A Melbourne Food & Wine Festival Tour
Location: Sydney Road, Brunswick
Cost: $45.00 per person
9.00 am- 11.15am: 4, 5, 10, 11, 12 March
11.30am – 1.30pm 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13 March
1.45pm- 3.45pm 4, 5, 11, 12 March
On a very cold and deceivingly sunny morning, the two of us embarked on the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival’s Middle Eastern Bakery Tour. This little trek took us through several bakeries down Sydney Road in Brunswick, where we could learn about and taste various Middle Eastern savoury and sweet cuisines. The below is a joint blog by us (Mr LB and Miss SL) on our journey….
Bakery 1 – Pamukkale Bakery
This is small bakery run and owned by an Iraqi family that specialise in Turkish breads. Humble and hard-working, this family started up their business after coming to Australia after fleeing from war. The bread was hand-made and cooked in electric ovens, baked every morning between 5-8am.
The first dish sampled here was the Simits – a sweet bread dipped in Greek molasses (a viscous by-product of the processing of sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar).
Next we tried some of their famous Turkish bread. To say it was good would be an understatement! The bread was soft and chewy, and had a lingering aftertaste of a middle-eastern spice we couldn’t quite trace.
Bakery 2 – Amir Bakery
This is an Iraqi bakery that focused on savory foods. The first dish to try here was the Vine Leaf Parcels. They were dense and sweet, bursting with flavours. What we really enjoyed about this dish was the fact that, unlike certain supermarkets, these parcels weren’t dripping with Olive Oil.
Next up was the Spinach and Ricotta Triangles. Surprisingly, on first bite you realise that the dough used to make these wasn’t puff pastry – nor was it heavy. It was a soft, bread-like dough which cuts through the filling, creating a harmonious balance. These little babies were the winner of Epicure‘s Best Bread Award.
A range of other breads and pizzas on offer were shown to us - as well as a 20kg spit of lamb stuffed with nuts and fruits, retailing at $300. Mmmm. Meat.
On on our way out we were given a gift of Amir Bakery‘s famous Haloumi Half Moon Pie. We both agree that this was one delicious snack. The haloumi was soft and salty, holding it’s texture when eaten. The bready dough definitely balanced the strong taste of the haloumi to provide a satisfying – and addictive – snack.
Bakery 3 – Balha’s Cafe
Upon entry to Balha’s Cafe, we felt like we were entering another world – a Middle Eastern sweets palace. I kid you not, it felt like we were Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2 when he entered the gigantic sweets shop – our inner children were excited and wanted to get their hands on everything! They provided a range of Lebanese sweets which have a global demand – and it’s no wonder with the quantity and quality of goods coming out of this place!
We were whisked upstairs to a posh dining area and served some Rose water to accompany our sweets.
Served to us was a sample of 3 Middle Eastern treats – Lady’s Finger, Lady’s Under Arms and Barma. Along with it, we were served a shot of Lebanese coffee. This coffee was percolated with cardamom seeds, providing an almost chai like flavour. While this wasn’t really our thing, we did have to admit that it WAS necessary to cut through the sweets. The Lady’s Finger were made from 2 sheets of pastry wrapped around cashew nuts and baked. They were small but extremely sweet. Next was the Lady’s Under Arms which were filled with unsweetened ricotta and were deep-fried, topped with fresh pistachio nuts. The ricotta was smooth and somewhat heavy. Lastly we had the Barma, which were made from spiral pastry and deep-fried. This was probably the best of the 3 that we tasted – it was filled with fruits and nuts, cutting through the strong taste of the sugar and butter.
Bakery 4 – Central Kebab House
This is no ordinary kebab house – this Turkish delight hand make lamb pizzas for the local primary schools in the area to provide a healthier and tasty alternative to the Four N Twenty pie. Here we were given samples of their famous lamb pizzas, which are served by squeezing lemon on top, sprinkling some parsley and folding it in half.
Bakery 5 – A1 Lebanese Bakery
This place is not just a bakery, but also a family run Middle Eastern supermarket and cafe.
They pop out a whopping 8,000 pizzas a day from their hardly industrial kitchen.
Here we were served Zaatar Pizza, which basically tasted like turkish bread with Dukkah on top.
Bakery 6 – El Fayha Sweets
Another gorgeous family run business which specialised in Middle Eastern baked sweets.
Here were given a demonstration by the owners’ daughter how to make Lady’s Finger and the Birds Nest. The method for this was quite basic (and a little horrifying). First, you fold over 2 sheets of pastry around a thin stick. You then sprinkle cashew nuts in a single line in the crevice in front of the stick. Then you tightly roll the pastry over to make a log-like shape. With your hands on either side of the stick, you push the pastry towards the centre for that ‘crunched’ effect. Once you slide it off the stick – viola! you have Lady’s Finger. If you want to make a Bird’s Nest, you then just bend it into a circular shape. After you have lined an industrial sized tray full of these treats you pour over a mere 1 KILO (yes, you heard us!) of butter. You then pop this into the oven for 20-25 minutes at 140 degrees celsius. Once baked, add 1 kilo (yes, again, we’re not lying) of melted sugar syrup. For the Bird’s Nest, you would then add the crushed pistachio nuts in the middle.
The old man here really didn’t seem phased by his contribution to weight gain in this country.
Overall the Middle Eastern Bakery Tour was fun and well-worth the $45 per ticket. We came home with a bag full of goodies such as Turkish bread, wraps, lamb pizza, and Turkish sweets. While the freebies were good, what was great about this experience was learning about where we can access good, cheap Middle Eastern breads and snacks.
Final thought: “A Middle Eastern experience worth having”