For the next three weeks a huge swathe of Western Sydney will be transformed for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. During the day the usually bustling neighbourhoods of Lakemba, Auburn and Bankstown will become quieter while people observing Ramadan fast between sunrise and sunset. Then during Iftar, the daily breaking of the fast (which begins around 5pm), everything changes.
The streets will turn into an impromptu food festival and the restaurants, if they haven’t conquered portions of the streets with bain-maries and barbeques, will be busier than any other day of the year preparing Ramadan specials and all-you-can-eat buffets.
Iftar usually begins with three dates and a glass of water, after which families and friends gather for a communal meal. What’s on the menu depends on your country of origin but it almost always includes something sweet.
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Sydney has many Iftar celebrations going on and although the Lakemba night market is the most famous, many restaurants, bakeries and sweet shops will be doing buffets from 5pm to 7pm. And some are offering a few Ramadan-only specials for dinner. Here are some of our favourites.
One of the great things about Auburn’s Student Biryani is the intimidatingly huge servings for alarmingly low prices. Its Iftar box is $13 and contains a hearty chicken biryani (seasoned rice), fruit (oddly only one date included), a samosa, two pakora, dahi baray and a juice box.
Mina One Bakery
Mina One can be a mission. It’s enormously popular on a regular weekday but during Ramadan it’s absolute madness for the entire 24 hours it’s open. The Guildford kitchen operates with the same efficient intensity as a Formula One pit-stop team and the queues can reach the end of the block. The people lining up don’t care; they’re there for one of Sydney’s best man’ousheh (Lebanese flatbread covered in za’atar, ground meat or soft cheese) and saj, a thin pancake-like flatbread Mina One bakes only for Ramadan.
Sweets, although loved all year round in Lebanon, are particularly popular during Ramadan. They’re often given to guests during Iftar meals or shared late at night over tea. In Sydney there are many Lebanese pastry shops but none are quite as revered as Punchbowl’s Al Afrah. Ask for kalaj (an old pastry recipe using rice paper, rose water and cream); mafroukeh (a twin-layered pistachio-paste cake filled with clotted cream and cashew); and karbouj (a cream-topped baklava-like sweet made with a semolina dough and a walnut or pistachio filling).
Tarim Uyghur Cuisine
This is one of the very few Chinese restaurants in Sydney to take part in Ramadan celebrations and offer an Iftar buffet. The owners and chefs are Uyghur, an Islamic ethnic minority in far western China. There it’s much more common to eat lamb, bread, cumin and thick hand-cut noodles – exactly what they’re serving at this Iftar buffet. The $35 ($20 for kids) all-you-can-eat buffet changes each night but it almost always includes laghman (hand-pulled noodles), dapanji (on-the-bone chicken, potato and chilli stew), various soups and more.
This Lebanese sweet shop offers mafroukeh – a Ramadan special – and this year it’s adding madloua (a silken pudding made with semolina, clotted cream and pistachio); and khateyf (a doughy fried pancake filled with walnuts and cream).
This is Hut Bazaar’s 18th year serving Bangladeshi Iftar dinners. Like in previous years there’s a buffet with bain-marie nihari (an unctuous, meaty stew said to cure colds), haleem (lentils, barley and meat stewed until it’s almost paste like) other stews, curries and fried sub-continental street foods.
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.
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This article was originally published May 23, 2018 and has been updated.