My birthday gift to my Mum this year was a walking food tour of Punchbowl and what a food-lovers delight it turned out to be.
Organised by Maeve O’Meara’s Gourmet Safaris, the tour takes in all the best places to source and eat food in the Sydney suburb of Punchbowl.
Lebanese cuisine is well regarded in the suburb, to the extent that culinary walking tours of Punchbowl sell out months ahead.There are a number of Lebanese sweet shops in the suburb.
Both Mum and I are familiar with the suburb of Punchbowl since it is relatively close to where we both live but we have never shopped there.
Nancy was our guide on the Lebanese Walking Tour of Punchbowl and she was just wonderful. So warm and welcoming, informative and funny.
We met in the morning at 9.30am at the very well-known Jasmine Restaurant for beautiful, fresh Lebanese coffee.
Over coffee, Nancy gave us a little of her backstory. She is of Lebanese background, grew up in the area and explained that she was raised to eat only Lebanese food.
Our first stop was a typical Middle-Eastern grocer. It contained bread, dairy and dry goods, plus all the Middle-Eastern ingredients required to make beautiful dishes, like fine crushed wheat for tabbouleh.
Staples of Lebanese cooking and cuisine
Nancy had set up a lovely tasting table and we learnt all about and tasted chickpeas, fava beans, halva, lebanese bread, egg noodles, lentils, pomegranate molasses, rose water and orange blossom water, halloumi and labneh (strained yoghurt).
Nancy showed us an aniseed biscuit,”Kaak”, that she said was used as a breakfast cereal, with heated milk. She said it was rather bland, so that sugar is often added. It also makes a good midnight snack apparently.
Lebanese spices and pantry essentials
Sumac: red-purple spice crushed from a berry that grounds around the Mediterranean. It gives a lemony peppery taste and goes well with tomatoes. Essential for fattoush.
Za’atar: green spice mix – dried crushed oregano flowers, mixed with sumac and sesame seeds. It’s the Lebanese equivalent of Vegemite and is eaten for breakfast mixed with oil and painted on pita bread. Good with lamb too – makes a nice crust. Paint lamb with olive oil and coat wit za’atar. Nice sprinkled on Lebanese bread with a spread of labne, chopped tomatoes and cucumber. Mix in a teaspoon with 2 beaten eggs and fry in a little olive oil for a beautiful omelet.
B’Harat: Seven spice mix of all spice (pimento), nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamon, pepper, coriander and cloves. Used in many savoury dishes.
Fattoush: Wonderful Lebanese salad made with tomatoes, cucumber, radish, capsicum and fried Lebanese bread.
Labne: Yoghurt spread used on bread.
Tahini: Sesame seed paste used in almost everything. Mix wit equal amounts of grape, carob or pomegranate molasses, it’s used like jam and spread on bread. Used in sauces like tarator and essential for dips such as hummous.
Molasses: Pomegranate, grape and carob varieties are the fruit cooked down to sauce-like consistency. Pomegranate molasses can be used in salad dressing and in dishes needing its tangy sweetness.
Rose and Orange Blossom Water: Essences from flower petals mixed in water and used in all sweets. Lebanese sweets are similar to Greek and Turkish with the addition of spice and these floral aromas.
Ashta: Clotted cream equivalent. Made with milk simmered slowly, ashta is the rich residue skimmed from the surface.
Mafrouka: A fabulous sweet served on a plate, the base made from semolina mixed with rosewater, topped with ashta and sprinkled with roasted almonds and crushed pistachios and drizzled with syrup.
Next up and close by on The Boulevarde, Punchbowl was Abu Ahmad Butchery. These guys supply IGA and Woolworths and have been operating since 1994.
They even have a special ‘walking tour sausage’, the pine nut and rose water sausage. How amazing!
We crossed the railway bridge and over to Yum Yum Lebanese Pizza & Cafe on Punchbowl Road we went. This Lebanese pizzeria and cafe has been operating for 23 years. Founded by his dad, the current owner gave us the history of the place.
The za’atar pizzas here are $2.30, can you believe? Master O won’t ever forget that. Amazing price and common, we were told, as a takeaway breakfast for the many commuters making their way to work via the train station close by.
Our next top was down Punchbowl Road at Baalbek Bakery and this place proved to be an absolute revelation to me.
“Punchbowl“, Wikipedia entry, accessed 8 June 2016.