Owen Thomson finds authentic Turkish delights and hospitality close to home.
The last time I enjoyed lokum, authentic Turkish delight, was during a visit to Istanbul. I'd bought about two kilograms of the stuff from the city's famed Spice Bazaar and then had to lug it around Turkey in my backpack for the next three weeks, eating it or giving it away as I went in an attempt to lighten the load.
Today, I'm facing a more manageable confectionery-related predicament. It's a rainy Saturday morning and I'm admiring the wares in Real Turkish Delight, a family-owned shop in suburban Auburn. It's a scheduled stop on the Turkish Gourmet Safari, one of several food-themed tours of Sydney conceived by food author and television presenter Maeve O'Meara.
For the next few hours we'll be on foot, exploring the suburb's specialist bakeries, butcher's shops, emporiums and cafes. Auburn is the heartland of Sydney's Turkish community and home of the Gallipoli Mosque, its distinctive central dome and spires emerging spectacularly from a sea of suburban brick veneer.
But back to the Turkish delight. Not content to try the little squares on a tray of proffered samples - a process that dusts my face and clothes in a snowy veneer of icing sugar - I've once again bought a small supply for later indulgence. Carrying it around on this occasion shouldn't be a problem.
Happily for those of us who can't function without our morning heart-starter, our tour begins at Auburn Road's Mado Cafe with a cup of Turkish coffee, pitch black and powerfully aromatic. This is brewed in a traditional jezva - a small copper pot in which coffee is added to gradually heated water. The coffee powder itself is icing sugar-fine, ensuring its texture is keenly felt in the mouth during sipping.
Meanwhile, guides Levent and Berrin take us through a crash course in Turkish cuisine, introducing us to some of the important pantry basics such as the sweet-and-sour spice sumac and the all-purpose grain, burghul.
Twenty minutes later, and with eyes now bigger than our stomachs, another of our guides, Ishil, gives us a handy tip.
"Basically, you're going to be eating all day, so pace yourselves," she laughs.
Exiting Real Turkish Delight, on the corner of Station Road and Rawson Street, we turn left on Rawson and head to Arzum Market, a small delicatessen specialising in Turkish pantry essentials. It's imbued with a strong sense of old-world authenticity, untouched by the bland sterility of chain-store counterparts.
Keen to balance the sweet with the savoury, I try some Iranian figs and Gemlik olives, which originate from the western Turkish harbour town of the same name.
We move on, stopping to sample the offerings at other food shops dotted throughout Auburn's small CBD. Of these, the Family Butcher on Beatrice Street best combines history and gastronomy. We're treated to thin slices of sucuk, a chorizo-like sausage made of beef, paprika, black pepper and garlic, and we learn something of sucuk's origins: it was once a favourite of Turkish soldiers engaged in military campaigns abroad.
The last stop before lunch is the Gima Emporium, a Turkish supermarket on Queen Street. It stocks all manner of fresh produce, such as pale-green banana chillies, fresh pomegranate, flat green beans, eggplant, nuts and olives, as well as imported Turkish products difficult to find elsewhere. Except Turkey, presumably.
Standing before shelves packed with rose-petal jam, olive pastes, sour cherry juice, pomegranate molasses and pickled-carrot juice, it's impossible not to contemplate adventurous forays into home-cooked Turkish cuisine. To complete the experience, we sip small cups of hot apple and cinnamon tea while savouring the sweetness of pishmanye, Turkish cotton candy.
With some opportunistic shopping completed, we head back to the Mado Cafe for lunch. A selection of breads, dips and salads paves the way for a delicious oregano-infused chicken dish served with salad and rice, the latter boiled and lightly fried in olive oil with tomato to bring out the flavour.
I haven't paced myself properly but missing dessert would be a crime against gastronomy. The embodiment of sub-zero excellence, pomegranate and Turkish vanilla ice-cream (the latter made from ground orchid root), served with a walnut salma (similar to baklava) on the side, constitutes the perfect end to an enlightening day of indulgence.
As I practically roll out onto the footpath, steadfastly resolving not to eat for the rest of the weekend, or maybe even the week, I reflect on the fact that you don't have to traverse hemispheres to experience exotic cultures and cuisines. Indeed, a taste of Turkey in Auburn is inspiring. And, at just 20 minutes' drive from the inner city, also a touch more accessible.
Owen Thomson travelled courtesy of Gourmet Safaris.
The five-hour Turkish Gourmet Safari of Auburn, which includes an optional visit to the Gallipoli Mosque, costs $95 a person. For tour schedules and details of other tours, see gourmetsafaris.com.au.