Secret suburbs: A food-lover's guide to Arncliffe

Savoury treats: Mixed cheese and spinach pies at El-Zahraa Bakery.
Savoury treats: Mixed cheese and spinach pies at El-Zahraa Bakery. Photo: Nina Cullen

This unassuming Sydney suburb is fuelled by the flavours of Lebanon and Macedonia.

Arncliffe is a little locale with big flavours. This small suburb in Sydney's inner south is a hub of Lebanese and Macedonian food - and is only four train stops from the CBD.

Waves of immigrants from both countries have created a unique blend of delicious food that goes beyond the usual baklava, hummus and kebabs.

Lahem bi ajin at El-Zahraa Bakery.
Lahem bi ajin at El-Zahraa Bakery. Photo: Nina Cullen

Although it tends to fly under food-lovers' radar, those in the know come from Wollongong or Newcastle for the flavour, variety and value. Bring a big bag and an empty stomach when you visit, because there's plenty to savour and stock up on. 

Just next to the station, school kids stand around and scoff zaatar manakeesh. These are dough-based pizzas with a tart spice mix of oregano, thyme, sesame seed and sumac. They're often filled and rolled with tomato, cheese and labneh, a strained yoghurt. In the shadows of the concourse, El-Zein Bakery is a handy place to pick these up. 

A small walk up Belmore Street, owner Sekne Mawasssi at El-Zahraa Bakery will sort you out for lahem bi ajin or sfeeha, an open meat pie with spiced lamb and fresh tomato. Vegetarians and cheese addicts can go for the sabanikh (spinach) and jabnah (cheese) options. The combined spinach and cheese pies have a little hit of chilli, just to keep things interesting. Only $1 each and gone in three bites, these are truly addictive. Get in quick or order in advance. People travel a long way for these savoury treats. 

You can get bread 24/7, every day of the year.

Hussein Tanana, Peace Bakery

Head down the hill to Wollongong Road and you'll find bags full of fresh Lebanese flat bread cooling on trolleys in the Peace Bakery shopfront. 

"You can get bread 24/7, every day of the year," says manager Hussein Tanana. They bake Lebanese bread 12 hours a day. Even when the shopfront is closed at night, you can still buy fresh bread from the industrial bakery out the back. As Tanana says, "You can't live without bread."

While you're there, trawl the shelves for the sweet and sour sensation of pomegranate molasses, giant bags of dried mint, creamy garlic dip or a labneh-zaatar mix to pair perfectly with your bag of bread. But save room for dessert.

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Further up the road at Said Pastry, the air is sweet and platters of biscuits, pastries and sweets line the shelves. On the bench, baklavas oozing honey sit in oversized metal trays, glistening in all their varied glory. Some are rolled up like cigars or shaped as pretty pyramids, with others cut into generous diamonds.

"That's our bestseller," says owner Said Taoube, of the classic diamond baklava. People come from Bankstown, Campbelltown and Liverpool for their fix but don't let that stop you from branching out. There are countless other slices that deserve a taste too: coconut, date, pistachio, semolina, white custard, turmeric and the fast-selling curd, which is only baked once a week. 

Although you can give it a good go, you can't live on bread and pastries alone, so head over to Arncliffe Food Barn on Forest Road. This sprawling grocer stocks for international eaters, with a strong line in Macedonian and Middle Eastern staples. Here, legumes, nuts and spices can be self-scooped to size. You'll find shelves of pickles, preserves and antipasto next to giant tins of dolmades. There are bullhorn (banana) chillis in three colours, seven shelves of ajvar, a spicy capsicum relish, and multiple variations on paprika.

A tray of white milk slices at Said Pastry.
A tray of white milk slices at Said Pastry. Photo: Nina Cullen

Do a slow circuit to uncover jars of bright pink turnip, pickled mitka (wild cucumber) and boxes of dried moloukhia (mallow), which is likened to spinach and is boiled and then cooked with chicken, lamb or rabbit. Known as Lebanese marihuana, because of its distinctive green leaves, you can also order fresh mallow when it's in season in January and February or try the frozen version. 

What you didn't pick up from the Food Barn's deli, you can get around the corner at Bitola Meats. Their bestseller is kolbasi, a Macedonian smoked sausage with pork, leek and a secret spice mix. Inside, the smoky aroma declares their other specialty; bacon and ham. Those craving continental cold cuts and authentic sausages have been coming here for years.  

Waistband at capacity and bags full, it's time to call it a day. But just like everyone else from further afield who keeps coming back, you can do it all again when the supplies run out. 

Bullhorn chillis at Arncliffe Food Barn.
Bullhorn chillis at Arncliffe Food Barn. Photo: Nina Cullen

Details

Peace Bakery, 39 Wollongong Rd, Arncliffe, 02 9567 0270

El-Zein Bakery, 1A Firth St, Arncliffe, 02 9556 3136 

El-Zahraa, 23 Belmore St, Arncliffe, 02 9597 6017 

Said Pastry, 106 Wollongong Rd, Arncliffe, 02 9567 6017

Arncliffe Foodbarn, 47 Forest Rd, Arncliffe, 02 9567 0371 

Bitola Meats, 3/47 Forest Rd, Arncliffe, 02 9567 6451 bitolameats.com.au