The Sydney Morning Herald

Diplomatic flavours

Author: LouiseSchwartzkoff
Date: 09/08/2011
Words: 970
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Good Living
Page: 8
Some of the city's best-travelled residents tell Louise Schwartzkoff where they find a taste of home.

Diplomats move from country to country like others move between suburbs. Those who work at Sydney's international consulates often arrive in Australia via a circuitous route around the world. Sometimes, though, even an international citizen craves the taste of home. Here, four diplomats reveal their favourite Sydney restaurants.

Amit Dasgupta, consul general, consulate general of India

Amit Dasgupta was far from his Kolkata home when he cooked his first meal. A student at McGill University in Canada, he was sick of the chops and steaks his house mates favoured. When he spotted some turmeric during a shopping expedition, he pounced.

The meal was a disaster. Even to his starving, drunken friends, the chicken boiled with turmeric tasted dreadful. "I finally ended up requesting McDonald's to drop some food across," he says.

In the years since, his cooking has improved. Sydney's tastiest Indian food, he says, comes from his own kitchen, but the next best thing is Aki's in Woolloomooloo. He loves the traditional dishes, particularly chappa pulusu - fish fillets with tamarind, dried chillies, curry leaves and fenugreek seeds.

He eats there so regularly, chef Kumar Mahadevan sometimes lets him take over the kitchen.

He takes Australians to Aki's to experience the diversity of India's regional cuisines.

It is one of the few Indian restaurants, he says, that never falls back on bland cliches.

"Often, Indian restaurants try to adapt to what they think are Aussie tastes but I'm quite sure that if Australians were exposed to different kinds of Indian food, they would love it," he says.

Only a few restaurants meet his standards. He goes to Nilgiri's in St Leonards for the dosa and Indian Chopsticks in Harris Park for Chinese served Indian-style. "It's very spicy," he says. "There's a dish called hot and sour soup. I don't think there's anyone else here who makes it the way I grew up eating it.

"It brings back all those memories of what the food used to taste like."

Nicholas Christodoulidis, consul for economic and commercial affairs, consulate general of Greece

After five years in Sydney, Nicholas Christodoulidis thinks the Greek restaurants in Australia are better than they are in Greece.

"I'm not a great gourmet but overall, I'd say the quality is better here," he says. "In Greece, it's not a Greek restaurant. It's just a restaurant. It's not special. I think it's more competitive here."

It is a short walk from the Greek consulate in Castlereagh Street to Diethnes Greek Restaurant in Pitt Street. Established nearly 60 years ago, the restaurant is a regular haunt for consulate staff. "It's a bit of a tradition with the Greek community," Christodoulidis says. "Everybody would know Diethnes."

He likes the Medusa Greek Taverna in Market Street and the Athenian Greek Restaurant in Barrack Street but nominates Perama in Petersham as his favourite. From this month, when chef David Tsirekas closes Perama and reopens as Xanthi in the Westfield Sydney food precinct, Christodoulidis will be able to duck out of the office to sample his favourite dishes, including the pork belly baklava.

"David retains the Greek traditions but he's also very innovative," he says. "It's difficult to keep that balance between tradition and experimentation, but he walks that line very confidently."

Shaiful Shariff, trade commissioner, consulate of Malaysia

Diplomatic work involves a certain amount of schmoozing, so Shaiful Shariff is familiar with some of the city's finest restaurants. When he wants a Malaysian meal, however, he heads to the modest Malacca Straits, near Broadway Shopping Centre. There, chef Fom Sau Tan serves dishes such as beef rendang, nasi lemak and roti canai. "It's very simple and very authentic," Shariff says. "It will automatically trigger something inside your brain."

Chef Tan's food reminds Shariff of the way his family cooks.

His brother, a chef and cooking teacher in Kuala Lumpur, taught him to make roti. Even when he is far from home, he keeps the ingredients on hand. "It takes some time but I enjoy it," he says.

Shariff knows plenty of Malaysian restaurants in Sydney but his favourites stick to the traditional techniques and ingredients. He is a regular at Neptune Palace Restaurant in Circular Quay and Cafe Kasturi in the city.

No matter how authentic the cooking at Sydney's restaurants, he still misses dining in Malaysia. "To have something in your own country is different," he says. "You eat with your friends and you eat with your family."

He also misses the eye-watering heat of the food in his homeland. "You can't do spicy in Australia," he says. "You have to reduce it to suit the Australian palate."

Andreas Schorle, vice-consul, consulate general of the Federal Republic of Germany

At the Lowenbrau Keller on a Sunday afternoon there are cliches aplenty but Andreas Schorle says it is the best place in Sydney for southern German food.

Brass-band oompah music aside, he says it is just like many of the restaurants in Bavaria. "It's quite authentic, I would say," he says. "The exposed stone and all the wood is typically Bavarian. The food is really similar as well."

After living and working in South America, northern Africa and Kazakhstan, Schorle is accustomed to a variety of cuisines but sometimes he wants something heavy and hearty. At the Lowenbrau, he orders schnitzel, pork knuckles and spaetzle.

At home, he makes his own spaetzle. His wife, Nassim, born in Germany to Iranian parents, adds saffron to the Bavarian noodle dish. It is not traditional but the Schorles say they are delicious.

Traditional breads are still an important part of German diets. In Sydney, Schorle buys bread from Neu's Bakery in Bondi Junction and Clovelly's Backerei. "For us, it's really important," he says. "The bread culture ... is now very good."

 
 
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