The Footscray gentrification trap

I would like acknowledging the traditional owners of these lands, the ‘working class’ Westies of yore.

There have been a spate of cafes opening in Footscray and surrounds of late. There are some – myself included – who take a quiet pride in being ‘pioneers’ on the wild frontiers of the inner West, who are thankful and welcoming of such outposts of ‘civilisation’. However, there’s something a little disquieting about the process of gentrification, because gentrification inherently involves gains on some fronts, but also a certain amount of loss on others.

Wikipedia describes gentrification as the changes that occur when wealthier people buy or rent property in low income or working-class areas. To some, gentrification is a good thing; increasing property values, ‘better’ services and amenities, and more convenient access to things like cafes, bars and other venues that are signifiers of ‘culture’. In the context of Footscray and Melbourne, by culture I mean Western Anglo-centric culture. Sometimes I wonder what gentrification in non-Western settings looks like. Does a gentrifying suburb in Beijing become more ‘Chinese’ in some way? Or is the notion of modernisation so central to gentrification that it embeds a kernel of Western modernity into the very idea of what it means to be gentrified? But I digress.

What interests me is the mostly ignored flipside of the gentrification process. I say mostly, because there is some visible tension that this process creates. On my walk home from the station, I passed a SOLD sign in front of a house, plastered over a FOR SALE sign which spoke of subdividing and units. Someone had scrawled across the sign ‘GENTRIFICATION’. My first thought was, ‘Yes! And about bloody time! Where’s my neighbourhood wine bar?’ but in recent weeks, I’ve started to question my stance. What is it that we’re actually losing by watching as Footscray turns into a ‘Hawthorn of the West?

It’s a natural part of the market-driven system in which we live that businesses will seek to cater for their customers in the way which will generate the most patronage. So as people with higher incomes and the specific tastes and pretensions that come along with that move into the area – again, I count myself as one of them – the nature of new businesses that open up, and the fortunes of existing businesses change. Except for the fortunes of the Olympic Doughnut van, because that’s just awesome.

Enter those cafes that I was talking about. Reading Room, West 48, Footscray Milking Station, and now Common Galaxia in Seddon. I haven’t been to all of them, but those I’ve visited have been thoroughly modern Millies – read communal tables, slightly quirky but warm yet sleek fit-outs, menus with idiosyncratic twists. (Lauren‘s my go-to girl when it comes to updates on that front, and she should be yours too.)

I love the fact these places have opened up, but I also love the fact that they’re at somewhat of a remove from downtown Footscray, which is still predominantly Vietnamese restaurants and hairdressers, with a sprinkling of various Sudanese, Eritrean and Ethiopian eateries, kebab joints and weave shops. There’s a charm and excitement about living in a part of Melbourne that is so unlike most other parts of Melbourne. In the ghetto? I’m not sure. While ghetto commonly is taken to mean poor, or crime ridden, its original meaning refers more to areas which are predominantly occupied by one social group. I’d argue that Footscray doesn’t really fit into that sort of pigeonhole, instead being a vibrant mix of Asian, African and Anglo-Saxon neighbours (and others!).

But as tides are wont to do, the tide of change has reached Footscray proper now: right in the middle of Nicholson Mall, Footscray’s getting a Noodle Box. Well, a Noodle-in-a-Box.

‘What’s the big deal?’ you might say. It’s just another Chinese food outlet. There are plenty of other Chinese restaurants in Footscray. And yes, although it’s probably Chinese run, to me it heralds a dumbing down of cuisine in the area, much like the entrenchment of KFC, Subway or Nando’s in the area. How is there a market in an area as vibrant as Footscray for such a beige offering? I guess some of the demands of gentrification seems to be that life is easy, convenient, and familiar. In a sense, it’s about living in a place that is your comfort zone. Which, if you’ll excuse me, can be terribly boring. Yes, I’m one of those who lived in Brunswick more than a decade ago that now laments the closure of so many Turkish and Lebanese restaurants, yet still finds himself enjoying going out for a drink in the bars which have replaced those restaurants. It’s a problematic position, I know.

