Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which changes slightly every year in relation to the Gregorian calendar, when practising Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, breaking their fast with prayer, food, and friends. Every year during Ramadan, Haldon Street in Lakemba is closed off to accommodate a cornucopia of food stalls, that one random uncle who got his hands on a microphone, and the bustle of crowds.
Last year, there were close to a million people coming to the markets during the month- which was four times the crowd compared to 2019. Due to the growing popularity of the event and a heightened respect for Islamic culture, 2023 is sure to have more. Compiled is a list of ‘underdog’ food stalls for our dear Vertigo readers to visit during Ramadan this year (from around the 22nd of March to the 20th of April)!
Make sure to not eat beforehand! Perhaps this is obvious, but please don’t go to Lakemba with the intention of ‘snacking’. Some of the food stalls are only open for Ramadan, so make the most of it!
Bring cash! Most, if not all, of the stalls do not take card. There is an ATM, however there is always a huge line.
Share the food with your friends! The plastic boxes you get are filled to the brim. If you’re trying to get a bite of everything, it’s best if you share that one box. Otherwise, you’ll fill up quickly!
Don’t drive there. Seriously, use public transport. The street is a minute away from Lakemba station. You will be waiting for a spot for so long, you’ll most likely leave. Plus, public transport = good for the environment!
Be respectful. This is basic manners but it’s important to be kind to the stallholders and the people around you. Don’t be immature or condescending. Also, be patient! The large crowds across the street are not their fault.
To stall or not to stall…
It’s important to know that multiple stalls have the same food. You want that one camel burger but the line’s too long? No worries, walk up the street and you’ll find another one. However, some stalls specialise in one specific type of food that you won’t be able to get anywhere else (shout out to the sahlab at Yummy Yummy Knafeh). Here’s a list of favourites but be sure to try out all the stalls!
Murtabak at the stall outside Best Price Supermarket
Murtabak is griddle-fried roti stuffed with spiced meat or egg. This stall’s one is probably the best as they make it to order. It has a good kick of spice, but it’s not chilli.
Biryani and haleem at Khushboo
It’s flavourful, it’s warm, and it’s hefty! You have an option of beef and goat for the biryani (spiced rice) and the haleem is a lentil and beef stew. Get a box with both and share with the gang.
Jalebi at Dhaka Delights
Pre-warning: this dessert is overtly sweet but a fan favourite. Jalebi is dough, deep-fried in a circular pattern, then doused in sugar syrup. It’s made fresh, so you’ll burn your fingers when they give it to you (but at least it’s delicious!).
Satay and roti at Island Dreams Cafe
Originating from Christmas and Cocos Islands, the satay here is famous. You have an option of lamb or chicken and it’s made fresh. It’s tender, spicy, smoky and the best I’ve ever tried.
Knafeh at Knafeh Al Andalos
Knafeh Bros has nothing on this. It’s the perfect balance of sweetness and not too overpowering. To wash it down, get the mint tea or the piping hot and rich sahlab.
Turkish sand coffee (I forgot the stall name)
Made on a bed of hot sand, it’s aromatic and very strong. Good palette cleanser!
Bakdash Ice Cream
Listen, get this at the end. It’s smooth, covered in pistachio, and you can taste the rose water. It’s a sweet note to finish the markets on!
Let’s cut to the cheese
What started as a single stall selling knafeh and camel burgers has turned into a festival. If you do attend the markets this year, have fun while maintaining respect for the culture and people.
The rise of TikTok has seen an obvious boom in the popularity of these markets. Just because your video went viral, you are not entitled to this event. Remember that these food stalls are a ‘home away from home’ for a majority of the Muslim diaspora in Lakemba (and Greater Sydney). For many, it is their safe space, making it truly confusing and outrageous to hear of and experience racism from white people.
Last year, there was a huge divide over the gentrification and exploitation of the Lakemba markets. Many Muslim and broader South Asian and Arab attendees experienced racism and disrespect. Some even walked away without any food due to the influx of tourists rendering the lines excessively long. White people complained about an ethnic area not catering to their needs (how dare they not play loud EDM music during Ramadan!).
Sharing our space and food is not the problem. In fact, sharing and congregating is a central theme in Islam. But it becomes unfair when the same people who are eating our food and walking the same roads, exploit our culture and food for entertainment and clout whilst mocking and abusing us.
So when attending, remember to be respectful of the community and the holy month of Ramadan. Google exists if you’re confused about what not to do, or even ask a fellow Muslim friend for advice.