Tasting the world doesn’t necessarily mean clocking up air miles. South Australia is full of restaurants serving dishes inspired by faraway places. Be adventurous and try exotic food that can be traditional, delicious and challenging.
Mohamed Bartaouch hails from Morocco and is passionate about sharing the tastes and atmosphere of his homeland. His North Adelaide restaurant tells tales of North African magic: steaming Afrah tagine, twinkling lanterns above, and if you’re lucky, Mohamed will pop a fez on your head while you eat. Stuck on what to order? Melwi is moreish. It’s difficult to stop at one piece of the Moroccan bread stuffed with goat cheese, baby spinach and harissa. Or there’s Bestella – not your average chicken pie. The dish is made with ground roast almond, cinnamon and a sprinkling of icing sugar all wrapped up in filo pastry. Wash it down with traditional mint tea and refresh your hands with rose water on the way out. Keep your eyes on Mohamed – he’s got a new, exciting CBD project on the horizon.
Head chef Prachaya ‘Palm’ Skolaree says two dishes capture the traditional and exotic nature of the restaurant’s menu. The southern curry is probably the most challenging for the Western palate because it has quite a ‘funky’ aroma. “The pungent fermented shrimp paste gives it the salty component and can smell quite strong. It also has a dry smoky flavour that comes from using both dried and fresh chillies in the paste.” It is served with salmon and picked vegetables on the side. The green papaya salad is Palm’s favourite because it can be eaten every day. It is spicy, salty, sour and a little sweet. In north east Thailand fermented crab is used for the salt factor which can give it a very intense aroma.
“At Golden Boy we make papaya salad the way it is done in Bangkok, where people are not so used to the smelly fish.” While you’re there, also try the chicken mince holy basil stir-fry.
Be warned: it is hot and contains plenty of kick.
Restaurant owner Duncan Welgemoed not only knows his way around the kitchen, he’s also the master of a bloody good time. Africola is exactly that… a whole lot of fun. It’s difficult to narrow down which contemporary African dish best encapsulates the magic going on in the kitchen but head chef Imogen Czulowski and the team prep some of the best vegetable dishes in town. Black cod roe fried peppers, crispy eggplant, cauliflower steak and cabbage heart with salted plum are enough to turn the average carnivore vego. You also can’t go past the peri-peri chicken or boom-boom! hummus with spiced ground lamb.
The Latvian Lunchroom
This Latvian diner is a joy to visit, from the traditional flower crowns hanging from the ceiling to owner Inga Perkons-Grauze’s welcoming smile, and menu heaving with the treats of her homeland. Start with pîrãgs (baked yeast buns filled with bacon and onion), and salivate over smoked sausage and sauerkraut, or the singing fisherman dish. The smoked cod and peas in creamy sauce (served as a soup or on fried potatoes) is a gift from the Baltic gods. Wash it down with a Latvian beer.
Azou Bouilouta and Julia Melvin run two Algerian eateries, one in Adelaide Central Market and a new addition in Gawler Place. Stand pondering your decision long enough and Azou will present you with a date (the edible kind) while you think. The menu is influenced by Berber, Arab, Turkish, Jewish and French cuisines, all found in North Africa. The merguez sausage breakfast is a day-maker. Or try the twice-steamed couscous with lamb, chicken, or spinach with black truffle for vegans. It’s mind-blowing.
Decisions, decisions. Award-winning Cinnamon Club’s menu boasts more than 250 dishes. For a taste of southern India, Cinnamon Club’s dosa is the ticket. In India, the dish is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The fermented, paper thin, crisp pancake is made using rice batter and lentils. There’s a variety to choose from and they’re all served with tomato chutney, coconut chutney and mixed vegetable sambhar. While you’re there, also try the four faces of vindaloo, biryanis, or the banquet option for the full whammy. Find the restaurant on Norwood Parade, or the new site at Henley Beach. Owners Harsh Kumar and Jwala Pratap Singh are pros in the kitchen and when working the floor.
Award-winning chef Tuoi Do is a master in the kitchen. She uses the best produce from Tanunda and Barossa Valley surrounds to make a modern twist on dishes from her family’s heritage in Phú Th in northern Vietnam. Thit lon cuon la lot (fresh betel leaves with sticky caramelised hampshire pork) is a flavour hit. For the ultimate experience, order the chef’s tasting menu and let the good south east Asian times roll.