So I guess what I’m irked by is the bland edge of gentrification. Does gentrification always have to just be another word for homogenisation? Is there some way around the blandification which seems to accompany the installation of ‘comforts’? Or are the two actually the same thing?

Photopost: Robocog cafe

249 Riley St, Surry Hills (Sydney)
Phone: (02) 9281 2880

Caveat: this visit was in January 2012!

Robocog Cafe on Urbanspoon

Singapore fling

Everybody loves a good holiday. It’s always fun to visit somewhere new, explore other cultures, and- OK, let’s cut to the chase, it’s all about eating different food. At least, it should be. For this reason, it’s imporant to choose your travel partners wisely. Last year’s fatty tour of Hong Kong is a case in point, and this year, my short visit to Singapore was the same. I’m very lucky to have been travelling with someone who eats, and loves eating, as much as I do.

We were in Singapore for 5 days, and spent the majority of our time eating at various hawker centres, because that’s how we roll. It’s something of a travesty that people visit South East Asia and don’t eat the local street food, because not only is is dirt cheap, it’s often where some of the most amazing food can be found.

We were staying in Clarke Quay, one of the major tourist centres. It’s pretty convenient and central, though I think the only time we ate there was upon arrival at around 9pm after Jetstar had delayed our flight for two hours in Melbourne. Chinatown is within walking distance, and the MRT and bus system makes it so easy to get around, there’s not really any reason to feel limited to the local area in which you’re staying.

The closest hawker centre to where we were staying was the one at the base of the Hong Lim complex. It seems mostly geared to daytime customers, with about half the stalls open in the morning, and most of them trhoughout the day. We stopped in there a couple of times on the way back to the hotel later in the evening for a juice, but the stalls were mostly closed by around 8pm.

My friend Ms D spent part of her childhood in Singapore, and has many ties there, so she visits fairly often. Her favourite thing for breakfast, that you can’t really get in Melbourne, is Char Kway Teow (CKT). Hong Lim happens to have a CKT specialist, so of course, for my first breakfast in Singapore, I had to have it!
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However, not everyone enjoys the novelty of having non-traditional breakfast foods for breakfast, so I got it to go, and we wandered off to another floor of the hawker centre to find toast.
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The contents of the paper parcel looked like this:
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They really should try doing packaging like this in Australia. I’m fairly sure it’s more environmentally friendly than all that plastic we use, and it’s so cute!

After a little culture at the National Museum – go there just to see the swinging chandeliers, they’re amazing – we headed to Killiney Curry Puffs, near Somerset station. The mee rebus there was recommended by people on the iEatHawker app, but to be honest, it was pretty boring. There wasn’t a lot of flavour to it, nor a lot of chicken. However, I don’t know if that makes it inauthentic. Let’s not get into that, because the only version I’ve ever tried is at Malaymas in Melbourne – which I love – but this was a poor cousin. The curry puffs, however, were great! A flaky, short pastry which pretty much must have lard in it, and a medium spicy filling with chunks of potato and little nuggets of minced pork. Worth visiting for, even if they are mildly lukewarm.
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After va little more culture at the Singapore Art Museum – of the more contemporary art kind – we wandered up to Bugis, where we wandered through a rabbit warren of market stalls, full of cheap clothes geared at local youths, little touristy knick-knacks, and LED signs advertising the sex shops upstairs. And then we stumbled upon this:
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That’s right, Chinese Burger! It’s basically a flat mantou that’s been seared on both sides, with a pocket cut into it. Then it’s stuffed with braised pork and shredded cucumber. It’s a pretty great snack.
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Stumbling out of the little warren of seedy shops, Chinese burger in hand – and mouth – we came across the adjacent hawker centre. And it being dinner time, the place was heaving with locals chowing down on all sorts of food. Now our plan was to head down to the Maxwell Road hawker centre to track down some Tian Tian Chicken Rice – which has a reputation for being the best in town – so we resolved not to eat anything subtantial here. I settled on “Fried oyster” (which sadly was more like an oyster omelette than fried oysters) and the better half chose some fried carrot cake (which turned out to be more like the Vietnamese bot chien than the Chinese luo bo gao).
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Unfortunately, even though we abstained from serious eating, we didn’t make it to Maxwell Road that night – we were sidetracked by another hawker centre, I think it was the People’s Park Food Centre, but we got a little lost, so I can’t be sure… anyway, we got chicken rice from one of the few stalls still open – we’d left our run a little late, it seemed – along with some water spinach (also known variously as tong xin cai, eng cai, tun sum choi, rau muong and water convolvus. Basically, it’s the hollow one with the spear-shaped leaves, if you’re looking for it fresh.
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This chicken rice was pretty good, though the chicken itself was a little on the tough side. Not by Western standards, but if you’re in Asia, you expect your chicken to be hua, or silky smooth. Still, even mediocre chicken rice in Singapore appears to be pretty good.

