One of the nicest things about the suburb I live in is that every year the whole place comes to life. This specifically happens on the last weekend of Ramadan, which presents one of the best opportunities for a Snacktaku with a modern Australian twist.
We don’t often talk about it on the spot, so here’s a little guide for those who don’t know. Every year, followers of the Muslim faith will spend the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar fasting from dawn to dusk. Typically, those following the celebration wake up before dawn to have a huge meal (called a suhur), with another great feast among friends and / or family in the evening after the sun goes down (called iftar).
The festival isn’t just about fasting, obviously: there’s also a practice of giving more donations to charity, and the whole month is designed to instill more compassion for the poor, reiterating the value of sacrifice and the value of self-discipline.
At the end of all of this, families will organize Eid, a festival to mark the end of the month. In practice, the local Eid that everyone had to attend took place a few days before the end of Ramadan (which continues until May 12 of this year).
But the idea is the same: get your friends and family together for a big party with food, laughs, music and, in typical Australian fashion, lots of coffee.
We’ve been posting articles on Snacktaku for a long time, although most of them are from our partners in the United States and tend to focus on a lot of foods and weird things that you will only find in the United States. And that’s absolutely good! But a lot of that food is… well, bad enough for your heart. And any other organ in your body. And when it comes to food and culinary culture, Australia is remarkably lucky. Not only do we have access to a wide range of high quality products and high quality meat – we don’t have to import anything unless we really want to.
Our melting pot of cultures also means Australians grow up with access and exposure to a huge range of cuisines, which you never fully appreciate until you travel overseas (which, unfortunately, we cannot do for the moment). There is also the Chef effect: the success of the culinary reality show didn’t just have a pronounced impact on Australian restaurants and fine dining, but it has also helped expand the range of ingredients stocked and purchased at local supermarkets, grocers and has more broadly influenced the country’s food trends.
Of course, this year’s celebration has been silent. The local council limited things to 12 stalls, which in practice meant you had a choice of three or four trucks, as well as offerings from the cafes, butchers and specialty pastry shops already on the street. It’s hard to complain though: many countries are not able to celebrate in public at all – especially an event where everyone has to take off their masks several times to drink, eat, drink again, eat a little. more and eat a third time.
What’s more, what’s available locally is pretty good. One of my favorite things to take out whenever I visit a friend’s house is to stop at the local Lebanese pastry shop, which makes all kinds of baklava. This store does them all, too: almost all major baklava variations are available, ranging from nut-rich baku pakhlava from Azerbaijan; the Persian flavors covered with rose water, pistachio and cardamom; traditional kanafeh platters, with or without rose water; the Lebanese baklawa, covered with pistachio, rose water and orange blossom; and my partner’s favorite, the sweet and sticky kunafa rolls with their stringy, vermicelli-like texture.
I have a sweet tooth, so I opted for dessert before dinner. And while kanafeh is still available in the area, it is usually only around this time that shops and stalls will serve it as it should: hot, with (or without) a serving of rose water. It’s best to keep warm, as the cheese inside retains that gooey, oozy texture.
This version of kanafeh, called kunafa na’ameh, focuses on a crunchy crust with layers of gooey cheese, accented with a healthy sprinkling of pistachios. I also asked path too much rose water. But it’s honestly divine, and if you don’t like the sweet stuff, it’s super sweet with no rose water at all thanks to the melted ghee and sugar syrup that forms the crust when baked.
For $ 7, it’s a killer dessert. I really did too much on rose water; it was still tasty, mind you.
The next dish was therefore supposed to be dinner. The options were pretty limited this time around because of COVID, but there were still some tasty deals. One included a Lebanese shawarma kebab / rice bowls / a snack truck. The snacks can be incredibly beautiful, and the Lebanese themed ones available in the area do a remarkable job, although the traditional barbecue sauce doesn’t show up as much. Here, garlic, chili, and tomato were the way to go, although the “loaded” halloumi chips would have been killer if I hadn’t already had dessert.
Instead, I opted for something I hadn’t eaten before: kibda, or a traditional lamb liver burger. It didn’t seem like the hero’s option for the food stall – the burger was priced at $ 11, compared to $ 16-18 for the lamb or chicken offerings. (In case you’re wondering why pork seems to be missing, remember: halal food only.)
Unfortunately, getting the burger was a bit difficult. The booth stopped taking orders immediately after mine and struggled to keep up with volume. 45 minutes later, I finally brought home a small garlic-coated liver burger with a peanut chili sauce, with the pieces of liver chopped to look like pieces of chicken thigh or chicken breast. (without the same color, obviously).
Lamb liver, or any other type of liver, is obviously not like traditional meat. It doesn’t ooze and doesn’t have its own juice to coat a traditional burger. And part of the African food truck shtick was that all the protein is mixed in with the spices and gravy, and everything is cooked together as a whole. But the rush they were in obviously damaged the presentation a bit.
But with a few pieces of paper towel, I was pretty happy with my $ 11. The liver wasn’t gamey at all, and the peanut chili sauce only crept up the back. The pieces of liver were nicely chewy, almost like munching on pieces of chicken fried on the grill. It is a pleasant texture with an earthy character that pairs very well with the flavor of garlic and peanut.
Was it the better burger that I could have bought that night? Well, not even close. The street where the festival takes place is famous for another burger joint down the road, the one that makes a amazing short rib burger on the bone which is rightfully one of the best burgers NSW has to offer. Their black fried chicken burger is also great if you like a bit of spice, and only a few bucks more than the liver offering above (but with a much better structure.)
Still, it was great fun seeing everyone on the street again. You don’t realize how much you miss gatherings like this until they’re gone. This cultural touchstone that Australia provides is particularly rare, and it is one of the things that this work particularly brought out to me. This country is far from perfect, but we are far away, much luckier than many others, and COVID has made it all the more clear.