It’s like travelling through Indochina and the Middle East on this wonderful food tour of Bankstown. Even better is that the tour company is a charity, non-for-profit organisation and social enterprise, where the profits are used to provide training to asylum seekers and immigrants. Food, isn’t it one of the best ways to celebrate diversity and provide cross-cultural understanding?
I’m with my friend Jen on this walking tour. It’s a three hour tour with seven stops. We are broken up into groups of 15 and everyone is excited! The tour starts at 10:30am and so my tip here is to only have a light breakfast beforehand!
Our first stop is a family run business that has branches in Cabramatta, Canley Heights and here in Bankstown.
The beef brisket phở is first to arrive and there are three large bowls for the six at our table but only two of us eat meat. The lovely owner tells us to always try phở first before adding condiments which here are bean sprouts, Vietnamese mint, lemon, sriracha and soy. This is a great dish, there is a depth of flavour in the broth including star anise. We are informed the beef is slow cooked for 12 hours! Having travelled around Vietnam on several occasions, I can confirm it certainly has authentic flavours. Of course, I end up splashing most of mine over my shirt – but thats just me!
Mì xào mềm – The second dish is a vegetarian noodle dish and I only try a little of it and leave it for the vegetarians. It is quite nice with the noodles having a smoky charred flavour – we all enjoy it.
Bánh Cuôn Kim Tranh
Bánh Cuôn Kim Tranh is a small hole-in-the-wall-down-a-laneway family run business that specialises in steamed rice rolls. The owner tells us he named the restaurant after his mother, Kim. It’s her secret recipes and she is on site to greet us. Some of these dishes we are told are not to be found anywhere else in Sydney.
Bánh khọt are mini savoury pancakes are filled with egg, mushroom, spring onion in a fried base. These are simply divine (and secretly became my favourite dish of the day). I added a splash of light soy for that umami flavour.
Bánh coûn trúng thit -steamed rolls filled with egg and vegetables. These were silky, full of flavour and really delicious! We are taken in smaller groups inside the restaurant and can peer into the kitchen to see how these are made. The milky rice mixture is dolloped and splayed onto fabric over a steaming pot. At just the right time it is peeled off and filled with the mixture of egg and vegetables, meat and other varieties are also available.
Bánh coûn chiên or steamed rice roll fried with egg is again another dish I am a fan of. The rice mixture is steamed, then rolled, chopped and flash fried, an egg then placed on top! My friend Jen isn’t such a fan as me, so I finish of a good helping of it!
Chehade El Bahsa & Sons Lebanese Sweets
Next up is a stop for Lebanese sweets. We don’t hear from the staff at this stop, but from the name I guess they are also a family run business.
The display cabinets are filled with an amazing amount of sweets.
Ladies finders, baklava, ma’amul just to name a few are in huge supply
We all get to try some and its nice although I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, nothing is left behind!
Son Trang Supermarket
Our next stop is Song Trang Supermarket specialising in Vietnamese and Asian groceries. Our guide informs us we have a bit of a competition – who can find the most unusual item for sale and someone will win a prize.
I first spy the basil seed drink with honey, but then I see the grass jelly drink and notice the jelly like grass strands inside the bottle.
We have entries such as fish and mozzarella on a stick and salted jellyfish. My entry into the most unusual find competition is the grass jelly drink and…. I win!
It must have been meant to be as the prize was none other than… grass jelly! (And I’m still not sure what to do with this…)
Khalils Lebanese Pizza
Khalils Lebanese Pizza is our next stop. Jen and I turn to each other – “I’m full” – we say in unison but then…the manoush come out.
There is cheese manoush and zatar manoush and both are equally delicious. While I am a fan of zatar, the cheese is heart meltingly good. There is a bit left over and this is the point some take away containers come out from the bags of the others on tour – why didn’t I think of that?
Valley View Continental Spices and Groceries
This is a fascinating part of the tour, the owner is a truly a comedian, he’s friendly and fun and has everyone in laughter.
Valley View Continental Spices and Groceries is what you would picture and believe a spice souk in the Middle East to be like. The smells are wonderful and it is really interesting just to potter around this store.
My friend Jen goes on a shopping spree purchasing various spices while the group are all given a tasting of shan kleesh (also referred to as shanklish). The shan kleesh cheese is served with olives on Lebanese bread along side a cup of Lebanese tea. It was so good.
Tasting similar to goats cheese, slightly salty and slightly sour, shan kleesh is rolled in spices and herbs and zatar which gives it a herby flavour. A packet is also added to Jen’s shopping bag.
More olive varieties than I ever knew existed – here I was thinking there was only black, green, and marinated – nope, I am wrong!
One of the other interesting items Jen bought were dried black limes. These are used in Middle Eastern soups and stews and gives the dish a zesty and nutty flavour. Neither of us had heard of them and we were given some wonderful insight to their use by a customer in the store – people are really friendly around here!
Our last stop for the day is a rather refreshing one. at Cafe Nhớ. The word nhớ in Vietnamese translates roughly to the English word remember. What a great way to refresh and remember a great tour!
Durian fruit smoothie. Yes durian fruit! If you’re like me and your experience of durian is of the foul smells it can have – reminiscent of the back laneways of Bangkok – you’d be surprised. This didn’t have a smell at all and it was the perfect refreshing drink (except for the brain freeze) to end this wonder-full tour.
Taste Tours also operate other tours in Sydney with a myriad of foods to try, Chinese, Afghanistani, Syrian just to mention a few.