The next day, after breakfast, we headed over to Little India, a colourful and vibrant little enclave, which has a very different feel to Orchard or Chinatown, and is adjacent to a little backpacker hub. I was on the hunt for fried shrimp-paste chicken wings, but it appeared that the place I had been referred to was no longer there. So we wandered around a little, until we came across a whole lot of Indian people eating with their hands off banana leaves. Could there be any doubt that this was where we needed to be? I think not.
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For a pretty paltry sum, we were presented with a banana leaf each, the basis of the vegetarian thosai. Waiters came around with buckets of vegetarian curries and dhals and raita and rice and pappadums, and kept offering you more if you ran out of any particular item. Neither of us needed top ups of the curried bitter melon. Everything else was great, though, and we shared a chicken masala as well between the two of us. Mr J opted for knife and fork, but I went native, eating with my hands, because food always tastes better that way. After a few minutes of hoeing into my lunch, I noticed the Indian man sitting adjacent to us giving me death stares. It was a couple of minutes later that I realised his disgust wasn’t anything racially motivated, but rather directed at the fact I was eating with my left hand! A tremendous faux pas on my part, as the left hand is considered unclean, and you only ever use your right to eat. Oops! Being left-handed, that had completely slipped my mind. So much for cultural sensitivity…

That night we met my cousin for dinner at a Korean restaurant near Maxwell Road called 2 Days 1 Night. It seemed pretty popular, as we had to wait for a table, and I could understand why, as the food was great – in particular, if you go, try the spicy tofu soup. There’s some sort of yam or cassava in it that gives it an amazing consistency.

Anyway, the next morning, being Sunday, we decided we needed to have a Western brunch. Or should I say, Mr J decided. So we headed out to Hatched, a little cafe near the Botanical Gardens. The eggs were cooked pretty perfectly – runny yolk and just-trembling white – and the slab of smoked salmon underneath was nicely cured, too.
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It was a little odd that they felt it necessary to serve more carbs with the dish, however, in the form of mashed potatoes with some sort of mushroom gravy.

After brunch, we wandered around the Botanical Gardens a bit, until it started raining, so with more hours to kill until our High Tea at Halia – inside the Botanical Gardens – we caught a bus down to Orchard Rd in search of a certain four-lettered store beginning with M. Cut to an hour later, when we returned to Halia, and were joined by @euniceseow who had recently moved back to Singapore from Melbourne.

This is a High Tea – or Afternoon Tea if you like, I don’t quite understand the distinction – set for two.

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Overall, it was pretty good, and great value at $28++ SGD per person. We were a little dismayed at the lack of sandwiches, however, and the fruit scones weren’t great. I don’t really remember what everything was, because I tuned out when the waitress was explaining everything (I fell into that trap of taking photos at that point).

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The next day, back at the Hong Lim food centre, I discovered why Ji Ji Wonton Specialist has such a great reputation, and lines stretching back 10 or more customers while other stand owners are idly chatting with one another. I ordered the noodles with char siu and sui gao (not on the menu, but I prefer sui gao to wontons), and they’re really something to behold; springy egg noodles with a sticky, sweet soy sauce, topped with choy sum and sweet roasted pork, with a bowl full of pork soup dumplings each with a whole prawn encased on the side.  Something else to behold is the efficiency of the girl who works there. She calls out down the line in quick succession, taking the orders of not the next two or three customers in line, but the next TEN! She must memorise them all, because she takes no notes, and she gets every order spot on.

