A guide to Sydney’s Indian restaurants, grocery stores, places of worship, charity organisations and events
You know them as doctors, taxi drivers, gas station attendants, IT guys, international students, Parramatta residents… and the nerdy kids at your children’s school who manage to do well at sport as well as public speaking. Jai Hos.
But, how well do you know Sydney’s Indian community?
In this feature we introduce aspects of the Indian community to our non-Indian readers or Indians new to Sydney, hoping to answer simple questions that we are often asked at the Indian Link office, such as where can I buy a particular spice in Sydney, or where can I book a Bollywood act for my upcoming event.
“So which are your top five Indian restaurants in Sydney?” Most Indian readers have probably been asked this question a few hundred times. Here’s a list of eateries that are popular with the Indian community.
The stalwarts for some years have been regular culprits Abhi’s at Concord, Manjit’s at Balmain, Nilgiri’s at St Leonard’s, Maya at Surry Hills and Zaaffraan at Darling Harbour. But in the last two years, new kid on the block Urban Tadka at Terrey Hills has splashed on to the scene with a bang, winning not only fans within the Indian community but also industry awards. Meanwhile, Thousand Spices at Homebush, Bijolias at Seaforth and Mantra and Dragon House Indo-Chinese at Ryde continue on steadily with their band of regulars. In specific pockets of the community, Maharaja’s Haveli at Quakers Hill, Castle Taj in Castle Hill and Indian Fusion at Pennant Hills are popular with locals. In the Parramatta area, Kings Indian and the new Anjappar Chettinad are doing well. For Harris Park, try Hyderabad House, Billu’s and Taj, and the new Durga Paan and Falooda House for its Indian style ice creams.
Many of these restaurants have function rooms if you want to organise an event or party. Some venues such as Nilgiris or Urban Tadka will organise high-class corporate or private events with all the trimmings, but for the Indian community, Manjit’s Concord Function Centre is the go-to place for large-scale events such as weddings.
Indian grocery stores
Well worth a visit if you haven’t ventured into one of Sydney’s many ‘spice shops’. What could you buy? Try the Basmati rice: heaps cheaper, and much better quality, than your usual supermarket variety. The wide range of Indian breads in the freezer sections could be interesting. Give paneer a try, Indian cottage cheese, which you could put in your salads, pan fry like haloumi or cook into a curry. Pappadums are a great snack if you are gluten-sensitive: give them a whirl in the microwave, or better still, roast with tongs over an open flame. If you’ve cooked Indian before, you will love the variety in lentils on offer, and you could pick up a bunch of fresh curry leaves for a tenth of the price at Harris Farm. How about some mithai (desserts?) Try the Nanak or Haldi Ram brand rasmalai from the freezer section – finger-licking good. And on your way out, don’t forget to pick up a free copy of the latest Indian Link issue.
Places of worship
A number of Hindu temples dot the city of Sydney, all built strictly to architectural guidelines listed in the ancient Hindu scriptures.
Sri Mandir (286 Cumberland Rd, Auburn) is Australia’s oldest Hindu temple, built in 1977. It caters to the spiritual needs of Hindus from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
Completed in 1985, the Sri Venkateswara Temple (Temple Rd, Helensburgh) is dedicated to Lord Venkateswara, one of the forms of Lord Vishnu (the Preserver of the Universe).
The Murugan Temple at 217 Great Western Highway, Mays Hill, is dedicated to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war and victory popular with the Tamils.
The Mukti Gupteshwar Temple at 203 Eagleview Rd, Minto, is dedicated to Lord Shiva (the Destroyer of the Universe). Built in a cave-style, it was consecrated on 14 Feb 1999 when certain planets aligned in a fashion described in the epic Ramayana, an arrangement that reportedly occurs once every hundred years. The temple houses an auspicious symbol relating to Lord Shiva, water from the five oceans and from 81 rivers from across the world, and two million hand-written notes from devotees.
Right next door at 201 Eagleview Rd, is another temple worth visiting, the Shri Shiv Mandir.
The BAPS Swaminarayan Temple (40 Eleanor St, Rosehill) and ISKCON Temple (180 Falcon St, North Sydney) are two other popular temples.
