First published on 7 Jun 2011. Updated on 16 Jan 2012.
The Benevolent Society have just announced their 2012 Taste Food Tours programme and Time Out is excited by the new offerings in Panania, Strathfield and Canley Vale. "The tours are led by locals," explains tour coordinator Cathy Quinn, "so visitors get inside knowledge of hidden gems, residents have the opportunity to gain qualifications, and local businesses are given a boost."
Having fallen in love with Bankstown's foodie offerings on the World Fare Tour last year, Time Out can't wait to get a taste of tours including Asia on a Plate, Cuba to Caracus, Little Korea and Beirut to Bangladesh.
Alongside these food tours, the Benevolent Society also offer cuisine and area specific cooking classes, progressive dinners and team building excercises, so head to the Taste Tours website for the full line-up of tours, or to customise your own.
World Fare Tour review:
Want to eat your way around the world but don't want to fly for hours to get there, subject yourself to a full body scan, or have jetlag challenge your appetite? Get yourself to Bankstown.
Bankstown is home to some of Sydney's best and most culturally diverse food. Communities from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe have flocked here over the years and brought their culinary practices with them. The locally run Taste Food Tours will help you navigate each of them.
We begin our World Fare Tour outside Bankstown station, where our group of 12 is greeted by vivacious guide Zizi – a bigtime foodie with a huge passion for the area. We are given a nametag and an empty canvas bag and set off in search of exotic morsels.
"Welcome to Istanbul," says Zizi, as we are seated at Café Amoura and we have never seen someone more excited about Turkish gözleme than owner Mohammed. There are mushroom/chicken and feta/spinach options to choose from, and both are a warm and delicious accompaniment to some of Bankstown's best cappuccino.
The next stop is Morocco. We step into a spice emporium where coloured mounds span the long and narrow shop. Smoked and sweet paprika, caraway powder and fennel powder sit astride marcdoosh, garam masala and felafel spice and they're all made on site. Ali, who owns the 22-year-old Valley View Continental Groceries & Spices Shop, guides us through each spice and explains its cooking uses.
According to Zizi our flavour receptors haven't yet burst, so the group promptly sets off for India by way of a mini-mart laden with Hindu paraphernalia, Lotus Spices & Video Shop. There are hundreds of curry powders, snacks, legumes and 30 different types of flour, so we fill our bags and make chapatti plans.
Not many cuisines have quite the curious selection of snacks as Filipino fare. Bernadette owns R&R Mini Mart and she greets us with a serving of Puto – a steamed rice cake that can be eaten savoury or sweet and is traditionally served with swine's blood jam.
When we stop at Phu Hai Seafood, owner Thi is ferociously squeezing lemon onto shucked oysters and shelling fresh prawns at light speed. She fills our plates and orders us to eat up, and the group eagerly does what they're told.
The group is forced to undo their top buttons en masse before making the afternoon pho stop. Slivers of raw beef are dropped in a huge bowl of boiling broth and at some point in the process magic happens. An Restaurant is a new contender for Sydney's best pho.
The strength of Taste Food Tours is the fact the guides have narrowed their stops down to a punchy line-up of Bankstown's rarest and best finds. And not all of their tours are as culturally diverse as this one. Other options stick to particular regions including Tastes of Asia, Middle Eastern Treats, Sahara Nights, Arabic Adventure, Out of Africa, European Explorer and Café Crawl.
The Benevolent Society is the force behind the project. Bankstown is an area of low income, high youth unemployment and families in housing stress, and the charity trains locals to use the area's greatest strength – food – to build community pride, create jobs and boost the local economy.
"You are now in Petra," announces Zizi at our last stop, Sweet City. We sip on bitter Arabic coffee and eat shmayse – Turkish delight filled with ashta (cream) – a perfect finale to the day's grazing. It's 2pm, our bags are overflowing with exotic produce that we've been given along the way, and there isn't a customs officer in sight.