1. Biryani chicken rice with Arabic bread at Afghan Sufra – $10
Watching Afghan Sufra owner Haji Salim work is mesmerising. Through the lunch rush he builds elaborate dishes, keeps an eye on cooking lamb skewers, cooking and stretches and bakes stacks of Arabic flatbread.
To prepare the dough, Salim stands near a stone oven and stretches it over a cheesecloth-covered pillow. Inside the oven, 600-degree flames wait to bake the bread. He lifts the pillow and dough, inserts them in the oven mouth and presses the dough to the inner wall, where it sticks and bakes for 50 seconds before it’s ready. It’s crisp on the outside, soft on the inside.
Arabic bread is served with everything, including the delectable saffron-laced rice and chicken biryani.
122 Haldon Street, Lakemba
2. Lamb pizza at Al Fayhaa Bakery – $4
“It’s a little shop. If you walked by you’d miss it if you didn’t see the crowd,” says Samir Daher, owner of Al Fayhaa Bakery. The bakery is a local favourite, especially for night-time fast-breaking during Ramadan. Undeterred by limited seating – a council-owned bench on the footpath outside – the pizzas bring people from as far as Canberra and Wollongong. Prepped, uncooked pizzas are piled behind a glass counter, and hot ovens await orders at the back of the narrow space. The lamb pizza – generously piled with minced lamb, capsicum, tomato and onion – is a standout and, although it’s dearer than the tasty, simple zaatar pizza ($1.50), it’s still a bargain. Daher scoffs at other pizza shops skimping on toppings. “We pile on the meat. You’ll hardly taste the bread,” he says. “Many places you’re just eating dough. That’s how people want to save money.”
137A Haldon Street, Lakemba
(02) 9750 9009
3. Foule and ayran at El-Manara – $10
If you ask the staff what to eat at El-Manara, they’ll recommend the foule, a traditional Lebanese fava bean and chickpea mixture cooked with lemon juice and served with plenty of olive oil. Go with their suggestion.
The elements of foule must be eaten together, especially with the sides. On their own, the beans are smoky but you need the salt that comes from the accompanying pickled beetroot and chillis. Don’t be afraid of the whole onion served at the centre of the sides, too. A generous hunk of onion gives the meal sweetness, while mint leaves, tomato and flatbread calm its pungency.
To drink, try the ayran, a lightly salted yoghurt drink that refreshes the palate.
143 Haldon Street, Lakemba
(02) 9740 6762
4. Baklava at King of Sweets – $20/kg
A meal in Lakemba isn’t complete without a crunchy and soft, syrupy – but not-too-sweet – Lebanese dessert. The King of Sweets’ offering is overwhelming and, with no menu (everything is on display and served by the kilo), it’s difficult to choose.
Towards the front of the shop, there’s a variety of sweets of different shapes all resembling baklava in ingredients and flavour. They’re made from layers of crisp filo pastry brushed with butter and contain a crumbly, sweetened nut mixture. Sugar syrup is then poured over to finish these sweets.
Versions of baklava can be found in Greece and all over the Middle East. In Lebanon, the filling is crumbly but only slightly sweet, as Lebanese bakers don’t use as much sugar syrup.
129 Haldon Street, Lakemba
Mon to Fri 9am–9pm
Sat and Sun 10am–9pm
5. Roast pork and taro root at Manaia Pacific Shop – $25/kg
During the week, the Manaia Pacific Shop is an unassuming little Fijian grocery store with a small takeaway offering at the front.
With only five or so hot food items available, the presence of a full kitchen at the back is confusing, unless, of course, you visit on a Sunday. That’s when queues for the roasted pork, lamb and taro leaf coconut snake out the door and around the corner.
The roasted pork is served in wide slices by the kilo, and each piece has a thick layer of crisp, salty crackling. Try it with a steamed purple taro root, the gentle sweetness of which makes a good accompaniment for the pork.
38B Haldon Street, Lakemba
(02) 8959 7469
Tues to Sun 8am–6pm
6. Bhorta Combo at Bottola – $7.50
Bhorta is a popular and comforting snack in Bangladesh. According to Bottola owner Ahshanul Shourav, a few types of bhorta are often eaten together to form a complete meal.
There is seafood bhorta, such as prawns or shutki (dehydrated sweet fish relish), and vegetable options such as aloo (a spicy, tangy mashed potato) and eggplant slow-cooked to tender with chilli, garlic and mustard oil. The resulting aromatic dish is served smashed and resembles babaganoush.
197 Lakemba Street, Lakemba
0449 791 334
Mon to Fri 4pm–11pm
Sat and Sun 12pm–12am