– Story by Hans Tammemagi Photographs by Don Denton
An army marches on its stomach,” Napoleon once said. The military genius’ words might also be applicable to travel during this prolonged and painful pandemic. And although we can’t travel internationally, we can still savour the character and flavour of faraway lands by visiting some of the Peninsula’s divine ethnic restaurants. With this in mind, I set out to taste the world through culinary experiences.
The first stop in my around-the-world culinary quest is Zanzibar Café. Tucked away on the outskirts of Brentwood Bay, it offers a unique peek into North Africa.
Entering, I immediately discover a delightfully funky setting, with open, upside-down umbrellas, hanging from the rafters beside large fans. African pots and carvings adorn the walls. Patios grace the front and rear of the one-storey building; the rear patio emerges like an African jungle with the beams entwined by vines and surrounded by greenery.
Co-owner Mohamed Dehairi, a Le Cordon Bleu chef from Algeria, has created an intriguing menu, featuring dishes that reflect his love of North Africa as well as the west coast.
Mo proudly presents a beautifully decorated serving dish and, lifting the lid, releases the succulent aromas of an apricot and olive tagine. I bite into the spicy chicken and merguez (spicy lamb sausage), closing my eyes to focus on the rich combination of spices.
“I named this restaurant the Zanzibar because markets there provide the best, most diverse spices in the world,” Mo explains.
Leaving, I can’t wait for the weather to warm (and the COVID-19 pandemic to relent) so I can return and enjoy a meal surrounded by vines on the rear patio.
I stroll to the nearby Royal Aroma restaurant, where the dishes emit wonderful aromas of spices. Long attracted to the multicultural traditions and rich history of India, I feel like I’ve finally arrived.
The walls are covered with dozens of photos showing ancient forts, temples and palaces, ladies in bright saris, painted elephants with armour, festivals and rituals. Indian music, with the distinctive sitar, plays softly in the background.
Arsh, the sister of Raj, the owner, explains that their family hails from northern India, and goes on to describe the menu of more than 70 dishes, including curries, naan, biryanis, masalas, tandooris and samosas.
The most popular dishes are the Malabar Coconut Curry and the Mughlai Shahi Korma. I have long been infatuated with Indian food, especially its rich spicy sauces, and I’m impressed that these are offered in six “heat” levels from mild to Indian hot.
Next, I travel (a few blocks) to Japan and enter the Taste of Tokyo. Just like in Japan, the staff, all dressed in black and wearing masks, are extremely polite and offer impeccable service.
The photos and décor are from Tokyo, but include some west coast influence.
Jonathon, one of three owners, guides me through the menu, which includes tempura, noodles, bento boxes and dozens of sushi rolls.
I bite into a Crunchy Tuna Sushi Roll (their most popular dish) and I’m smitten by the flavours of avocado and sriracha mayo, mingling perfectly with the spicy tuna and enriched by teriyaki sauce and tobiko (a type of fish roe).
Soon I arrive at Good Fortune, which has been serving tasty Chinese (Cantonese) dishes in Sidney for more than 30 years.
Yen Li—who, with her husband Ben, owns and operates the restaurant—shows me around, and I feel like I’ve arrived in the Middle Kingdom. The detailed and attractive décor reflects the long history and traditions of China, and, in fact, many of the artifacts here have been collected by Ben from China. There is a large, elegant aquarium full of colourful koi, and a small shrine to god Guan Yu sitting high on a wall.
I’m impressed by the careful attention to detail. Cloth napkins are folded into various origami shapes. Tables are unique and made of solid mahogany. A model junk and various pots and artifacts are tastefully displayed and there are subtle undertones of red, which Yen explains is one of China’s national colours.
Sipping a green tea, I peruse the lengthy menu of mouth-watering chow mein and egg foo young varieties, and I’m drawn in by the Szechuan dishes as they are especially spicy. Delicious!
At the nearby Maria’s Souvlaki Greek Restaurant in Sidney, I gaze at the numerous photos lining the dining room walls. White houses are tangled together beside a deep blue Aegean sea. Church domes topped in cerulean blue contrast with the vivid white buildings. Donkeys laden with market goods wander along the roads.
I feel as though I’m right there in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. As I bit into one of Maria’s tasty souvlaki, oozing with tzatziki sauce, she explains that her donair and moussaka are very popular. Maria’s restaurant, run by Maria, her son and even her grandsons helping out, has brought a slice of Greece to Sidney for 25 years. You may even catch snatches of Greek being spoken.
Returning home, I was thankful that, in spite of all its difficulties, the pandemic had brought me this opportunity to travel and taste my way around the globe.
If You Go
North Africa:Zanzibar Cafe, Brentwood Bay,
Greece:Maria’s Souvlaki Greek Restaurant,
China:Good Fortune Restaurant, Sidney,
India:Royal Aroma Bistro, Sidney,
Japan:Taste of Tokyo Restaurant, Sidney,
Italy:Porto Osteria, Canoe Cove,
Korea: J. Kitchen Korean & Japanese Restaurant, Sidney,
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Thailand: Sabhai Thai, Sidney,
This story originally appeared in PEARL Magazine