Sydney’s Sikh community worships at Sikh temples known as Gurudwaras (literally, ‘gateway to the guru’). The temples house the holy book of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib, and large dining halls where devotees eat Langar, the food of the Lord. The Gurudwaras in Sydney are at Revesby (14-22 The River Rd), Turramurra (81 Kissing Point Rd), Glenwood (8 Meurants Lane) and Penrith (15-27 Blaikie Rd, Jamiesontown).
A number of not-for-profit organisations both within the Indian community and in the wider mainstream are working hard to raise funds for charitable purposes in India. Check out the work of I-India Australia, who save destitute children from the streets of Rajasthan and provide and care for them, helping them to break out of the poverty cycle through education and vocational training at the Jhag Children’s Village, located about 45 minutes south-west of Jaipur.
The Ekal movement raises funds for and trains primary school teachers who are sent out to remote and tribal regions of India. In single-teacher schools, these professionals teach 30-40 children in the age-group 5-14. The free schooling is centred not only around basic alphabetic and numeric knowledge, but also health and hygiene, and ethical values. Ekal Australia is currently sponsoring 350 such schools, ever since its inception in 2004.
So you want to book a Bollywood act for your next fund-raiser. Try Ramona Lobo’s Sirens Dance Group who will enlighten your guests about the not-so-subtle nuances of Bollywood dancing and have them screwing in that light-bulb like experts.
For a touch of authentic bhangra, you can’t go past Platinum Indian Entertainment. Their drums will continue to reverberate inside your rib cage long after the event is over.
One of Bollywood’s leading choreographers, Shiamak Davar has chapters of his dance company in major cities of the world. Shiamak Davar Sydney may have opened only recently, but they’ve already won the heart of the city’s Indian community.
And if you want to understand the lyrics of that Bollywood number, or just want to learn how to say Hello in our language, or what Jai Ho! really means, you’ll want Hindi lessons. Give Mala Mehta a call at the Indo-Australian Bal Bharatiya School. Hello Namaste! She’ll have you nodding your head sideways in no time.
Speaking of Bollywood, we know you’ve seen Bride and Prejudice, Bend It Like Beckham, Monsoon Wedding and Slumdog Millionnaire. But Sydney’s very own Bollywood expert Anupam Sharma will tell you, these are not really Bollywood films, they are merely posing as Bollywood films! Bollywood films are those that are made in Bollywood, er, Mumbai, and have an impossibly impossible story that will make you laugh and cry and despair and feel hopeful all in one hour, do that very same circle again in the second hour, and again in the final third! Get out there right now and see Dhoom 3 at your closest Hoyts cinema or better still, on IMAX – the latest Bollywood thriller might still be on as we go to print, inching closer to that record Rs 600 crore mark (A$ 108,480,000) in one month.
After Dhoom 3 (starring no less than three of Bollywood’s biggest stars, move over Brad Pitt), you could probably settle down in your living room and see your very own city Sydney as it appears in Bollywood. Grab copies of the made-in-Sydney Bollywood films Chak De India and Dil Chahta Hai. (There are plenty of others, but most of them tanked at the box office so we won’t bother listing them here). Dil Chahta Hai (The Heart Desires) was made in 2001: reports are that the film made Sydney look so cool and sexy that the student community began arriving here in droves soon after.
Bollywood music, anyone? Try Indian Link Radio, Australia’s only 24-7 Hindi radio station easily accessible online here or downloadable as an app for your smartphone.
Worth waiting for in 2014
Whether you’re an Indophile or not, you’ll find something of interest in this list of events from the Indian community’s annual social calendar. Come join us as we talk about Gandhi, or smear coloured powder on each other, or light a lamp to mark our new year… and try out your light-bulb moves on the dance floor.
Thur 30 Jan, UNSW The Gandhi Oration is delivered each year by a person whose life’s work exemplifies the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi. Previous speakers have included Patrick Dodson and Michael Kirby. The 2014 Oration will be delivered by Mr Thomas Keneally AO, the internationally acclaimed Australian author, at the Leighton Hall, (John Niland Scientia Building), UNSW Kensington campus, at 5.30pm.