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We went to some other hawker centre that night, and had chicken rice (again)… we got a bit obsessed with it all. This one was decent, but again, not spectacular. I did finally get to Tian Tian Chicken Rice at Maxwell Road, but not until my quick stopover on the way back from Viet Nam. I’ll post those photos soon.

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Mr J had a conference to go to for the next couple of days, so I took the chance to try something outside of a hawker centre. I went to Din Tai Fung, in the basement of 313@Somerset. Of course, I had the xiao long bao. They were pretty good, but I’ve had better – at Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong!

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I also tried another ‘local specialty’, a chilli crab steamed bun.

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These are a nice idea, but the crab doesn’t really shine through; they’re too salty, and the chilli oil/juice went everywhere.

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What was a nice surprise was this little cold salad of pressed tofu, chives, bean shoots and bean thread vermicelli. A black vinegar and sesame vinaigrette finished this off superbly. There was a hint of chilli, and it was very refreshing. I’m making this the next time I’m going out for a picnic.

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So those who have been to Singapore before – indeed, those who have not, but know of its culinary reputation – will note the glaring omission from this list of noms. That’s right, no chilli crab (except in those woeful buns). That’s because someone (not me) doesn’t eat seafood. On our final night there, we were at a little food centre next to Aljunied station, and I decided that I had to have crab, no matter what. Unfortunately, this place didn’t do chilli crab – I know, right? – so I just went for the crab with egg. I thought it was going to be crab with salted egg yolk, but it was just scrambled egg. And it was pretty gross. At $20 SGD, it was the most expensive hawker food we’d had, and to be honest, it was probably the worst. Next time, I’m going back to Jumbo.

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Here’s a map of some of the things we did/saw/ate in Singapore (and some we didn’t get around to).

Photopost: La canella

43 Epsom Road, Kensington
Phone: 9939 7241

Clearing out the old blogpost backlog, I came across the prhotos I took when I went to La Canella about 6 months ago. To be fair, all I can remember is the pizza being pretty decent – from the looks of it, the combinations are all pretty classic, in that thin crust, simple toppings style – and the fact that we were all a little ill, and trying not to cough all over each others’ slices. So I’m just going to let the pictures do the talking for me, for once.

 

La Cannella on Urbanspoon

Common(er) claws

122 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
Phone: 9415 6876

Disclaimer: I ate and drank for FREE at the Commoner on the night in question.

‘Twas the night before the anniversary of that guy being nailed to a cross. Some call it Maundy Thursday, but in my ten years of Catholic education, I never learned the meaning of Maundy – it always sounded rather drab laundry, like dull greyish white socks which hadn’t been washed with enough bleach – so it was a pleasant twist when I received an invitation to the Commoner’s launchy Thursday for their April themed event. They’re running different events throughout the year, all with delightfully dorky punny names based on movies. ‘Claws’ = Jaws, but instead of sharks, they’re serving crustacea.

I was allowed to bring a +1 to the launch, but with it being the night before an extra long weekend, many of my friends already had plans to be away. Thankfully, the hard-working @thatjessho was stuck in town and on good behaviour, as she was working on (not-so) Good Friday. So she happily came along, and it was a good chance for the two of us to catch up over free flowing Red Claw pinot gris and invertebrate canapes.

First up were lobster custard cigars. Oh, and by the way, if you want pretty pictures, there were a host of other bloggers at the event, including @msihua @ironchefshellie and @myfoodtrail, so I’m sure you can find much better lit (Jess and I resorted to lighting the food with our phone screens for one another) and framed photos. Anyway, these cigars were a nice way to start the evening – a cold savoury custard with little chunks of lobster meat piped into crisp and slightly crumbly cigars. The custard was a little too salty for my liking, but I’m quibbling; they were pretty good.
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The next item was a crayfish, lobster and scallop terrine, wrapped in smoked salmon, on melba toast. I liked the texture of this; the terrine wasn’t an amorphous mass, and had nice big chunks of shellfish in it.

