A friend and I have developed a tradition of a mighty 2 trips of venturing far and wide, to the depths of Sydney’s culinary hot-houses. A little while ago, we had a ball in Lakemba and more recently we decided to explore again, heading out to Sydney’s own axis of evil, Fairfield and Cabramatta. Friends calls of “why the hell are you going to Fairfield?” “will we ever see you again?” fell deaf on these ears of mine, as I boarded what would be an hour-long train ride towards the west. With the idea in mind that we’d be having about four lunches, I budgeted early on, skipping breakfast.
This turned out to be a wise choice as we pondered the menu of the famed, the outwardly unassuming, the brilliant La Paula bakery. We (I) went empanada crazy, having recently recovered from the empanada-gorging incident of 2010 where a trip around South America rendered me almost unconscious from the vast amount of empanadas consumed. We went for a traditional – beef, onion, boiled egg, olive…
a ooey, gooey, melty cheese – the lava lamp of the empanada world, if you will
and a tried and true spinach and cheese
Safe to say, they were all bloody good. I have had better beef empanadas, I have to admit – I think it’s more from a chunky meat perspective, whereas this meat was a little bit “grissle ‘n’ gravy” for my liking. The cheese empanada was comfort food in a pastry envelope and was suitably delicious. The spinach and cheese also fared well, departing from the normal underwhelming cheese and spinach experiences I usually have – they actually put some flavour in this one!
Of course our South American experience was not yet over – deciding to do something wild and step away from empanadas, but not so wild as to forego my one true love, cheese, we went for arepas de queso – a dish that I can safely say would make me, though not my heart, particularly happy when I die.
The sauce on the right was somewhat underwhelming – I was expecting some punchy hit to the back of the nose with this one but it turned out to be a red coloured watery liquid. bizarre. The pickled veg was ok too. I don’t really get how arepas are cooked, this being my first experience. But it’s essentially a corn cake with cheese magically flowing all around inside it. It’s basically brilliant and whoever invented it should probably be prospectively awarded a victoria cross for peace-making efforts or something.
To wash it down, we opted for this kind of bizarre malt-tasting drink – sort of like a sweet, non-alcoholic beer. Look, it wasn’t great.
And lunch ain’t a lunch without a big slab’o dulce de leche cake. The first thing you see when you walk into La Paula is a 10m long bakery cabinet. The second thing you notice is that 90% of the contents is dulce de leche. A whole race of people dedicated to the pursuit of dulce de leche. Incredible. Anyway – we obliged – not being the British army, we decided that it wasn’t a wise move to argue with the Argentinians, and to just go along with it…
If not for the 24 thousand empanadas we had just consumed, we’d have probably enjoyed this one a lot more. Despite the generous amount of dulce de leche enclosed, the flaky pastry actually made this cake lighter than anticipated. Cheap as chips – the empanadas were about $4 each, the arepas about $6 (I think) and the drinks about $3 each. A whole box of little cakes and pastries set us back about $11.
Well that was Fairfield about done. We wandered the unexpectedly quiet streets and stumbled across a South American grocery store where I went crazy, buying hot sauce, paprika, tortillas, random little tubs of this and that….
….before we finally left to keep on track, swap South American for Vietnamese, and heat to Cabramatta.
First up – fish on a stick. I think that’s what the locals call it, anyway. Some of them have been known to call it Chạo tôm
Tender and grilly and served with various tasty dipping sauces it was good….if not slightly underwhelming. I thought the fish paste would have a little more flavour, although the novelty of chewing on a sugar can stick wasn’t lost on me.
Next up, a bowl of hot, steaming noodly, brothy (but not pho) dish.
I’m told the blood (the big brown thing in the middle) should have been more tender and less…block-like. But the herbs were a-plenty, the noodles chewy and with texture, the meat tender and plentiful and the soup slightly hot / sour and very comforting.
All in all, a very nice day had by all in the bustling suburbs of Fairfield and Cabramatta. Check it out – without fear of being grossly maimed or spat on. Be adventurous – you’ll be fine.
9 Barbara Street, Fairfield NSW