Spice, Life and Mezze
CHARLOTTE BARCLAY‘s homage to Parramatta and what makes it unmissable.
Founded in 1788, Parramatta is Australia’s oldest inland European settlement with a history as diverse as its present day culture. Growing up in the area, food was the primary mode of experiencing the different cultures and ethnic groups that now call Parramatta home. The aptly named ‘Eat Street’ (officially called Church Street) is the central hub of the Parramatta food and cultural life scene, the humble abode to many restaurants and festivals.
Spice Home to the largest Indian community in Australia, it is no surprise that Parramatta and its surrounding areas house an abundance of spice shops, restaurants and Indian sweet shops. A five minute drive from Church Street is one of the most incredible spice shops. India Bazaar on Wigram Street in Harris Park is located in a 70’s terrace shop surrounded by federation style houses and (not so surprisingly) more spice shops and South Asian restaurants. There you can buy spices by the kilo; cumin seeds for $5.95, garam masala for $10.95 and chilli powder for $6.50. Various types of dhal are available in 1kg bags starting at $1.20 per bag. The colours and the smells inside the shop are just incredible and easily inspire one to start making curry bases from scratch! However if, like so many of us, you don’t feel like pounding up spices for hours on end and prefer to buy your curries, there are plenty of options. Also on Wigram Street, Billu’s Indian Eatery serves a wide variety of food from all over India. For those feeling the need for spice, the Aloo Gobi (of ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ fame) is a must! The tasty spice mix including turmeric, ginger, coriander and cumin packs a punch and beautifully flavours the ‘meat’ of the dish – the potatoes and cauliflowers. A 10 minute drive to nearby Pendle Hill, and Ambi’s Indian Restaurant & Sweets, located on Pendle Way and specialises in Indian sweets and desserts. In particular, their Gulub Jamun (fried milk solids known as khoya) is delicious. Soaked in a lovely rosewater syrup lightly flavoured with green cardamom, these were legitimately my afternoon staple after school. It doesn’t matter whether you have them hot or cold, the flavours are amazing. Back at Church Street, one can experience the refreshing spices prevalent in Thai cuisine. Sitney Thai Cuisine’s Som Tum with Punim is a delectable soft shell crab salad with a papaya salad drizzled in a chilli-lime dressing. It is to die for. The crunchiness of the salad is a fantastic contrast to the dainty texture of the crab and the dressing is exquisite and the dressing gives it a great touch of pizzazz. Opposite Sitney, the Parramatta restaurant from the Sydney chain Thai-in-a-Box is a popular place for local students. Having spent many afternoons there after school myself, my favourite dish is the Yum Nuea (Thai Beef Salad). The beef is thinly sliced as served with lettuce, tomato and cucumber with an exciting chilli and lemon dressing that is extremely hot!
Life Whilst food may seem to be the sole aspect of Parramatta’s cultural diversity, the Parramasala festival celebrates the vastness of South Asian culture and artistic tradition world-wide. Beginning in 2010 and running in November (this year from November 8-10), Parramasala literally takes over the central Parramatta landscape. The otherwise bland streets are covered in colour, from the Riverside Theatre to the Town Hall with artistic expressions from Indian to Afghani to Burmese cultures represented. Coming from all over the world, dancers, singers and film makers flock to Parramatta for a few days of exhibition and celebration. Church Street Mall will be transformed into a bustling market place for the Masala Markets. Last year, the Town Hall was decorated with Hindi-inspired illuminations and hosted a ‘Bollywood Block Party’ in the square. Films produced domestically and globally are screened at the Riverside Theatre along with many musicians. This festival truly represents one aspect of the diversity that Parramatta is now renowned for.
Mezze The food of the Middle East and the Mediterranean also play a big role in the cultural identity of Parramatta. Family owned restaurants the El-Phoenician and Kouzina Greco bring to Parramatta the best of Lebanese and Greek food, respectably. The El-Phoenician, towards the river end of Church Street is famous for its fantastic food an atmosphere. Belly dancers are present on Friday and Saturday nights, making it a fun place to eat and share a mezze plate with friends. Dips like the Baba Ganouje (char grilled eggplant) and the Shankleesh (spicy aged cheese) are perfect for sharing and have complex flavours. For some more substance, the Makanek (spicy sausages with lemon juice) are an absolute must! Just off the main street on Phillip Street, Kouzina Greco offers a less-spicy mezze option. I would recommend going in a large group so you can try everything! Personal favourites include the Kalamaraki (calamari with a garlic puree and aioli) and the grilled Cyprus Haloumi Cheese. However, if you are still craving a bit of spice, the Tyrocafteri dip (feta, ricotta, semi-dried tomatoes and sweet chilli) is a good option. If you are ever in Parramatta, a visit to this gem is essential.