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By this stage, I was craving something warm, and right on cue, these soft-shelled crab sliders arrived. They were quite good, but there were tweaks that Jess and I both agreed we would have made. First of all, the little round buns were cute, but the height of them meant there was too much bread when compared to filling. The other thing was that the remoulade (I can’t remember if it was celeriac or fennel) was a classic accompaniment, but the saltiness of the crab still required something with more acid or cream to temper it. We concluded it needed mayo.

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Prawn cocktail with a Bloody Mary sauce. Well, prawns with a Bloody Mary, really. The prawns were wonderfully fresh, and cooked perfectly, but the standout was actually the Bloody Mary. It was mixed expertly, in the thicker style befitting its use as a sauce, yet still balanced well with spice and lemon, so it didn’t have the heavy feel some Bloody Marys have; instead, it was bright and fresh.

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Then came the highlight of the night, in my humble opinion. Beer-battered scampi with french fries. The scampi were amazing. Fried until they’re just done, so the flesh was still bouncy and succulent, and hadn’t lost any of the fresh sweetness that often disappears when you overcook seafood. The accompanying fries were miniature and cute; they reminded me of the packet Smith’s french fries I used to eat as a kid. I don’t mean that in a bad way. They were a good vehicle for the aioli (or was it tartare? I can’t recall exactly). The wedge of lemon was pretty unnecessary, really, as the scampi was best eaten as it was presented.

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There was also a chilli crab chowder, with crispy pig’s ear flakes on top. This was quite good too, though I’m not sure how it would translate to a full bowl-sized serving. I had arrived late, so I missed the kataifi-wrapped prawn, but Jess told me it was awesome.

This was all finished off with a brown ale pudding with a salted caramel sauce. Which I could have eaten kilos of; it was that good.

All in all, this was a pretty impressive tasting menu – it’s being served all month as a 5 course degustation – I’m not sure which dishes will make the cut – for $80/$120 with matched wines.

A basic Footscray food crawl (of sorts)

Since I moved to Footscray about 18 months ago, I get a lot of questions about where to eat; specifically, where to get good Vietnamese food. It’s understandable, I guess, as there are a lot of options, so it’s hard to choose without some sort of prior knowledge.

Well, without further ado, here is the curated guide to my favourite places in Footscray. Make of it what you will; just don’t get in my way when I need pho to cure my hangover on a Sunday morning…


View Footscray food crawl in a larger map

My first Christmas

Part of the problem with having about two months’ worth of eating adventures to write up is that some date faster than others. So in the interest of not being too obviously tardy, here’s a quick wrap up of my very first Christmas – that I hosted, that is! I may be a heathen, but I’m not ignunt.

My sister was overseas this last Christmas, and my parents have always been a bit blase about the holiday, so I took it upon myself to save Christmas for the family. Of course, that meant roasting a turkey! Let’s not half-arse here, we’re talking about the birth of some guy about two thousand years ago here. It’s a big deal, right?

So let’s start with the stuffing. Mine was a riff off a Jamie Oliver one from his Cook cook book. But I used dried cranberries and a few other things that Maggie Beer had in her stuffing recipe for goose. So yeah, bacon, onion, sage, celery…
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… remove from heat and add breadcrumbs, dried cranberries …

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… let it coolto rom temperature, then add sausage meat (I de-cased some pork and fennel sausages from my local butcher) and an egg …

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… mix thoroughly …

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… get to second base with your bird. You’re going to be putting it in your mouth later anyway, so no need to be shy …

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… and spread that stuffing all up against its breasts.

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Tie it up so you’ve got complete control of the roasting position… (and yes, that’s a bacon band aid for where the bird’s skin had split on the thigh).

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Wrap in foil and roast in a low oven for four hours. At Jess‘ suggestion, I brined my turkey overnight, in an apple juice and salt brine, but I probably should only have brined it for about 8 hours instead of 16, as the meat ended up a little too salty.

