Merrylands and its surrounding suburbs are a melting pot of different Middle Eastern cultures: Lebanese, Turkish, Persian, Afghani, Iraqi, Egyptian, Syrian and Assyrian. It’s a mix of these cultures that inspired Muhammad Zayd Dahal to take over The Middle Feast a year after it opened and transform it into a place that he believes best represents the local community.
“This is why I had to [do] this … They all come [to The Middle Feast] and they all find their place here and they all get along,” he tells SBS.
While Dahal's background is not Middle Eastern (he's Mauritian), the restaurateur says his fondness for Middle Eastern cultures was spurred by his first exposure to them when he moved to Australia 15 years ago.
“I love everything about the Middle Eastern culture – the food, the music and the people,” he says.
He admits however, he’s no expert and has recruited the help of Julliette Chahoud (who shares head chef duties with Simran Singh); she is Lebanese and uses home-cooking techniques to create traditional dishes including kibbeh (wheat parcels filled with minced lamb and pine nuts), makanek* (lamb sausage) and samke harra (spiced fish).
“Our chef makes everything in-house and it’s all her own recipes. She even makes her own hummus by soaking the chickpeas, before it's ground up,” Dahal says.
The menu also features dishes that fuses Western-style food with Middle Eastern flavours, which Dahal adds is his touch to the mostly traditional menu: creations include the shawarma burger with marinated lamb backstrap sandwiched between Turkish bread, and sujuk and egg pizza.
When it comes to dessert, the attention is all on the knafeh, which is made by Dahla’s wife, Doaa. Egyptian by background, Doaa enters the kitchen at The Middle Feast only to make the knafeh.
“I love everything about the Middle Eastern culture – the food, the music and the people.”
“She uses a recipe that’s been passed down through her family, but it’s the Lebanese way. The Egyptians do it differently and she only uses that recipe during special occasions such as Ramadan. The Egyptians use vermicelli with cheesy thickened cream on the inside. Everyone just raves about it,” Dahal says.
Other dessert options include fresh fruit cocktails (which are popular in the Middle East), such as an avocado cocktail served with ashta (clotted cream), honey and fresh nuts.
The same notion of bringing different cultures together has been carried through the restaurant’s decor. There are Moroccan clay plates, hanging Turkish fanoos (lanterns), Persian rugs, and Arabic-style archways.
On weekends, The Middle Feast is open for breakfast: it’s a mix of familiar dishes such as açaí bowls and smashed avocado on toast, but also creations such as a sujuk and egg guvec (clay pot) with fresh tomato, feta cheese, Napolitano sauce and in-house sesame seed bread; and lahm bi ajin, which is a flatbread topped with fine-ground meat, tomato and spices.
During weekend evenings, the restaurant also plays host to cultural nights where there are live performances by belly dancers and traditional Arabic musicians.
8/33-37 Sherwood Road, West Merrylands, NSW, (02) 9632 9220
Tues - Fri 5 pm - late
Sat - Sun 9 am - late
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