Fri-Sun 21-23 March Holi is India’s spring festival of colours, otherwise known as the annual ‘muck-up day’ for Hindus. Revellers smear coloured powder on each other’s faces, or throw them at each other in gay abandon. This feel good festival, a mega party in which the main element is to have fun, is a celebration of equality, a celebration of life itself.
The Sydney-based Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan organises this festival annually at Darling Harbour, marking 11 years in 2014.
Weekend of Carnatic Music
Queen’s Birthday weekend, June The best-known names in the thriving classical music circuit in southern India travel to Sydney in June each year to entertain local fans. Organised by the Swaralaya Fine Arts Society, the 3-day event features vocal as well instrumental presentations.
Sydney Sakhi Sangam
June, date TBA Some 900 women, dressed to the nines, kick up their beautiful heels at this annual women-only event. Organised by socialites Nandini Thadani and Sushma Ahluwalia, Sakhi Sangam (Hindi for ‘Girlfriends Gather’), is a ‘must-do-at-least-once’ kind of event, if you’re a woman in Sydney’s Indian community! Today it attracts women of all backgrounds who beg, borrow or buy those OTT Indian outfits and accessories for this day-long do.
Australia India Friendship Fair
Date TBA Held annually in August to mark India’s Independence Day, this day-long fair at the Sydney Olympic Park features cultural performances and multiple food stalls. Organised by United Indian Associations (Inc.), the event also attracts many federal and state level politicians who come out to greet the Indian community.
Date TBA Another annual event that sees the gathering of ‘the clan’, this day-long event marks the festival of Deepavali or Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. Organised by the Hindu Council of Australia in Oct-Nov, the event features cultural performances, food stalls and a fireworks display at dusk. Diwali is also celebrated at Martin Place in the CBD, and the exterior of the NSW Parliament House is decorated in lights to mark Hinduism’s most significant festival.
The Indian community in numbers: 2011 Census
Indians form the fourth largest migrant group in Australia, ranked below UK, NZ and China.
There are 309, 904 Australians of Indian origin. 295, 361 of these were born in India. Some 100,000 of these live in NSW.
The median age of the India-born in 2011 was 31 years compared with 45 years for all overseas-born and 37 years for the total Australian population.
The main languages spoken at home by India-born people in Australia were English, Hindi and Punjabi. 93.3 per cent reported that that spoke English very well or well.
Religious affiliations reported were, in order, Hinduism, Sikhism and Catholic.
The median individual weekly income for the India-born in Australia aged 15 years and over was $663, compared with $538 for all overseas-born and $597 for all Australia-born. The total Australian population had a median individual weekly income of $577.
79.8 per cent of the India-born aged 15 years and over had some form of higher non-school qualifications compared to 55.9 per cent of the Australian population.
Why do Hindus worship cows?
Here’s a rational answer to this question. According to Hinduism, what is divine is not God, or Heaven, but human life itself. So we must celebrate life. Every day of our living life is a special day. We celebrate life by acknowledging all the things that make us live our life better. These could be forces of nature, for example, the earth, the sun, the rain, and even plants and animals. So we have a Sun God, a Moon God, Rain God, etc. etc.
Also enabling us to live our lives well, are the special people around us: our parents, siblings, friends, grandparents and extended family, even our teachers. And so we have special days in the calendar earmarked for each of these special people – for example Ancestors’ Day, Brothers’ Day, even a Teachers’ Day.
With so many forces to acknowledge, it is no wonder we have so many “festivals”.
Do we really worship cows? In reality, we worship all animals. The cow is merely a symbol of all animal life. Just as Nagini (yes, the snake from Harry Potter!) is a symbol of all reptile life, and Garuda (the name of Indonesia’s airline) is a symbol of all bird life.
We might as well answer that other question Hindus are often asked: why do you believe in reincarnation? ‘Reincarnation’ is really an over-simplified way of saying that if you lead a good life, you will get another chance on this earth. Notice we don’t say you will be rewarded with heaven: because Hindus believe that if there is a heaven, it is right here, on earth.