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But I was feeding seven people, and never one to under-cater – I am Chinese, after all – there had to be other dishes. I had chatted with Bryan about Christmas preparations, and he remarked that he was keep to try the port-braised beef ribs which I had made for a Game of Thrones themed dinner party earlier in the year. It was a pretty easy set-and-forget dish, so I thought it might be worth reprising for my family this Christmas, too.

I browned the ribs, and then left them on the stove simmering for about 4 hours in a braising liquid made up of port, beef stock, and various herbs and spices. I can’t remember exactly what went into it, but bay leaves, ground coriander, thyme and pepper are definitely in the mix.

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Then I thought I should have a starter, and given the time (and stove) constraints, I thought gazpacho would be a great option. One perk of a summer Christmas is that you can have those summery dishes too, then crank the air con and bring out the turkey!

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That’s still not enough food! Let’s gin-poach some salmon! (That’s lemon rind, dill and pepper, along with vegetable stock and Tanqueray in there.)

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And make a loose interpretation of salad Nicoise. With sweet potato of course, because of Dad’s Type II diabetes.

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Dressed with a home-made dill mayonnaise. Mayonnaise/hollandaise is so easy with a stab blender – thanks to Tammi for showing me the light.

So here’s what was on the table, in the end:

The salmon Nicoise salad.

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Port-braised beef ribs with carrots which were braised with the turkey.

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The main event: the bird!

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… deconstructed.

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Oh yeah, there was a nectarine, rocket and quinoa salad, too, but that came into being late in the piece, when I had shifted into anxious host mode, and forgotten to take photos.

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I think this may have been one of the most fun and rewarding Christmases I’ve ever had. It’s true what they say about the spirit of giving – or in this case, the spirit of feeding – being what Christmas is truly about. We all had a great lunch, Mum got a little tipsy, which is not very common, and I introduced them to Christmas crackers. Check out their matching paper crowns.

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Then after it was all over, and the folks went home, my housemate and I sat down and relaxed with a nice glass of bubbles.

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OK, it was more than one. There may have been drinking games involved. We may have gotten stupidly shit-faced. But that’s what Christmas is all about for Australians, isn’t it? 😉

Huxtaburger

106 Smith St, Collingwood
Phone: 9417 6328

Yeah, you’ve all heard about it. Well, you should have. Blah blah burger blah blah brioche blah blah wagyu.
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This is the Denise (the hot one).

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Just go eat it.
Huxtaburger on Urbanspoon

Miss Chu

297 Exhibition St Shop 2, Melbourne
Phone: 9077 1097

I don’t want to dwell on the Melbourne/Sydney thing too much. Because apparently only Melbourne people do that, due to a chip on our collective shoulder about being the second largest, and probably not even the second most recognisable, city in Australia. It’s often said that Sydney has better Thai food, and better Japanese food, while Melbourne arguably has better Vietnamese food. I’m not sure whether that’s true, especially since food is such a subjective thing anyway, but if patterns of migration and migrant community populations are anything to go by, these assertions might be justified.

Which is why it seems a little strange that a Vietnamese restaurant from Sydney would open up a Melbourne outlet. Miss Chu opened early last year to some excitement, but probably just as much skepticism. Vietnamese food purveyors from Sydney? That’s almost like Hanoians setting up shop in Sai Gon. Which, for the record, has been quite successful in a number of cases. But I was definitely one of the skeptics when I first heard about it.

My preconceptions of the place weren’t helped by the buzz around Miss Chu serving wagyu pho. Seriously? That’s almost as nonsensical as Spice Temple’s wagyu brisket. Braised brisket is about slow cooking, releasing flavours from tough cuts of meat, and breaking down the flesh until it melts apart. To me, it seems like both a waste and a ruination of wagyu. Similarly, the beef in pho tai (rare beef pho) should have a certain springiness to it, something which is utterly lacking in (ironically) good wagyu. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Miss Chu touts herself as the ‘Queen of rice paper rolls’. And in this, I’m quite happy to agree. Well, she’s a high Lady in that arena, in any case. I have had better, but I lived in Viet Nam for a year, so you would expect that to be the case. Nonetheless, the rice paper rolls at Miss Chu were pretty special. I ordered the tiger prawn and green mango ones, which while pricey, were well worth the extra cost. The sauce bottle was cute, but not really that functional; a little dipping plate would have been useful. The sauce was a little overly sweet, too.

