightly sparkling rice wine that has a slight viscosity). I ate it at the Cabramatta restaurant more than a month ago and I’m still thinking about it, even if I still have no idea if I liked it or not.

And Song Fang Khong and Sumbaijai’s raw-beef larb
Raw beef mince, Thai herbs and spices, blood and bile – these are the ingredients of larb dip. I have no problem with any of that – I’ve always thought if an animal has given its life for us then it’s our responsibility to eat all of it (plus a lot of offal is delicious). What I did struggle with was the extreme bitterness. The first time I ate one, I was completely overwhelmed. Then I realised you’re meant to eat it in small amounts with rice. But even then, it’s got an extremely powerful flavour.

This is another edition of Broadsheet’s Local Knowledge weekly series, where Nick Jordan explores the eateries at the heart of Sydney’s different cultural communities. Read more here.

This article first appeared on Broadsheet on December 16, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.