Saturday, July 26, 2008

Celebrating your culture...

Today the Handsome Australian and I bundled our little ones in the car and made the trip to our favourite Lebanese Bakery in Melbourne. For those of you who haven't been lucky enough to visit Melbourne, the food scene here is incredible. I've never been to another city which had such a large variety of food on offer at such a high standard. Melburnians take their food very seriously and the hospitality industry here is highly competitive.

In a lot of ways, Melbourne restaurants remind me of the ones you'd find in New York City. Most restaurants are small typically seating between 50 to 100 diners at one time. You won't find a lot of chain restaurants or franchises here either. That's not to say that these types of places don't exist, but they are certainly outnumbered by the individually owned and operated restaurants. This guarantees that most restaurants you go into here are unique, both in their decor and menu selections.

With a multicultural population, Melbourne has a little bit of everything. There are neighbourhoods where certain cultures are concentrated and you'll find restaurants, grocery stores, and retail shops all catering to that particular segment of the population. In some cases, it can feel as if you've actually left Australia and stepped on to the streets of Vietnam, or Lebanon, or China--depending of course on which neighbourhood you are in.

Our jaunt this afternoon took us to the predominantly Middle Eastern neighbourhood of Brunswick and the lovely shops and restaurants that line Sydney Road. Sydney Road is home to all things Middle Eastern. If you want good Turkish food, it's here. If you are after fresh Lebanese bread, it's here. If you want Halal meats, it's here. I would argue that anything you need to cook a Middle Eastern dish could be found in the shops that line both sides of the street.

Our destination today was A-1 Lebanese Bakery. The name is somewhat misleading because A-1 Bakery is not solely a bakery, it's much, much more. It's also a fully stocked Middle Eastern grocery store where you can find a plethora of goods including a variety of nuts, rose water, or apple flavoured tobacco for your arguile. If being a bakery and grocery store wasn't enough, A-1 is also a cafe which serves Lebanese baked goods (obviously), as well as traditional sweets and coffees.

The Handsome Australian is of Lebanese heritage and he loves to visit A-1. The staff there are almost entirely Lebanese and the clientele are a mix of local Lebanese and those 'in the know'. We fit both bills I suppose--the Handsome Australian is a local Lebanese and because of him, I'm in the know! It's good to know, really, really good to know.

Today we feasted on a bounty of baked delights. At the heart of our meal was the small, thin pizza crust type pastry topped with a variety of toppings. The two most typical toppings on these 'Lebanese pizzas', as we describe them to our young daughter, are the Lahme and the Zaatar. Lahme is minced lamb with a touch of tomato and spices on the thin pizza base. Zaatar is a herb mix, that has been described to me by my mother-in-law as a wild oregano, mixed with olive oil on top of the pizza base. It tastes quite tangy and is definitely a take it or leave it flavour--meaning you either like it or you don't.

Over the years, A-1 has become quite creative with their toppings and today we had one of everything on the menu. It was a great way to sample the new combinations as well as enjoy our old favourites. We couldn't finish everything we ordered, but these pastries pack up nicely and can be reheated at home later. That's dinner, sorted.

As we waited for our food to come out, the Handsome Australian delighted in showing our children the photographs of his mother's village in Lebanon that grace the walls of the bakery. They were duly fascinated and should probably get used to such geography lessons, because I'm sure the same one will be repeated tirelessly each time we visit the bakery. The Lebanese are a very proud people and the Handsome Australian isn't an exception.

We are so fortunate here in Melbourne to have such wonderful little gems just a short drive from our very doorstep. It's yet another thing that makes life in Melbourne very interesting indeed.

Learn the Lingo
flavour = flavor
lahme = minced lamb pizza (in this case--more generally it means 'meat')
zaatar = mixed herb pizza (in this case--more generally it refers to the herb mix itself)
arguile = ancient water pipe used to smoke flavoured tobaccos
Melburnians = people who live in Melbourne

1 comment:

Annelise said...

OMG! Please repost this comment that does not have as many glaring errors! And delete the other one!!!
"I am sure the Handsome Australian's wife will give the little ones the same lessons on America and Argentina when the opportunity presents itself.
Now off to make breakfast. You made me hungry!
On another note should I begin a list of words that the American Girl has converted to the Aussie spelling? ;)"