A couple of months ago my boyfriend and I had a unique culinary experience.
The Yellow Deli located in Katoomba, Australia is a café from a bygone era. Upon entering I feel as if I have been transported back to Frodo Baggins’s cozy hobbit hole in Tolkien’s Shire. Secluded rustic wooden booths and a fireplace that you can almost sit in adorn the first floor. A windy timber staircase decorated with flora and fauna inlay takes you to the second, which is styled with more rustic furniture and soft candlelit lighting. Merry woodland music plays softly in the background. To add to the Tolkien-esque atmosphere a young girl in Amish dress, two long pigtails down to her knees and a shawl welcomes us to the Twelve Tribes’ Yellow Deli.
This is a new experience for me.
The word ‘cult’ is laden with negative connotations. The media has saturated us with pictures of secluded segregated children, odd religious practices and misogynistic activities. Terms such as indoctrination and brainwashed often come to mind when we picture cults. They are both fascinating, and yet ostracized from the community. The media frenzy surrounding the Manson clan has seriously hindered the image of the cult, as did David Koresh’s Branch Davidians religious sect and the Waco siege, where 76 branch members died including women and children.
It is not without initial skepticism that I approach the Yellow Deli café.
Originating from Tennessee in the 1970s the Twelve Tribes rejects commercialism and embraces ‘peace, love and togetherness’. They do not identify with any single domination but have adopted practices from both the Jewish and Christian communities. Their main ethos, as explained to me by our waitress is ‘working and raising our families together, building communities and tribes where love is the center of our life’.
Not to sound too degrading of this sentiment, but I had just been transported back into one of Bob Marley’s soundtracks.
As with any cult, The Twelve Tribes is not without criticism. From child labor to racial degradation, no cult it seems is left unscathed without controversies. I am however disappointed in my initial skepticism as the night goes on.
The transparency of this café makes it somewhat of an experience. Our friendly waitress asks if we have ever been before and if not, do we know anything about the Twelve Tribes. We shake our heads in unison (that is a lie I did do a Google browse but I certainly do not want to reveal my prior research, besides technology is frowned upon). Hearing our ignorance our waitress kindly informs us that the food is baked here on site and tribal members have crafted the rustic interiors. Everything is handmade from the timber floors to the delicate inlays.
Menus are handed over as we quickly browse the selection of hot sandwiches, salads and soups. It would be a shame if none of these pickled your fancy, as this remains the entirety of the Yellow Deli Menu. Our host is quick to inform us that they are famous for their unique hot sandwiches; the Reuben and the smoked chicken are apparently rather good so we opt for those with a side of raw vegies and crisps to share.
It is not everyone’s menu of choice. Sandwiches (be they hot or not) seem like a poor man’s dinner and don’t even bother asking for a cold beer, the answer will undoubtedly be a no. Alcohol is strictly not allowed, and if you are after something cold the suggestion is a mango mate or a glass of milk, and a dandelion latte if a hot bevi is more to your taste.
The service is fast and the sandwiches arrive quickly in brightly colored plastic bowls, reminiscent of 90s tupperware. Two smaller bowls arrive with plain crisps and vegies cut into long strips. It is an incredibly simple, modest meal but surprisingly tasty. I have never previously experienced a ‘hot’ sandwich. Do not be mistaken these sandwiches are not toasted, they are, how do I describe…hot. The Reuben is filling and the stringy cheese melts in your mouth. The chicken is slightly smoked and is complemented with hot pepper cheese and a good layer of horseradish and mayo. Silence ensues as we both devour our homemade creations. Always being a lover of salty and savory, the crisps are fantastic and the vegies are a nice touch. We both decide to opt against a glass of homemade milk, and just stick to tap water.
The Yellow Deli does have a certain allure. Staff are incredibly friendly and throughout the course of our meal a number of them approach us to ask if the meal is to our liking. Our initial waitress was chatty and conversational, inquiring about how we liked the area and our events planned for the next day. Initially I was taken back, very rarely these days do we engage in a casual repertoire with any stranger and yet here I was divulging the details of my latest adventure with a person I would probably never see again. But this openness and inclusivity is all part of the experience of the Yellow Deli.
When I moved to London two months ago I googled to see if the Yellow Deli had made its way to England. Surprisingly it hadn’t. I felt that any café that served organic homemade food and had a rather quirky unique angle (this being of course that it is run by a cult) would be a success in the gentrified, but still eccentric areas of Notting Hill or Camden. But alas the Yellow Deli hasn’t seemed to broach the English shores just yet. To be fair if a café as bizarre and unconventional as Lady Dinah’s Cat Café can be a success, then I am certain that The Twelve Tribes Yellow Deli will to be your tastes.
All we need now is a substantial financial backer to bring them ashore…. takers anyone?
All photos taken from creative commons: