Do people make a place? In cities around the world there are Chinatown’s, Little Italy’s, Little Korea Town’s and all host of other nationalities. While the people who once immigrated there have left and moved to different neighbourhoods, the name has stuck and the area commercialised with replicated shops and restaurants often lacking the authentic flavours, tastes and atmosphere that once existed.
Authentic neighbourhoods can still be found in many cities – Vancouver’s ChinaTown in Richmond, London’s Little Portugal around Stockwell and Sydney’s Little Italy in Haberfield. Wait, where’s Haberfield?
Just 20 minutes from the city, the neighbourhood and surrounding suburbs are home to many Italian families, and they cultural ties are still strong.
Small stores selling what the inner city folks would call ‘artisan food’ line the street – the residents out here don’t care much for the label, they prefer to think of it as ‘real’ food – the once bright red paint on the bakery store front now faded but the quality of the food remains.
This is Haberfield, Sydney’s real Little Italy.
Award-winning food presenter and author, Maeve O’Meara, founded Gourmet Safaris to showcase these authentic foodie areas.
Meeting with Sara from Belly Rumbles and I, Maeve wanted to let us experience one her of food tours that showcase her food philosophy – local, sustainable and full of flavour – I had a feeling I was going to like her and Haberfield.
Meeting just outside Peppe’s Pasta I couldn’t help but gaze into the windows at the fridges stocked with freshly pasta. As Maeve ushered us inside we were met with the huge grin of Joe Cassaniti, the owner of the store, and that smile only grew bigger as he talked about pasta – a profession he chose after deciding he didn’t want to follow in his fathers footsteps and have the early wake ups associated with being a baker.
It was a good decision to become a pasta maker as his business now makes between 300 – 400 kilograms of pasta a day with quality fillings inside.
“The Italians are creatures of habit, so you know they’ll go for the traditional pastas,” Joe began telling us, “I was here on opening day and out the front we were serving up ravioli and the Nonna’s were in the area said “prawns? prawns? what is this?” He got a hearty laugh from us with his animated performance, “you can’t sell them a sauce either because obviously they make their own and everybody else’s sauce is better than yours so it’s a tradition. but the one they can’t get past is the pesto, it’s very difficult to make pesto.”
Wood panelled walls covered with remnants of flour from the fresh loaves displayed proudly and the smell was heavenly – like sweet flour and warm yeast – two of my favourite smells after growing up with a best friend who had bakers for parents.
Founded by Antonio and Agata Cassaniti, Cassaniti Bakery have been baking quality traditional Italian bread in Haberfield for nearly 45 years; today, this tradition continues as Antonio and son Robert continue running the bakery.
Agata took the time to talk with us about her families food philosophy and the bakery telling us that their fresh rosetta rolls, hollow rolls from the Lazio (Rome) region of Italy – are probably the most popular. Simply melt butter in them or fill them with deli meats and cheese for easy sandwiches on the go. If there’s anywhere to try rosetta rolls it would be here – they sell around 30,000 rosetta rolls on the weekend!
I didn’t realise there were so many myths and secrets behind good bread, as Agata and Joe (Joe is Agata’s son!) explained to us. Firstly, never turn bread upside down, it’s bad luck, and never waste bread. Bread is a gift from God and by turning it upside down or throwing it away it’s like turning your back on God. Secondly, if you have a really good loaf of bread you can hear the crunchiness.
IGA’s are more than just grocery stores. The Independent Grocers of Australia (IGA) is a series of over 1,400 grocers nationally which are considered more ‘local-friendly’ – stocking brands that the big supermarket chains don’t and championing smaller producers in the area. Lamonica IGA, situated on Ramsay Street, is not different, catering to the Italian community with sections of speciality meat cuts, extensive pasta ranges, and a deli cabinet that any Noona would be proud to browse.
Tom, one of the passionate butchers in the fully operational butchery, explained his role and gave as a peek into the stores refrigerator… and then asked if we could take a cheeky photo of him “hanging out” with the fresh sausages.
An icon of Haberfield, Zanetti 5 Star Deli was opened in 1957 by Angelo’s parents, though who now runs the store alongside his wife.
Wandering the aisles you will find high quality products and a busting deli with Italian products – from Colomba Easter cake to proper balsamic vinegar (from Modena, of course!) but it’s the deli section which is where you’ll find most make a beeline for. Cold meats, cheese and olives line the deli with the olive section most popular. Whatever size or flavour you want, including olive fusions, you’ll find them here. As Sarah sampled a few we were assured they were good for our skin, good for us. For good measure Sarah took two more, nodding in agreement and saying, “they’re really good.”
We found Frank Bonfante of Franks Fruit Market arranging fresh produce when we arrived and his passion for making sure the food is freshest it can be is evident, encouraging us to taste one of the 16 varieties of tomatoes he had in the store that day.
The small family run business is small but packs everything you’d want from a local fruit & veggie shop and Frank is happy to list of his favourite recipes to go with the produce if you want to taste something new.
Was mouth was watering as we entered Rino Saffioti Chocolatier, the smell was sweet and comforting and I was eating with my eyes as I gazed at the cabinets of perfect handmade chocolates.
Originally Rino owned a thriving wholesale chocolate business that supplied David Jones but at the relationship ended a new endeavour began, the retail shop to opened selling approximately forty truffles and half a dozen pate de fruits, alongside a fridge of homemade gelato, perfect for the humid Sydney day.
You’ll find your usual suspects – strawberry, caramel, coconut rough – but also some flavours for the more adventurous – coconut and pandan – chocolate eaters; and you’ll probably find me, should I ever revisit Sydney, as I wanted to eat everything in the store, thankfully I was full on olives, breads and tomatoes from our previous stops.
We also visited Paesanella Cheese Shop on the tour but I got so distracted eating the cheese I forgot to take photos! Must eats from this family business are the Australian Buffalo and the baked ricotta that they bake on site.
Next time in Sydney I’m going to have to make sure I’m staying in an apartment with a kitchen so I can come back to Haberfield and stock up on some produce, a few olives and some pasta and gather my friends around for an Italian feast. The produce for sale is top notch but meeting the locals and listening to them share their passion for the food makes the experience just a little bit sweeter.
Now it’s over to you:
Where have you taken food tours during you travel?
Cost: AU$120 (approximately GBP£64 /Euro€78)
The Italian Gourmet Food Safari of Haberfield begins at 10.00am and ends at 3.30pm.
Each tour runs once a month, though private tours can be arranged, and includes a professional guide, plenty of stories and tasting options at many of the stores.
Gourmet Food Safari’s are also run in Melbourne.
Many thanks to Visit Sydney for hosting me in Sydney.
Many thanks also to Maeve from Gourmet Safari’s for offering me a complimentary tour of Haberfield.
All opinions, perceptions and photography, as always, are my own.