It seems the days when Indian and Thai restaurants toned down their food to suit timid Aussie palates are behind us. Sydney's population is well-travelled, more multicultural, and more clued-in about food, and as a result, less familiar cuisines excite rather than scare.
Razid Kulvietis, co-owner of Colombia Organik in Sydney's CBD, says customers who aren't familiar with Colombian food are drawn to his hole-in-the-wall cafe by the promise of good coffee. “Colombian coffee is recognised worldwide,” he says. The Colombian food is a surprise bonus.
Kulvietis has high praise for his Colombian chef, who he says keeps the food as authentic as possible. It's a big plus for their mostly Colombian and South American clientele, who relish the chance for a taste of home.
Sun's Burmese Kitchen at Blacktown is restaurateur Sun Myint Aung's second foray into hospitality after several years away from the industry. Aung says customers unfamiliar with the cuisine are keener to try it these days, and he attributes this partly to the recent increase in tourism to Myanmar (Burma).
Aung's wife Lyn, the restaurant's maître d' ensures newcomers are well-informed. “I explain the food to them and they keep coming back,” she says. The restaurant attracts a lot of Burmese people, too, with some travelling from as far as Gosford.
If you haven't tried Colombian and Burmese cuisines before, we recommend you do. While you're at it – here's a checklist of 10 less common cuisines and where to try them in Sydney.
Try it at… Bamiyan, 175 First Avenue, Five Dock 9712 7801
The food of land-locked Afghanistan is a kind-of fusion of south asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. Bamiyan's lengthy menu includes mantu – beef dumplings – topped with tomato and chickpea sauce, a drizzle of yoghurt and dried mint, and the veg-version, ashaak, filled with chives.
Try it at… Sun's Burmese Kitchen, 10 Tulloch Street, Blacktown 9676 2837
The menu here includes Burma's favourites, including lahpet thoat, a potent salad of pickled tea leaves, nuts, garlic and more. Sun's specialty is chicken danbauk (biryani), which comes with sides of cucumber, pineapple, chilli salad, sour soup and balachaung (a dried shrimp condiment). Sweet Burmese tea helps settle the tastebuds.
Christmas & Cocos Islands
Try it at… Island Dreams Cafe, 47-49 Haldon Street, Lakemba 0420 335 548
The food of these island nations is influenced by Malaysian, Indonesian and Chinese cuisines. Come for homemade roti, or martabak (filled with egg, meat and sweet potato), rendang, nasi lemak, chicken biryani and marbled fish crackers.
Try it at… Colombia Organik, 810 George Street, Sydney 0433 500 502
Don't miss the great tamales – pork, chicken, vegies and cornmeal wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. There's also ajiaco; creamy chicken, potato and corn soup served with avocado and thickened milk, and – if you ask – cheesy hot chocolate (it's a Colombian breakfast favourite, we're told).
Try it at… Jambo Jambo, Shop 16, Crows Nest Plaza, 103-111 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest 9439 3277
The most distinct component of Ethiopian cuisine is injera – a spongy, tangy flavoured flat-bread. You'll get it at Jambo Jambo, a small, convivial spot, along with traditional 'wot' and 'alicha' stews – our pick is the key wot; beef, cooked with onion and the Ethiopian spice-mix, berbere.
Try it at… La Mesa, Level 1, 19 Goulburn Street, Haymarket 1300 880 835
The Philippines' most famous dish is adobo – meat (chicken or pork) cooked with sugarcane, vinegar, soy, garlic and pepper. La Mesa – recently relocated from Dee Why to this spot above Mamak at Haymarket – also does a mean kare-kare (oxtail with peanut sauce), and a lovely leche flan (think crème caramel).
Try it at… Kebab Abu Ali, 83 The Crescent, Fairfield 9723 3644
Iraqi cuisine is similar to Turkish and Persian with is charcoal cooked meats, stews and long-grain rice dishes. To try it, head to Fairfield, where there are a couple of low-key Iraqi restaurants. Abu Ali's does slow-cooked lamb shanks, wood-fired fish, and parda plaw, pastry stuffed with rice, shredded lamb, nuts and spices.
Try it at… Queenies, Level 1, 336 Riley Street, Surry Hills 9212 3035
First, expect plenty of jerk spice – the mainstay of Jamaican cuisine. It's used liberally at Queenies, where the menu also features pushcart chicken wings, goat curry, and bammies (cassava flatbread topped, perhaps, with pulled pork and pineapple).
Try it at… Durban Dish, Shop 1/6, 8 Old Northern Road, Baulkham Hills 9639 3872
Reflecting the population of its namesake city in South Africa, the menu at tiny Durban Dish has an Indian bent with samosa and biryani in the mix. There's also bunny chow (a curry served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread) and pap and wors (boerwor lamb sausage with maize porridge and chakalaka – beans in a sweet onion, capsicum and chilli sauce).
Try it at… Fika Swedish Kitchen, 5b Market Lane, Manly
Sweden's long winters make hearty stews, pickling and curing common features of the national cuisine. This may make sunny Manly seem an odd spot to seek out the likes of Swedish meatballs with potato mash, gravy and lingonberry jam. But it's here, and more, at this bright new cafe.