Food Report: Australia (But Mostly Melbourne)

If you took a little New York innovation, combined it with London sophistication, a dash of Portland cool, a bit of LA chic, sprinkle in some Tokyo tradition, with the coffee culture Seattle and Italy, and serve it up in a neat little city akin to San Francisco, you maybe have something close to Melbourne.

IMG_3989It’s no wonder Melbourne has been listed in this year’s Conde Nast Traveler’s top food cities in the world (and no wonder I gained about 5 pounds). Melbourne is a vibrant city of art, food and sport, where you’re more likely to be judged on where you have your daily coffee rather than what you do.

Don’t get me wrong, Sydney is also an amazing city of modernity, glamor, sunny beaches and great food, but amongst the bustling businessmen and an opera house overrun by tourists, Melbourne has color, richness and character that cannot be paralleled.

IMG_3988Coffee and brunch lovers, this is the city for you. Hidden cafes nestled in beautiful graffiti alleys in what they call laneways makes Melbourne a fantastic place to get lost in. Brother Baba Budan (359 Little Bourke St, Melbourne) serves up such exceptional cups of coffee that will make you forget all about the hipster vibes. If you’re looking for a more substantial breakfast (or brekkie, as they would call it) with your coffee, Hardware Societe (120 Hardware St, Melbourne) is just a hop, skip and a jump away, where the food is as worthy for your appetite as it is for Instagram.  Here, you’ll find an A+ selection of breakfast cassoulets of duck confit and pork belly or their famous egg bakes, like the Un – a savory concoction of cauliflower puree, pumpkin, sage brie and pinenuts.

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A little down the street is a fairly decent sized Chinatown that actually doesn’t suck. Hutong Dumpling Bar‘s (14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne) handmade xiao long bao and chili sauce wontons can even give Din Tai Fung a run for it’s money. For some cheap eats (because Australia is not in any way a cheap place), Red Pepper (14 Bourke St, Melbourne) serves some flavorful lamb curry to warm your belly on a cold winter June day, and the garlic naan is a must.

If you’re looking for both a great brunch or dinner option, just 2 blocks south is the renown cafe, Cumulus Inc (45 Flinders Ln, Melbourne), which becomes a bar upstairs by night (Cumulus Up). Cumulus lives up to its reputation and delivers an exceptional gastronomical experience that leaves you dreaming for fresh lemon curd madeleines, smoked trout toasties and charcuterie plates.

I’ll wrap up with the Queen Victoria Night Market, which is a nice summary of what Melbourne’s about. I’m used to overcrowded, pushy night markets with line upon lines just to get some food (626 Night Market anyone?), and really all there is is food. So I have to say it is a rarity for me to see a night market where people are actually relaxed and enjoying themselves. This old open warehouse area comes to life at night, lined with not only booths of delicious fresh cooked foods, but shops selling handmade knick knacks and bric a bracs, fortune telling (biscuit readings by a lovely couple similar to the characters of Up), live music, dancing and performances. It was the dead of winter when I visited, but I warmed myself up easily at the many open fire pits and chat with friends through the night over some mulled wine.

IMG_3994It’s actually a bit disappointing the lack of Americans (friends!) visiting Australia, and even more disappointing Melbourne is often overshadowed by Sydney. Ok, I’ll give Sydney some credit here because Mamak (15 Goulburn Street, Haymarket, Sydney) had some of the best Malaysian food I’ve ever had and roti to die for. If you’re anything like me, travel is less about sightseeing point and shoot spots, more about the experience and immersion in a different culture, and food happens to be one of my favorite parts. If I had to name my top food cities, yes Paris, Tokyo and Florence come to mind. Yes, they are exceptional culinary cities, but also very limited to the country’s cuisine (trust me even I got tired of Japanese food after 4 months living in Tokyo). The beauty of Melbourne is the hodgepodge of cultures, flavors and people, very similar to the melting pot of the United States. This entry is a very small part of the city, too, and really only touching the CBD. I did not even begin discussing the wine, beer and sport culture, nor the outer suburbs. I hope this puts Australia, and especially Melbourne, on the map and travel bucket list for some of you, especially my food enthusiasts. Did I also mention it’s also a blessing not to struggle to order food?

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