Having lived in Surry Hills for almost eighteen years, I’d almost forgotten what it was like to have “normal shops”. Surry Hills is littered with restaurants, gourmet grocers, architects and the like. But if you needed to buy some fabric to knock up a frock (theoretically speaking), I think you would have to look further afield.
In stark contrast, Cabramatta has a much greater variety of shops, and that’s something which really stood out today when I visited there and participated in the I Ate My Way Through Cabramatta Walking Tour. “The shopping’s great here”, I thought to myself, noticing not only the variety, but also the high level of competition leading to good prices, and a general good “vibe”.
I’ve never been to Cabramatta before, simply because it’s about 50 minutes on the train from Central. Two more stops and you’re at Liverpool (which I also visited today for another reason). But I’d heard good things about the food, and so when I saw an ad a few months ago for the walking/eating tour, I quickly booked.
As soon as you get off the train, the first thing you notice is the high number of Australians from a Vietnamese background who live there. Living around Central Sydney, I’m very accustomed to (and love) being in a highly concentrated multi-cultural environment but at Cabramatta it’s taken to a whole new level, Even though there are some Anglo faces in the crowd, and quite a few people from Middle Eastern background, the Vietnamese influence is very strong.
The tour lasts about three hours, and takes you in and out of the shops and a few of the restaurants as a “beginners guide” to both Vietnamese food (generally) and food in Cabramatta specifically. The tour guides today were Jennifer Lam and Amy Ta.
Jennifer Lam is the editor and photographer behind one of Australia’s top food blogs, JENIUS – The Spectacular Culinary Adventures of a Sydney Gen Y. She is also one of the top 100 women bloggers in Australia.
Amy Ta is a former resident of Cabramatta. Having lived away from Sydney’s Little Vietnam for a short while she misses the sights, sounds and flavours of her hometown. When Amy isn’t constantly chatting about food, she is writing about it on her blog tinytearoom.com.
They both spoke knowledgeably with passion about the food of the area, also offering tips along the way about places we didn’t have the time to visit. As evidence of their passion, they told us how they had met and became friends through food blogging, and were planning to spend the rest of the day eating pho, the signature Vietnamese dish. That’s commitment!
For me it was a really interesting tour to participate in. I probably knew a little more about Vietnamese food and culture than many of the other participating, but I still learned quite a few new things. It was great to discover a restaurant with to-die-for crispy chicken served with tomato rice. “I’m quite addicted to tomato rice”, Amy told me when I asked about it. Apparently, it’s just tomato paste added to plain boiled rice to give it a little more flavour. I was also interested in a few street dishes, including a sesame-flavoured bread snack and a bright green waffle made with a leaf I can’t recall right now.
Best of all – lots and lots of shops with really fresh food and good prices. Yes, Cabramatta is a long way from Surry Hills.
As a bonus to the tour, we were all given a branded hession bag which included half a dozen pages of recipes and notes, and a book which Jennifer released about her food travelling adventures in Vietnam and Singapore.