Ramadan Street Food Makes For One Hell Of A Snack

Ramadan Street Food Makes For One Hell Of A Snack
A big batch of kanafeh, a traditional Middle Eastern sweet cheese pastry. Image: Kotaku Australia

One of the nicest things about the suburb I live in is that, every year, the whole place comes alive. It specifically happens on the last weekend of Ramadan, which presents one of the best opportunities for a Snacktaku with a modern Australian touch.

We don’t talk about this often on site, so here’s a quick primer 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 will wake up before dawn to have a huge meal (called suhur), with another large feast among friends and/or family at the evening once the sun falls (called iftar).

The festival isn’t just about fasting, obviously: there’s also a practice of donating more heavily to charity, and the whole month is designed to instil more compassion for the poor, reiterating the value of sacrifice and the worth of self-discipline.

At the end of it all, families will hold Eid, a festival marking the end of the month. In practice, the local Eid for all to attend was a few days before the actual end of Ramadan (which continues until May 12 this year.)

But the idea is the same: bringing your friends and family together for a grand celebration with food, laughs, some music and, in typically Australian fashion, a lot of coffee.

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One of the local food trucks that rolled up for the evening. Their speciality: halal African cuisine, with a special peanut chilli sauce that was blended in with whatever protein you chose. The spiced lamb shoulder roll is killer, I’ve heard, but way too much food for what I wanted. Image: Kotaku Australia

We’ve been running Snacktaku articles for a long time, although most of those have come from our partners in the United States and tended to focus on, well, a lot of foods and weird things you’d only find in the US. And that’s totally fine! But a lot of that food is … well, pretty bad for your heart. And any other organ in your body. And when it comes to food, and food culture, Australia is remarkably fortunate. Not only do we have access to a wide range of high quality produce and high quality meat — we don’t have to import anything unless we badly want it.

Our melting pot of cultures also means Australians grow up with access and exposure to an enormous range of cuisines, something that you never fully appreciate until you travel overseas (which, sadly, we can’t do right now). There’s also the Masterchef effect: the success of the cooking reality TV show hasn’t just had a pronounced impact on Australian restaurants and fine dining, but it’s also helped expand the range of ingredients stocked and sourced at local supermarkets, grocers and influenced food trends in the country more broadly.

Of course, this year’s celebration was a muted one. The local council limited things to 12 stalls, which in practice meant you had about three or four trucks to choose from, plus offerings from the cafes, butchers and specialist pastry shops already on the street. It’s hard to complain though: many countries aren’t able to celebrate in public at all — especially an event where everyone has to take their masks off repeatedly to drink, eat, drink again, eat some more, and eat a third time.

Besides, what’s available locally is pretty good. One of my favourite things to take whenever I visit a friend’s house is to stop by the local Lebanese pastry store, which does all sorts of baklava. This store does them all too: almost every major variant of baklava is available, ranging from the walnut-heavy baku pakhlava from Azerbaijan; the rose water, pistachio and cardamom-covered Persian flavours; trays of traditional kanafeh, with or without rosewater; the Lebanese baklawa, covered in pistachio, rose water and orange blossom; and my partner’s favourite, the sticky sweet kunafa rolls with their stringy, vermicelli-like texture.

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More of the local delicacies. Image: Kotaku Australia

I’ve got a sweet tooth, so I opted for dessert before dinner. And while kanafeh is always available in the area, it’s usually only around this time when stores and stalls will serve it the way it should be enjoyed: warm, with (or without) a serve of rosewater. It’s best hot, because the cheese inside retains that gooey, oozy texture.

This version of kanafeh, called kunafa na’ameh, focuses on having a crunchy crust with layers of gooey cheese, accented by a healthy sprinkling of pistachios. I also asked for way too much rosewater. But it’s honestly divine, and if you don’t like sweet stuff, it’s plenty sweet without any rosewater at all thanks to the melted ghee and sugar syrup that forms the crust when baked.

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LOOK AT THAT CHEESE. Divine. Image: Kotaku Australia

For $7, this is a killer dessert. I definitely overdid it on the rosewater; it was still tasty, mind you.

The next course, then, had to be dinner. Options were pretty restricted this time around because of COVID, but there was still some tasty offerings. One included a Lebanese shawarma kebab/rice bowls/snack pack truck. Snack packs can be a thing of incredible beauty, and the Lebanese-themed ones available in the area do a remarkable job, although the traditional BBQ sauce doesn’t appear as much. Here, garlic, chilli and tomato were the way to go, although the “loaded” halloumi chips would have been killer if I hadn’t had dessert already.

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Instead, I opted for something I hadn’t had before: kibda, or a traditional lamb liver burger. It didn’t seem like the hero option for the food stall — the burger was priced at $11, compared to the $16-18 for the lamb or chicken offerings. (In case you’re wondering why pork seems to be absent, remember: halal food only.)

