Going to Auburn is like catching a direct flight to Istanbul. You get off the train, or out of your car, and the main streets are lined with Turkish markets, takeaway outlets and restaurants. It is a fantastic place to explore and after a little bit of research on various food blogs, we knew some key places we wanted to visit but that didn’t stop us from discovering a few new places along the way.
One of those discoveries came from a mistake I made reading my map- straight off the train. Instead of exiting the station to the right, we turned left and headed a couple of blocks in the wrong direction. It was a happy accident though as we discovered Zam Zam Market -one of the best supermarkets in Sydney’s West. It was so interesting to see their range of produce and imported products from the middle east.
There were balls of stringy haloumi cheese, fresh dates galore and pomegranate non-alcoholic beer (which we tried) as well as loads of unfamiliar packaged foods. I know it is just a supermarket but it was certainly one I would love to return to and purchase a range of new foods to try. For us though, we didn’t want to have to carry shopping around for the rest of the day so we took our ‘Hoffenberg’ and went to find our way back from our wrong turn.
Our first ‘official’ stop was Real Turkish Delight. This place is famous and was established back in 1974 by Bahattin Pektuzun after he immigrated from Turkey with his young family. Today, Real Turkish delight supply Authentic Turkish delight or (Lokum) to customers all over Australia. They have even been included in the Guinness Book of Records after creating the biggest ever Turkish Delight weighing in at 3.21 tonnes!
There is a huge range of Turkish Delight and chocolates but being early still we settled on just the Turkish Delight with pistachios- delicious!!
Next stop was the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque– an Ottoman-style mosque where more than 500 worshippers attend every day and around 2000 worshippers attend the weekly special Friday prayer. This mosque is primarily used by Turkish Australians and according to mosque officials, the name is meant to signify “the shared legacy of the Australian society and the main community behind the construction of the mosque, the Australian Turkish Muslim Community.”
Guests are welcome to see inside and after removing our shoes we enter the main area and it is spectacular. The ornate ceiling and incredible detail is almost overwhelming. The high ceilings, the colours, the intricate details and the sparkling chandeliers are a feast for the eyes and we spent a long time just looking up in awe.
We were momentarily interrupted by a school group visiting from Concord and being shown around by a lady in a full burqa. How great that experience would have been for those kids- an opportunity to break down any misconceptions or ignorance they may have previously had about the women behind the black ‘masks’ and chance to learn about Islam and another culture.
After working up a bit of an appetite we visit New Star Kebabs. But this is not your standard 3am greasy kebab shop. You can take your pick from seasoned, speared lamb mince, hunks of lamb or marinated chicken pieces. We chose to share a marinated chicken and a lamb shish kebab and watched it being cooked over glowing charcoal by the shish expert, who’s trapped in a glass booth that looks onto the street. When it was ready it was brought out to our table on the busy street along with a heap of salad, lemon wedges and side sauces of chilli oil, hummus and cacik, a thin yoghurt amped up with garlic. Served on the side of the hot, smoky meat is a mattress of Turkish bread to soak up all the dripping juices. #yum
With our bellies pretty sated from this delicious plate we decide to walk up the street before we try and tackle our next culinary treat. There were loads of gold jewellery stores dotted along the street and stores stocking culturally appropriate clothing as well as plenty of kebab shops!
Still not yet hungry we stopped in to Mado Cafe to sample a Turkish coffee. Mado has a lavish interior of heavy, ornate timber furniture, Turkish trinkets and walls adorned with patterned rugs and string instruments. The menu is packed full of Turkish fare we would love to try if only we weren’t too full, but we settle on a Turkish coffee and a traditional Salep.
Salep is an exotic-tasting hot, thick, creamy drink perfumed with rosewater and garnished with cinnamon and ground pistachios- delicious! For me, the Turkish coffee was not my favourite and is probably an acquired taste.
So, after tasting and exploring much that the Turkish have influenced Auburn we discovered Khaybar Restaurant, a restaurant featuring the food of Afghanistan.
Historically, Afghanistan has a long migrant history with Australia dating as far back as the 1860s. Afghan cuisine though was not introduced to Australia until well over a century later. The walls were adorned with large images of Afghanistan- stunning scenery and dramatic groups of men on horseback. The menu options sounded amazing. Not incredibly hungry, but still very curious, we ordered a couple of entrees to try. The first was an eggplant dish served with freshly made flatbread still warm from the oven (I’m a sucker for hot, fresh bread). Next was Afghani steamed dumplings. Both were very tasty with subtle flavours and I wish we had more of an appetite to try more of the menu.
Ready for something sweet, we returned to Mado Cafe to try their Kunefe and ice-cream. Again #yum. The Kunefe (spelt differently by different people) was absolutely delicious- the crunch of the pastry, the gooeyness of the hot cheese and the sweetness of the honey… well, just yum!
We loved our day discovering the tastes and sights of Auburn. It truly felt like travel to us – there was plenty to discover and a lot to learn about a different culture…and conveniently, it is right on our doorstep.