Photography: Jiwon Kim
Vimla Chand comes into view from the inside of a train window as it pulls into Flemington Station. She waits to greet her guests here, and together they make the short walk back to the two-bedroom apartment in Homebush West where she has lived for nearly 15 years.
At her house there is a saucepan of dal on the stove. Few welcomes are more comforting.
Vimla hadn’t planned on cooking for her guests when she opened her home on Airbnb. But then a young student came to stay with her from China.
“She was the most wonderful girl, and she was young. I couldn’t sit there and eat by myself, so I said I will make extra and you can join me in whatever I’m eating.”
Vimla, Airbnb Host
Vimla’s family migrated from India to Burma, and then back to India when she was a child, before she later settled in Australia. She understands the importance of a warm welcome in a new city. Hospitality and food prove hard to separate.
“I can’t help myself. I’m going to offer food to people if they’re in my house.”
It might be a chai in the morning, made with a spice mix of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and black pepper. Or perhaps a lassi in the afternoon, made with mangoes brought from her favourite vendors at Flemington Markets, just across the train tracks.
It’s the gently spiced dal made with split mung beans that her guests love the most. A small black tawa, or hotplate, stands ready to cook aloo paratha, breads filled with a spiced potato mixture and rolled out by hand. We use the hot breads brushed with ghee to eat the dal and gobi matar, a cauliflower curry.
“I taught one girl how to make chutney and also pakoras,” says Vimla. She sent another guest off to a party with a platter of freshly fried samosas.
As a vegetarian, Vimla asks that people don’t eat meat in her house, but she’s more than happy to point them in the direction of great local eateries.
“People come from all over Sydney just to eat at some of these restaurants. I send my guests to Rams, a Sri Lankan and Indian takeaway. They make really good dosas, the vadai, samosas and rolls are all very good. Everything about Rams is good.”
But there’s no chance that anyone would leave her table hungry, no matter how simple she insists that her cooking is. “Eat!” says Vimla, reaching to refill plates. “You haven’t eaten! Some of you young girls eat like a bird,” she says, laughing.
Vimla’s local tips for Homebush West:
Rams Indian and Sri Lankan Foods: A takeaway hidden down an arcade that is incredibly popular with the Sri Lankan community in Sydney.
Happy Snack Cafe House: Vimla recommends this Vietnamese restaurant to her guests. They make pork rolls, vermicelli noodle salads, and other specialties.
KW Barbecue Shop: For her non-vegetarian guests, Vimla points out this Chinese barbecue shop that often has a queue out the door.
Flemington Markets: Home to the largest fresh produce market in Australia. Vimla suggests visiting for the cheapest and freshest fruit and vegetables, buying a sugarcane juice, then walking across the tracks for lunch.
Sydney Olympic Park: Explore, have a picnic, cycle around the park, or join in the many events held there.