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Roti Murtabak to Ricotta Cheesecake – that’s Australian for food

I step onto the terrace of my new friend’s Penthouse apartment. It overlooks Darling Harbour as well as Sydney’s Harbour Bridge. The surprisingly close office buildings, across the water, are brightly lit with big neon signs announcing their corporate occupant. The long path to get here from California is a distant memory. On seeing the flight path my initial reaction was— Wait! How far is Australia? Is it really going to take fourteen and a-half hours to get there?

A dear cousin's wedding was taking me to the land that really is down below. I make my way to the Opera house. The images of the fireworks, at the turn of the century, over this iconic structure are burned in my memory. Sydney rings in the New Year about 17 hours before San Francisco. A bus-load of Chinese tourists envelops me in my contemplative state. They are definitely the nouveau riche of the world. You can tell from their designer sunglasses, handbags and shoes and delicate coifs and the dead giveaway: bulky cameras.

Bake Ricotta cheese cake. Image Amod Chopra

They are being followed by protesters handing out leaflets. Funny, I didn’t get any but I imagine they were highlighting the Chinese government's poor human rights record and the whole Tiananmen Square affair. That’s just my educated guess based upon the posters they were holding. Not one tourist took the leaflet. If you were affluent in this China why would you complain? And from what we have heard if one takes some anti-government leaflets the others tell on them and they disappear.

I must say, I really appreciate the Australian government’s effort to keep us Americans alive. Everybody here drives on the wrong side of the road (I am American. I don't normally admit that in polite company or while travelling, so don't hold me to it. I drive on the right side of the road. All those who differ, drive on the wrong side.) The Government has marked the roads, at crossings: ‘Look to your Right’. I am sure I would be road kill if it weren't for their efforts.

The abundance of immigrants in Sydney gets me excited. This means it's a good place for my people (Indians) to indulge in their favourite form of sightseeing: Eating. In between the wedding and reception I wanted coffee and cake. I am directed to a guest with restaurant genes. This young man of slender build recommends a cake shop in the Italian suburb. He claims it is the best cake shop in Sydney. I am a bit wary. He follows up his claim with an offer to pay for the cake if it isn't the best I had. No way! The Chopras are known as khaatay peetay log (eating drinking types). Even the risk of being late for the reception doesn't deter us from this adventure. We pile into the car and head out to Pasticceria Papa. The baked ricotta Cheese Cake and the Cappuccinos are indeed yummy! The young man’s money is safe.

The Asian food here is amazing. My cousin’s favorite Malaysian restaurant: Mamak's, is legendary for its long lines. At their front windows the chefs are throwing dough in the air as if they are making pizza. Except the dough spreads further and is much thinner. This is the humble beginning to a Roti Murtabak. Unlike the Malaysian restaurants in the US, there is no sweetness to the curries. The burn is amazing. As I am wiping my nose I am digging into a Roti Murtubak: thin dough stuffed with lamb, egg and red onion. The lamb here is so amazing. It is so light and does not have that distinctive gaminess that it does back home. I guess that is the difference between local lamb and lamb that travels 37 days in a container.

A country’s policy towards immigrants is always ripe with controversy. But you have to admit that immigrants add diversity and richness to any local cuisine. There is excellent Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Malaysian food here. I can't imagine what the food experience would be like if I was relegated to the monotony of one type of cuisine.