Nghi Ngan Quan
It’s the best kind of success story. Huong Ngo and husband Nhung Luong arrived in Australia from an Indonesian refugee camp. They gave life on new turf their best shot, opened their first restaurant in Ferryden Park before moving to a bigger Nghi Ngan Quan restaurant in Woodville. The family also runs Little NNQ on Gouger Street. Your dining experience can be as hands-on as you like. Roll your own cold rolls, grill your own meal, or nosedive into a goat and taro steam boat. “Our most traditional meals would be our pho (beef noodle soup),” says general manager Jennifer Luong. “Something a little different is our Vietnamese gumbo noodle soup. The broth is chicken and fermented fish soup with a pungent smell and lots of lemongrass, served with thick vermicelli noodles, prawns and roast pork.”
The Himalayan Kitchen
Himalayan momo (dumplings) are a taste of home for chef and restaurant owner Bhim Dangal. “Bhim learnt to make momo with his mum back in Nepal,” wife and co-owner Holly says. “It was always one of their favourite dishes to make as a family. When I went to Nepal in 1999 I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to be taught how to make dishes such as dal, roti and momo. The dumpling pastries are individually rolled. “The filling can be made vegetarian or with meat, both are delicious,” Holly says. “Equally important is the achar: the spicy, flavoursome pickle accompanying the momo. This is a tomato-based sauce which we make with chilli, mustard seeds, coriander and other spices.” It also includes the Nepalese Szechuan pepper (timur) from Nepal.
‘Filipino food will be the next big thing’ – Anthony Bourdain. The quote scrawled on an A-frame blackboard out front of this tiny Adelaide Central Market café (find it opposite Standom Smallgoods) is an indication of the grub up for grabs. The owners are a delight and the food hearty and tasty. Try chicken adobo (the national dish made using a vinegar-based braise), beef kare-kare (a stew made with a thick savory peanut sauce), chicken sisig (sizzling hot chicken pieces topped with raw egg) or arroz caldo (brothy chicken rice soup).
So hungry you could eat a small pony? Mandoo Korean restaurant serves a hotpot so big it’s like climbing a food mountain. A tower of tofu, raw beef, mushrooms, glass noodles, udon, rice cake, cabbage, seasonal vegetables, fish stock and dumplings (four types) arrive on your own personal cooktop. Wait three minutes until the hotpot is boiling and (with a bit of help from friendly staff) mix the ingredients as they cook. It’s great fun for two to four people. The bibimbap is a winner, too.
This Vietnamese restaurant has been rocking the suburbs for years. Dinh Quang Phan, Linda Phan and Benjamin Phan rule the roost and the team in the kitchen whip up authentic dishes such as roll-your-own cold rolls. It’s a whole lot of messy fun. While you’re there, keep your eyes peeled for Viet Next Door.
The Vietnamese ‘tapas’ bar is located next door, designed by Genesin Studio, and due to open in October.
Jerusalem Sheshkebab House
It sounds simple but the cauliflower served in spicy yoghurt and tahini sauced served at this Hindley Street haunt is memorable. The long, narrow space has been there for donkeys and has the shabby décor to prove it. The large chef can be spotted through a small window prepping shesh kafta (charcoal-grilled minced beef with spices and herbs), koshari (lentils and rice topped with yoghurt and cucumber salad), stuffed potatoes, and falafel. Service is laid-back and can be slow but it’s a whole lot of cheap fun. BYO if you want to drink booze. Cash only, too.
Parwana Afghan Kitchen
Banjaan borani is the signature eggplant dish at this delightful family-run Afghan restaurant. The vegetable is simmered in fresh tomato sauce, topped with garlic yoghurt and fresh mint. It’s a cracking dish and best shared between mates. “Everything we do is traditional and based on old family recipes and made to taste like home,” Durkhanai Ayubi says. “Afghan cuisine is about having a small part of lots of different dishes on your plate. For example, some rice, the eggplant, grilled meats, and dumplings. A bit of everything combined on the plate makes a full meal.”
