When Indiblogger and Tourism Victoria screamed out “…it’s your time to visit Melbourne NOW” for their blog contest I got thinking about what experiences I’d love to bring back if I got a chance to go to Melbourne, Australia. Apart from Australia being such a fascinating place and how much I love to travel, I thought about what Melbourne and I have in common. There it was, staring me in my stuffed mouth with juices dribbling down my chin – FOOD. I’m a self-confessed foodie. I’m incorigable. I just can’t get enough of recipes, cooking shows, cuisines, proteins, fruits and veg that I’ve never tasted before. I live in a place where I have to import ingredients from other parts of the country so that I can recreate North African tagines, Thai tom kha soups, Caribbean jerk chicken, Lebanese kafta, Malaysian nasi gorengs, Italian pastas, Spanish gambas and French desserts in my kitchen, here in this one horse town of Vizag. We have only a few good restaurants that occasionally have international food festivals (international =chinese) but most of the time it’s my very own kitchen and fridge that serves as food festival and culinary world tour. But how I’d love to go to a city where food and good local ingredients are something that not only chefs but local people as well, really care about. The memories from Melbourne that I’d love to bring back are of its rich cultural mix expressed superbly through its dizzying multi-cultural palate.
I’ve heard that you can drive 2 hours (or a couple 100 kms) in any direction from Melbourne and be either trekking in the mountains of the many national parks like Werribee or Yarra Valley, surfing at the sunny coast at St.Kilda or Brighton, throwing snow balls at Lake Mountain, looking at penguins and koalas in the famous Melbourne zoo or soaking in Aboriginal history at the Koorie Heritage Trust. And while I hope not to miss out on those excursions out of Melbourne in to Victoria’s countryside, it’s brunch and bar hopping at Brunswick Street, eating Pho at Footscray Market, Carlton’s Little Italy and Fitzroy for Spanish food and some good Aussie roast chook, that I would most like to soak up. The markets of a city, I believe, is where all the action happens. One can get a real sense of the pulse of a city by visiting its markets, be it Greenwich market in London for bric-a-brac, La Boqueria in Spain for food or Crawford market in Mumbai for nuts and spices and imported goodies.
I would definitely not want to miss out on Victoria’s great outdoors and Victoria’s picture postcard landscape. So I would be a bit crafty and combine a trek in the Yarra valley followed by a visit to the monthly food market, a drink of pear cider at the White Rabbit Brewery and then a sumptuous meal at Oakridge Wines or at Victoria’s first vineyard, Yerring Station. We’ll go camping near the Murray River that snakes along Victoria’s north, discovering its orchards, local honey and artesian cheeses, perhaps taking in some cakes and pastries and Anzac biscuits at Stephano’s Cafe Bakery in Mildura and dinner at Oscar W’s, feasting on meats I would never get to taste in India like salt bush lamb, kangaroo and farmed yabbies, discovering what exactly is Modern Australian tucker. Because while cooked Goana might be OK for Michael J Dundee (“You can live on it, but it tastes like shit”) it might not be for me. We’d take in the white gum trees of Daylesford and gawk at the stark eerieness of hanging rock in the Macedon Ranges, lunch with Ella Wolf Tasker at the Wombat Hill House Cafe and dine at the Lakehouse at Daylesford.
But being in the outdoors, close to the land, it would invoke the ancient Australian folklore and aspects of life that are quintessentially Australian. As we look out over the Murray River we’d do as they did in days gone by – cook damper over a camp fire like Ned Kelly, feel the thrill of the Brumbies (wild horses) sweeping past us and have the poem of The Man from Snowy River on our lips,
"And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home, Where the river runs those giant hills between; I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam, But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen."
What’s great about Australia but Melbourne in particular is that there are no imitators here, no fakes – everything is authentic. There are Lebanese butcher shops, run by real Lebanese people who run and own Lebanese restaurants. There are Greek people who source produce from Greece for Greek Chefs, you get the picture. The whole world and it’s food are in Melbourne and they seem to sit so comfortably together, cheek by jowl – and i bet you could eat some cheek and jowl too. And since I probably won’t get a chance to go to South Korea or Mexico what a treat it would be to eat Korean BBQ at Maedaya or Tamales and cactus salad at Senoritas or pulled pork tacos at Paco’s Tacos. I would have to go to the top restaurants and the little cafe or bistro one finds down Melbourne’s hidden alleyways. If I could choose a time to visit Melbourne it would definitely be for the March 2013 food and wine festival. Maybe I’ll bump in to some of my food idols too. Either way I could eat the world on a plate, here in Melbourne.
It’s almost depressing that I know so much about Melbourne’s food and yet have never seen or tasted the delights that are out there. I owe my Australian food knowledge to Gary Mehigan of Fenix, George Calombaris of the Press Club/Hellenic Republic and food critic Matt Preston. What would be my food knowledge without Australia’s Masterchef – one of the best Australian cultural exports since “Down Under” by Men at Work, “I’ve been to Bali too” by Redgum, Muriel’s Wedding, Crocodile Dundee, Gallipoli (the movie) and Vegemite. If I could get a reservation at the Fenix or Press Club, all my travel and foodie dreams would come true in one gobsmacking, mouth watering gulp. I shouldn’t leave out Maeve O’Mara’s Food Safari who has shown us just how brilliantly Australia (and Melbourne in particular) has attracted all the cultures of the world and they’ve brought their food with them.
I’m pretty sure we’ll meet friendly Aussies along the way, look upon breathtaking natural beauty, may be even hear the pounding hooves and beating heart of Pharlap on the cobbled streets of Melbourne, if we’re lucky we’ll catch a glimpse of the Rainbow Serpent and learn from an ancient aboriginal culture too. But I wouldn’t count the number of days I had in Melbourne, I’d count the number of meals I could have in Melbourne.