"Pace yourselves," our guide Alaa Krayem says as we are about to devour a range of Lebanese pizzas. It's sound advice for anyone keen on joining the new Taste Tour of Liverpool. Like its Western Sydney neighbours, Bankstown and Fairfield, you can eat your way around the world in this suburb.
"Today we're going to visit Lebanon and India, with a quick visit to Macedonia and Iran," Krayem says. The 23-year-old nursing student arrived from Syria three and a half years ago and has been hosting tours for more than a year.
"There are three main things I love about Taste: its main purpose is to support the life and community of different cultures living in the western suburbs. It supports small, independent businesses, so we look for hidden shops that offer the best of their cultural specialities and it's a charity, so all the money is reinvested into helping new arrivals get the experience and skills they need."
"Here, I've learnt to take care of people, be confident in public speaking and deliver the best service I can – and I can take all those skills into the hospital when I'm nursing," she says.
For Middle Eastern food
4/159-165 Northumberland Street, Liverpool
Lebanese pizza (manoush) is nothing like the Italian kind – think thin, crust-less discs that serve as a quick snack. At Jazz Pizza, they're topped with za'atar, a spice blend of oregano, sesame seeds and sumac, for $2 (the best-selling flavour), followed in popularity by the three-cheese pizza featuring feta, mozzarella and haloumi, and the beef with paprika, tomato and fresh lemon, which are $5 each.
Macquarie Fruit Shop
Norfolk Serviceway, Liverpool
This fruit shop sells more than just produce. Ahmed Dannaoui's family has a farm in northern Lebanon where they grow olives to make their own oil; they even make soap from the olives that fall on the ground before harvest. They also manufacture pomegranate molasses, using blossoms from bitter Seville oranges for the syrup. "Five kilos of flowers are steamed over four hours, you have to drop them in one by one, like arak," he says. "It can be used in sweets and, for our people, it's like medicine. It is bitter and good for the stomach."
Hammoud 1 Restaurant
335-337 Macquarie Street, Liverpool
There may be only eight items on the menu (including hummus and fatteh), but everyone is here for the falafel – which are only $6 for 6, if you get them takeaway. "It is the best falafel in Sydney," our guide says. Owner Hammoud Hammoud tells us he started making falafel with his father in Lebanon when he was 10 years old. "When I come here from Syria, I couldn’t find the authentic falafel – they have too much chickpea and were too heavy. I tried nine different places and this was exactly like the ones I had in Syria," Krayem says. "When I told my mum, she said, 'No, my falafel is the best', but when she tried it … she agreed it was better than hers."
255 Northumberland Street, Liverpool
This Iraqi grocery is where Krayem was reunited with her beloved Twist, a Syrian biscuit she's never seen stocked anywhere else in Australia. "There are lots of Persian products here," she adds. "Halva is a blend of sesame and pistachio. It’s a dessert, but it’s also good for sore throats: take a few teaspoons to release the oil and use that to soften airways and stop coughing."
241 Northumberland Street, Liverpool
This Middle Eastern bakery serves up loaves of samoon: diamond-shaped Iraqi flatbread. It has the same thick sponginess of Turkish bread, but is a lot denser. We also try ka’ak, a Turkish semolina date cookie. The sweet date filling is encased in a crisp, sesame-seed covered pastry and comes in the shape of mini sausage rolls.
"Today we're going to visit Lebanon and India, with a quick visit to Macedonia and Iran."
For Baltic food
Goran’s Continental Butchery
179 Northumberland Street, Liverpool
This is a beacon for the Baltic community, with people travelling far and wide for traditional smoked meats and a taste of home. The store has been operating for 22 years and while it also stocks a range of European cheeses and sweets, it's all about the meat. "We do different styles of the smoked meats which we make in the shop: slanina/speck, smoked ham deluxe, smoked prosciutto and one of the very good sellers is smoked continental sausages," says Dusanka Petrovic, who has a Serbian background. "We buy from the farmers, take to the abattoir and bring in the shop so it means that the meat is firsthand, it is nice and fresh. We know where the beef or veal grow up and who was the farmer of the cattle."
162 Macquarie Street, Liverpool
The sign outside says "Best burek in NSW" and it's certainly a contender: the outer layer has a lovely crunch to it, the inner layers are soft and delicate while the feta filling is creamy and not too salty. "The chef brought the recipe from Macedonia about 20 years ago," says Spasija Krstevska, referring to her dad Slobodan Tancev, who runs the bakery with his family. They make the burek fresh every day and sell the pastries straight away. "We have people come from Canberra and Melbourne for it. They buy the frozen ones to take home and eat the cooked ones at the stopover on the way to Canberra or at the airport." Don't forget to try some Macedonian doughnuts while you're here.
For Indian food
Hemani Mehmi Indian Restaurant
265 George Street, Liverpool
This sprawling restaurant serves everything from chaat street snacks to tandoori and biryani, but we are here for the desserts. Burfi is a mix of sugar and fresh milk cooked until solidified with chickpea flour. The colour is an easy way to tell the flavour: green for pistachio, orange for mango and brown for chocolate.
Woodlands Family and Tandoori Restaurant
238 George Street, Liverpool
Since opening in 1998, this restaurant has become known for its dosa – people travel far and wide for it. This south-Indian speciality is crisp, log-shaped rice and lentil pancake stuffed with potato and onion masala, served with two sauces, coconut and chilli, plus a small lentil soup.
Enter via 186 Macquarie Street or 163-183 George Street, Liverpool
The largest Indian supermarket in Australia is worth a wander. You can pick up pre-prepared takeaway meals and purchase everything from vats of ghee and every kind of spice you would ever want.
The Taste of the World - Liverpool food tours run once a month and goes for three and a half hours. Tickets range from $55 for children to $85 for adults.