Mother and son duo Ewa and Tom Samofal serve meals based on treasured family recipes. For a Polish experience (minus the long-haul flight) opt for pierogi. Ewa lovingly creates hundreds of the little Polish dumplings each week using fresh ingredients from the Central Market. They are seasoned and served steamed or fried. Borsch offers them Russian style (potato and quark), mushroom and sauerkraut, and a delicious mix of pork and beef. Top them with fried onion and speck or cream. Steaming borsch is also a must. The beetroot soup is served in varnished ceramic mugs sourced from Poland.
An Izakaya is a type of informal Japanese watering hole where locals sip on sake and beer and eat small plates of food. Yakitori Takumi is the closest you’ll find to the real Japanese deal. Grab a seat and watch owner and chef Eddie Ye whip up delicate morsels behind the bar. Think yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), kimo (chicken liver double-dipped in tare) or kokoro (chicken heart double-dipped in tare). It’s quite the experience.
Head to the ‘burbs for unforgettable Tandoori Raan (or leg of lamb marinated with fresh herbs and spices for 24-hours and cooked in tandoori oven and served with mild sauce). “The reason for serving this dish is to bring the authentic flavours of Delhi to Australia,” Pankaj Sharma says. “There are only few restaurants you will find here in Adelaide who do tandoori raan.” The goat masala (cooked with an onion and tomato-based sauce and mild spices) is also a treat.
Chef Lai Noodle Cafe
Good noodles come in small packages. This little Malaysian joint is located down a lane off Grote Street and is worth the hunt, especially if you’re after a quick lunch. The pan mee (Hakka-style flat flour noodle) is a must. You won’t find it anywhere else. Order the noodles wet or dry and wash it down with a mug of steaming Teh Tarik (a sweet, hot milk beverage common in Malaysia and Singapore).
My Yen Chinese Restaurant
Ask for a Chinese menu as soon as you enter this old-school suburban joint. By comparison, the menu designed for Westerners is quite boring. The Chinese version is jam-packed with dishes such as duck feet with jellyfish; bitter melon omelette; and sea cucumber with Chinese mushroom. Authentic dish eight treasure duck needs to be pre-ordered and crocodile stir fry doesn’t exactly smack of tradition but tastes the goods.
After a big night out, only yum cha for late breakfast will do. If you can’t stomach the duck feet in sesame sauce or the sea cucumber and bean curd, hit your gullet with the good stuff: shallot pancakes, fried salt-and-pepper squid, and BBC (Chinese chutney, broad bean and bean curd). It really is a hangover buster. The yin yan soup is also a visual treat, served in the bowl like a green and white ying yang.
Kebab cravings are sated at this Lebanese bakery. The marinated meat and fillings are served with rice, hummus, sauces and flatbread. Make your own or order it ready
to go. The Middle Eastern sweets are also a treat.
When it comes to Afghani street food, the mantu is king. This royally good dish consists of beef or lamb-stuffed dumplings, which are steamed, covered in tomato-and-lentil sauce and finished off with a yoghurt garnish. Find them in this quaint little restaurant in Kilburn.
Vegetarian? You’re in luck. Many Ethiopian dishes are veggie-based. This Henley Beach Road restaurant has a lot of character. The walls are hung with bright, painted portraits and service is sweet and unobtrusive. The best way to get your head around the Ethiopian dishes is to try the mesob dining experience. It allows you to try a variety of main meals at once, they presented in small mounds atop traditional injera (a flat, savoury pancake). Tear off the bread and scoop up gored gored (lean beef cubes), doro wot (chicken legs simmered in Berber sauce), and dinich wot (potatoesand carrots cooked with Ethiopian spices).
It’s off the main drag but the first Korean restaurant in Adelaide is still going strong. Décor is basic but the dishes are spot on. Go for the mul-naengmyeobn (buckwheat noodles served in a chilled beef broth with pickled radish, sliced apple and a hardboiled egg), dolson bibimbap (rice cooked vegetables, beef and red chilli paste served in a hot earthenware pot), or spicy kimchi stew. The kimchi pancake is also a flavour-packed smack in the face.
What’s your favourite exotic dish in Adelaide? Did we miss it off the list? Let us know in the comments, below.