Parkville Store

52 Morrah St, Parkville

I’m a pretty lazy guy, especially in Winter. So when I discovered the Parkville Store, a mere two blocks from my office, in the residential back blocks of genteel Parkville, I was a little excited. From the outside, it looks like a milk bar. And it is a milk bar. Just not only a milk bar. It’s a pretty classic example of a neighbourhood ‘mixed business’, run by a lovely older Greek couple. They serve up an array of homemade dishes which change daily. I associate the style of food there with visiting friends’ houses for dinner when I was growing up in rural Victoria; things like moussaka, quiche, roast chicken, and lasagne. Vaguely Mediterranean Western food is the phrase that comes to mind. Which isn’t exactly homely to me, but still evokes a certain nostalgia. Nostalgia of swimming pools in summer, climbing jacaranda trees, and that time Andrew accidentally put two prongs of a rake in my leg while we were playing ninja turtles in his backyard. Needless to say, he wasn’t so good at being Donatello, and next time, he had to be Raphael.

I have a friend who is working at the nearby RMH, and so after going to Parkville Store for lunch on my own to do some recon, I suggested we meet there for lunch one day. I was feeling a little vegetarian that day – his name was Roberto, no I jest – so I went for the zucchini slice. It was tasty and warming, the way you expect such a dish made by a yiayia would be. The salad was also quite nice – fresh and refreshing, with the exception of the adorable use of tinned beetroot. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like tinned beetroot, as unrefined as that may sound. Actually, I feel a little SWPL pretentious pointing out the quaintness of the tinned beetroot, so just pretend I didn’t say that.imageMy friend had the roast chicken, with potatoes and roast vegetables. It seemed a little rude to warn him right in front of the yiayia that the vegetables I had on the earlier visit were a bit over-salted, so I’ll just warn you all here. The vegies are a bit over-salted. He was quite happy overall with his lunch. imageAnd as if the place wasn’t kitsch enough, have you noticed the vintage plates? So cool!

Appetizer Kub Klam

285 Spring St, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 8838

The heart is a funny thing. If it comes from a chicken it’s pretty tasty when grilled, it’s arguably the least useful of the Planeteer powers, and if not physiologically, the heart in each of us is sentimentally responsible for the highs and lows we all experience in our lives. Not to get too philosophical on a food blog, but emotions have a large impact on our recollections of events and places. And food. Which is why dinner with D is always an interesting proposition.

To be blunt, D broke my heart about three years ago. The interceding years have taught me that, whether you view it as cliche or adage, it is true that time heals all wounds; but it’s also true that some wounds will always leave a scar. One of the bones of contention which always existed between us was who was more Asian. Which is patently ridiculous, because I’m a son of Vietnamese Chinese migrants, and his parents are Italian. But then, I did grow up in rural Victoria, and he has lived in South East Asia for four more years of his life than me. His Thai is arguably as fluent as my Mandarin, but I think I have the one up on him, because my Cantonese is even more fluent than that. And my eyes are slanty.

In any case, when D asked to catch up for dinner recently, I suggested Appetizer, because he hadn’t been before, and from all accounts – mine is apparently not to be trusted in these matters, according to D – it’s pretty authentically Thai. In that modern Bangkok way. Without the glitzy orientalist finery, but with some pumping Thai pop tunes. I had been once before with friends, having been introduced to it as that ‘secret Thai’ place which @jeroxie was keeping from the rest of Melbourne’s foodbloggers world for months.

I was in a particularly good mood, having just been offered a new job, so I was uncharacteristically nonplussed about what to order; D took the lead and surprised the waitress by ordering in Thai. Perhaps he does have a case to argue after all. He certainly does know his Thai food, too. Of course, we had the som tum Thai – green papaya salad – which was pretty fresh, but there was something a little off about the seasoning. It was a little too salty for me, and D thought there was something vaguely plasticky about the flavour. In hindsight, it might have been the inclusion of fried shallots? I’m not sure if there were fried shallots, really, but I’ve had experiences with Nhu Lan’s salad banh mi where the combination of fried shallots and fish sauce resulted in a strange, plasticky taste. The som tum also didn’t have any tomatoes. Maybe this was because it’s winter, and tomatoes are pricey, but som tum just isn’t right for me without tomato.
imageWe also had the tom yum goong – tom yum soup with prawns – because it was cold, and soup seemed appropriate. Funnily, D said it felt strange to be eating Thai food in Winter; I guess it’s a marked contrast to the humid warmth of Bangkok. One of the things I love about D is that he’s insightful in way that I’m not. We think in very different ways, but they’re in playfully complementary ways. In many ways, we had always balanced each other out, just as  the flavours in this tom yum soup did; a great balance of acidity, salt and umami. A touch on the spicy side, even for me, but I suspect that’s because D ordered in Thai. If you like your Thai food spicy, you won’t be disappointed at Appetizer.imageThe final dish we shared was squid with salted egg. I wasn’t sure what to make of this from the menu. I was kind of expecting dried, re-hydrated squid, like the Malaysian dish, and I thought it might be wedges of salted egg – maybe it was a salad? Nope. Thai food knowledge fail. It was much more subtle, being calamari in a salted egg yolk sauce. And it was delicious! The sauce had a touch of tamarind and chilli, and a nice whack of palm sugar. It was reminiscent of a satay sauce – minus the peanuts, if you can imagine it – in that it was creamy, rich, warm and earthy, and you just wanted more.imageSo three years on, D and I are still close friends. We always were, and I think we always will be. Because sometimes the heart matters less than the stomach and the head.