Unfortunately, actually getting the burger was a bit of a rough ride. The stall stopped taking orders immediately after mine, and struggled to keep up with the volume. 45 minutes later, I eventually took home a small liver burger coated in garlic with a peanut chilli sauce, with the liver pieces chopped up to resemble something akin to chunks of chicken thigh or chicken breast (without the same colour, obviously).

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It’s not a looker, that’s for sure. Image: Kotaku Australia

Lamb liver, or any kind of liver, obviously isn’t like traditional meat. It doesn’t ooze or have its own juices to coat a traditional burger. And part of the shtick of the African food truck was that all the protein gets blended with the spices and the sauce, and that all gets cooked together as a whole. But the rush they were under obviously did a bit of damage to the presentation.

But with a few bits of paper towel, I was pretty happy for my $11. The liver wasn’t gamey at all, and the peanut chilli sauce only kicked up slightly on the back end. The bits of liver were nicely chewy, almost like you were munching on bits of chicken that’d been fried on the grill. It’s a pleasant texture with an earthiness that worked really well with the garlic and peanut flavour.

Was it the best burger I could have bought that night? Well, not even close. The street where the festival is held is famous for another burger joint down the road, one that does an incredible short rib burger on the bone which is legitimately one of the best burgers NSW has to offer. Their stock black fried chicken burger is also great if you like a bit of spice, and only a few dollars more than the liver offering above (but with vastly better structure.)

Still, it was all good fun just to see everyone out on the street again. You don’t realise how much you miss gatherings like this until they’re gone. That cultural touchstone that Australia provides is especially rare, and it’s one of the things this job has made especially apparent to me. This country is far from perfect, but we are far, far luckier than many others, and COVID has made that all the more clear.

Comments

  • I’m jealous. Drooling at the thought of so much Arabic food in one place. I used to make my own, but getting to the specialty shops after I moved to do it on the regular was too hard.

    • Love a nice halal snack pack!
      Ive gotta thank Pooooooorline Hanson for putting me onto them, If not for her outrage about them i would have never tried one.

  • Does the article mention what suburb that is in? Maybe people who live near there might be interested. Or is this a state secret and you are threatening national security by even revealing this much?

      • I was kind of surprised. In a newspaper with this kind of article I think that the journalists would be explicit about that kind of information. Maybe they’d be a bit vaguer and say that they were close to the event but they’d at least mention the suburb and the exact location of the event, to let people know where to go to partake of the food or whatever.

        Is it a radically different environment for tech/game writers? I don’t know.

          • Because of this you now need to do a researched article on the suburbs around Australia with dank Middle Eastern cuisine, so we can all get our fix. You did this to yourself by telling us about yummy food and not where to get it!

  • I’m not personally interested in what suburb you live but when a writer recommends an event without specifying where it is, I find that weird.

    The obvious solution would have to not said that you live in the suburb where the event was. Invent something, like you visiting a friend in the area and discovering something great on the way.

    Maybe delegate the story to someone who doesn’t live in the area.

    • Sure, I hear you. It’s worth noting that by next year, with the vaccine more distributed and social gatherings a bit more back to normal, these festivals will be more spread out over the country. So as louie says, there should be a lot more Ramadan festivals to call out and highlight, but that wasn’t an option this time around. (And the event is one night only anyway, so you can’t “go and get it” even if you want to. Don’t worry – we’ll do more food that is more readily accessible!)

      As an aside, I absolutely don’t want to promote, or have anyone working on this site, the idea that we can just invent fictional details for the sake of a story. It’s not a good habit to ever allow to develop, regardless of the circumstances.

      • Hopefully articles in the future which mention specific events or whatever will have more detail on where they are and not be some great mystery. It would be like someone mentioning some great shop where you could get the best deal on a PS5, say, but not saying where that shop was because it happened to be in the writer’s suburb or they didn’t want people to infer where they live.

        I’m not sure how many writers would be as cautious as you are on something like this. Being flippant you could say that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

        I’m happy to stop here but I would be grateful if the issue that I raise be noted. You don’t have to invent things for stories but if not revealing something which you would expect to have revealed because you think it would identify where you live, then don’t include that in the story. E.g. if you’re in Sydney, that’s such a big place that people wouldn’t bat an eyelid about making a trip to a good food festival. They wouldn’t assume that you live right next to it.

  • I’ll try and do a succinct summary of my idea of what information should have been in this kind of article:

    Essential: Where and when is the event? Is there more information online about the event? Where?

    Interesting: Do other places in Australia have this event? What other places? Can you get information online about those other/similar events?

    As an aside, I’m confident that the stallholders at this event would have been grateful for the publicity and the crowds that that could have attracted to their business. If this was a sponsored article, they would have felt dudded, I think.

    Not essential or interesting: Whether or not the author lives in the suburb where the event is held.

    I’m sure a writer could come up with an interesting article though about all the cool things to see and do in their suburb, if they weren’t worried about revealing that about themselves for some reason.

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