XDream is not what you might be picturing. Its name makes it sound like a den of ill repute, the sort you might find under a red light on a shabby stretch of Parramatta Road – not somewhere you would just wander into, unless, you know, you're into that sort of thing.
But XDream (xdream.com.au) is something else. Step inside its brightly lit interior, just near the train station at Toongabbie, and you immediately hear the "ting, ting, ting" of metal on metal emanating from the kitchen.
You see the big bain-marie up the front stuffed with fried treats: fish cutlets, egg rolls, ulundu vadais and more. You see the tables packed with the Sri Lankan diaspora enjoying the food and the atmosphere of their old home.
XDream is little Sri Lanka, one of a bustling pocket of restaurants and supermarkets in this little corner of western Sydney. The bain-marie here is full of traditional "short eats", or fried snacks. The "ting, ting, ting" is the sound of cooks making kottu roti, a signature Sri Lankan dish of chopped flatbread, meat and sauce all fried up together on a hot grill. This is the sound and the smell of Sri Lanka. You couldn't be anywhere else.
And yet of course you are somewhere else. You're in Sydney, a city that can give you the whole world, if you know where to look for it. A city that now more than ever deserves to be explored and enjoyed. And what better way to do it than through food, through the restaurants we haven't been able to access.
To experience the culture and the cuisine of Sri Lanka, head directly to Toongabbie, where Aurelia Street meets Portico Parade. Here you'll find XDream, but also Mathura (mathuratakeaway.com.au, try the Jaffna-style dosai), Muthu (excellent rice-and-curry sets), and Chef Ceylon (chefceylon.com.au, great lamprais). Stock up on ingredients at Surya Supermarket and Spice Mini Mart. And then take some time to digest, because this culinary journey of the world has just begun.
We travel, next, to Fairfield, a community that pulled together so admirably in the fight against COVID-19, and which has long been a hub of Latin American culture. Walk to La Paula, a Chilean bakery that specialises in empanadas and Chilean-style sandwiches, as well as sweet treats such as "torta tres leches", and "alfajores", biscuits with caramel-like "manjar blanco". Then, to compare and contrast, try the Argentinian-style alfajores at nearby La Torre (latorre.com.au).
If you're still hungry, grab tacos at Chololo, before picking up groceries for a Latin American feast at home at Tierras Latinas (tierraslatinas.net. Buy Chilean-style meats, perfect for a backyard asado, from Theo's Cecina (theoscecinas.com.au), which also has an outlet in Hurlstone Park. And while you're in the area, duck over to Lurnea to pick up Bolivian saltenas – soupy empanadas – from Capinota (capinota.com.au).
How amazing is this city, where you can travel from one country to the next in the space of a few suburbs? This tour of the planet continues to Merrylands, for the culture and the cuisine of the Middle East and sub-continent, for Afghan food at Kabul House (kabulhouse.sydney), Turkish favourites at Biber Diner (biberdiner.com.au) mand Syrian dishes at Al Shami (alshamirestaurant.com.au).
There's far too much in this city to pack into a small story. You have to get out and explore and see for yourself. Go to Harris Park for a burst of Indian life; make your way to Granville for Iranian cuisine; wander around Cabramatta to discover the widest range of specialist Vietnamese ingredients this side of Saigon (and hit Viet Hoa for pork rolls). Check out the spate of Japanese restaurants in Chatswood (Izakaya Nakano for Tokyo vibes, izakayanakano.wordpress.com). Seek out Indonesian food in Kingston (Ayam Goreng 99 for the best grilled chicken, ayamgoreng99.com).
Walk into places you never thought you would try. Like XDream, they're probably not what you might be picturing.
Skye Suites Parramatta makes a great base from which to explore western Sydney. Rooms from $260 a night. See skyeparramatta.com