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Lunch with Nanna, at Truong Tien

246 Springvale Rd, Springvale
Phone: 9548 0707

It’s not often I head as far South East as Springvale. When you live in the West, you don’t often head all the way across town unless you have a good reason. I think visiting my Nanna is a good reason. I’ll be honest, I probably don’t see her as often as I should. Partly it’s because I’m busy with my own life, but it’s also because I’m too lazy to make more time to fit family in to my life. Which is a shameful thing to have to admit.

One of my earliest memories of Melbourne is lunch with my Nanna. I would have been about 8 at the time, and was staying with my cousins while I visited the big smoke on school holidays. They lived in the Commission flats in South Yarra back then, and Nanna lived with them. I can’t remember why, but for some reason my cousins were off with their parents that day, so I was home with Nanna. We took the tram up Church St, and wandered down Victoria St until we got to Minh Xuong. We both had roast duck soup noodles, and Nanna taught me to take out the duck and put it on a side plate so the slightly crispy skin wouldn’t get soggy, and so I could get  to the noodles more easily, but to dunk the duck back in the soup before eating it, so it would warm up a bit after cooling on the side plate. Some memories etch themselves into your brain, and shape who you are. To this day, I prefer Minh Xuong for roast duck to any other place in Richmond. It might not even be objectively better than others, but it will always be my favourite.

Nanna recently moved into a nursing home. It’s been a troubling turn of events for the family, because traditionally, it’s just not the done thing in Chinese families, as the elderly are supposed to see out their days living with family. But with both of her sons living in empty nests, my Nanna became increasingly frustrated and bored, as she doesn’t speak or understand any English, and as a result rarely left the house on her own. So even though it goes against her beliefs and values, she came to grips to her situation and decided it was time for a change; to strike out on her own, in a manner of speaking. At 86 years young, I think this is a pretty awe-inspiring thing.

She’s been in the nursing home for three weeks, and seems to be liking her new home. She’s got more people to chat with, and has made fast friends with a Teochew couple who also live in the home. I don’ think I’ve actually ever seen her as chatty and light-hearted as when I visited her on the weekend. Maybe they’re dosing the residents up good there? So I’m happy that she’s happy, but it’s a bittersweet thing, seeing my Nanna living – albeit quite cheerfully – in a nursing home.

We went to Springvale, and not really knowing the area, I thought Nanna might have some tips. Alas, this wasn’t the case; I had forgotten that she doesn’t get out much. So we stopped in at a restaurant next to the one my cousin likes to go to, according to Nanna. We didn’t actually go into the one my cousin likes, because it looked too busy, and Nanna’s not into that. Which was fine with me, because Nanna’s pretty softly spoken, so a bustling restaurant would make conversation more difficult.

After perusing the menu – which has lots of pictures, thankfully, because Nanna doesn’t read English or Vietnamese – I settled on the bun bo Hue, which is fast becoming one of my benchmarking dishes. Perhaps it’s just because it’s winter, and many Vietnamese dishes seem quite summery to me.imageTo be frank, it was a little disappointing. The broth was flavoursome, but the most striking flavour was that of the MSG. There wasn’t much else going on there, but this was partly made up for by the impressive array of meats in the bowl. Apart from the regular beef brisket, pork and cha lua (processed pork loaf), there were slices of a peppery beef sausage – similar to that found in a good pho bo dac biet – as well as a big chunk of pork knuckle, and a couple of cubes of congealed blood (see below).image

imageNanna was a little intimidated by the range of things on offer – and also hesitant to order anything too large, because apparently they’re given a lot of food to eat at the nursing home – so she went for a familiar classic: won ton noodle soup. Along with the won tons came four thick slices of char siu, which she put in my bowl, along with two of the won tons. I started to object, but she insisted that she wouldn’t be able to eat it all, and that she couldn’t chew the char siu with her falsies. Turned out that she needn’t have worried, because the char siu was pretty tender, and marinated well, with a nice sweetness to it. The won tons were alright, but could have dealt with a little more seasoning in the filling, I thought.imageSo despite the lengthy drive out to Springvale, I think I’m going to visit my Nanna a lot more often in the coming days. Partly because I’ve been meaning to explore Springvale for years now, but mostly because I realised that I don’t really know my Nanna very well, and that’s a sad thing. This picture of her isn’t, though!image

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Arrivederci, il mio coinquilino!

I’m losing my housemate this week. He’s going back to Italy for a stint, and it’s not certain when he’ll be back. Hopefully sooner rather than later!

In any case, last night il coinquilino (that’s the housemate in Italian, for those of you who haven’t cottoned on yet) cooked up a farewell dinner for some close friends. A little unfair to have him cook his own farewell dinner? Perhaps, but he loves to cook – part of why we get along so well – and he’s also been gainfully unemployed for a few weeks, so he welcomed the distraction from online gaming and daytime television.

The dinner started off with some bruschetta. From the top, we had tomato and mint – with the interesting addition of Vietnamese mint – and some plain garlic-rubbed bread, which we enjoyed with good olive oil and salt, some mussels, and then below there’s a bruschetta topped with salsiccia and cream cheese. image

image

imageFor primi, il coinquilino had made ravioli, filled with goat’s cheese and walnuts, with a sage butter.imageFor secondi, we had cozze – mussels – crumbed and stuffed with salsiccia and mortadella, with a side of crispy potatoes and tomato-braised silverbeet.imageFor dessert, @eatnik had made a chocolate mousse with a pedro ximinez gelee. imageIt was all so delicious, and washed down with some great wine, this was a wonderful dinner to remember. Hopefully il coinquilino comes back to Melbourne soon, so we can have more dinners like this! Also, because I haven’t just lost a great housemate, but a good friend.

Kimurakan Café

238 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9650 2038

I love @thatjessho. Because she’s an enabler. And if we’ve learned anything at all from foodblogging, it’s that enablers are gold. Even when they’re not foodbloggers themselves. I’m looking at you, @eatnik.Only where @eatnik is a duck-enabler, @thatjessho is a booze enabler. It’s really hard to decide which is better, so I’m not going to.

Anyway, one Thursday not so long ago, I’d had coffee – for those of you who aren’t regular readers, coffee is like meth-amphetamine for me – so I was in need of some alcohol to calm my heart palpitations after work. Enter the booze-enabler. After a few drinks at the Cumulus bar, we headed off to find some food, because it wasn’t Friday, so eating wasn’t cheating.

Jess suggested Kimurakan, and I agreed, not really knowing what I was agreeing to. Of course, I’d been to Kimurakan before – quite a few times in my uni days – but I’d never actually bothered to learn its name. It was just the Japanese place, next to the (then) Taiwanese place (now Sambal Kampung) on Little Bourke, a couple of doors down from the canned abalone, Ugg boot and lanolin cream emporium.

Kimurakan is a pretty no-frills place, as far as looks go. Some might say run down. I say humble and unpretentious. But they serve pretty consistently decent food, and it’s cheap. Which is a winning combination in my books.

So I was couple of drinks in – yes, I am an utter lightweight, but apparently a fun drunkard – of course I ordered the mose deep-fried laden thing on the menu. The Kimurakan bento. To make things easier to read, I’m going to use bullet points here. The following things were not deep fried:

  • oysters
  • prawns
  • pippies
  • salad
  • rice.

The following things were:

  • mini-tonkatsu (pork cutlet)
  • kara-age (chicken)
  • croquettes x 2
  • fish
  • takoyaki
  • spring roll
  • tofu
  • a crab claw (I think? It was the little puffy thing in the middle).

imageI have to say I wasn’t the most discerning customer at that point in time, but just about everything tasted great. I did wish the oysters weren’t steamed, but rather fresh, or crumbed and fried, and the pippies and prawns were a bit of a let down. That’s probably just because they weren’t fried. They should have fried the salad too, and you can fry rice, right? Oh wait, they’re Japanese, not Chinese. Anyway, it was all pretty good, and a heaving amount of food for a ridiculously low price. From memory, it was somewhere near $15?

Jess had a hankering for udon, and ordered the nabeyaki udon. It was also a pretty large serving, with quite a bit of (hidden) seafood. Into which she proceeded to dump a mountain of shichimi togarashi (that’s the Japanese chilli/pepper powder). Scroll up fo a second. See that white pepper shaker? That’s the togarashi. Which totally doesn’t come out through those weeny holes. Be a pro like Jess, and take the lid off before sprinkling/pouring/dumping. Oh, and I love a restaurant that serves up a noodle soup with a ladle instead of a spoon. (Yes, I know, it’s a Japanese thing.)imageOf course, that wasn’t enough food, so we ordered a little entree of takoyaki to share. To be honest,  they were a little disappointing. Doughy, a touch bland, and not quite hot enough to make the bonito flakes dance the mystical bonito flake dance.imageAnd yeah, I did eat all of that bento, in case you were wondering.image

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