imageOnto the main event: the wagyu pho. A few things distressed me about this whole situation. First of all, the fresh basil and bean shoots were already applied for you by the kitchen. Which is a minor travesty, because it takes something integral away about the ritual of eating pho; the tearing of the basil leaves from the stalks, the topping of your owl with a mound of beanshoots, and the dunking and stirring of all the fresh ingredients through the steaming hot soup. These are all a part of the experience which I love about having pho, and this was denied to me at Miss Chu. So things weren’t off to a good start.

Another part of my ritual is to try the broth before adding anything (lemon, chilli) to it. Again, Miss Chu’s pho fell flat. The broth was on the bland side, with neither the ‘beefiness’ nor the warm spices which typify good pho broth coming through. I was a little hasty in pre-judging the use of wagyu, as the soup was served at a cool enough temperature that the beef didn’t fully cook. Which might leave some people screaming salmonella, but is fine by me. Wagyu – and any good cut of meat, really – should be eaten rare, in my book. In this case, it helped the beef retain a bit of chewiness, which pho needs, texturally.imageUnfortunately, things don’t get any better when it comes to the actual pho noodles. I’m not sure about this, but it seems like Miss Chu is using re-hydrated dried ride noodles instead of fresh pho noodles. The noodles were thin, totally slippery, and worst of all, broken and short. I ended up having to eat most of them with my spoon, rather than slurping them off my chopsticks. That’s another point deduction, experientially. Oh, who are we kidding, points? This dish was a monster fail. Of course, me being me, I still ate it all. imageAnd proceeded to order dessert. A custard bun. Which was yet another let-down. The custard inside was on the dry and crumbly side, and the dough was a bit heavy. imageI know I’m pretty spoilt when it comes to Vietnamese food; I live in Footscray, after all. For the most part, Miss Chu just wasn’t up to scratch for me. But perhaps that was to do with my selection. There are many good Vietnamese restaurants that serve pho – mediocre or bad pho – but that excel in other dishes. I think Miss Chu might be one of these. The rice vermicelli salads looked pretty good, and the rice paper rolls were excellent, too. I could probably be convinced to go back – the atmosphere is fun and bustling, and the service is brisk, but friendly –  I’d just avoid that woeful pho.

MissChu on Urbanspoon

African Taste

124 Victoria St, Seddon
Phone: 9687 0560

I first heard about this place not long after I moved to Footscray. One of the neighbours mentioned it at my housewarming. Then I heard about it again from Lauren not long after that, and also Deb wrote about it around the same time. All of the reviews were positive.

Yet it took me well over a year to finally get down here. And it’s only a short walk from my house, too. For shame. Anyway, I finally did make it, with my housemate and a big bottle of French cider in tow. It was a Sunday night, and the place was super busy. It’s a pretty small restaurant, and every seat was full when we walked in. Thankfully a couple was about to leave, so we put our dibs on it, and wandered down to the nearby bottleshop. That’s where the cider came in.

The waitress (owner?) informed us that there may be a bit of a long wait, as we’d been seated just after two large tables. We didn’t mind, as we had cider and gossip to keep ourselves amused. We pretty much finished the cider before the food arrived, but thankfully, African Taste has a selection of African beers. Which we naturally hoed into. Which will explain why I don’t really remember what this first dish was.
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I remember it being pretty good, and it was my housemate’s first encounter with injera. It’s always a bit tricky to describe injera; lots of people call it a flatbread, but to me, it seems more like a crepe made with fermented flour (hence the slight tangy taste). I remember liking this dish, in any case. Anything you get to eat with your hands is A-OK with me!

Then came the Genfo African Fufu. When ordering it, I pronounced it “foo-foo”. When the waitress read it back, she pronounced it “fyeu-fyeu”. Then we spent the next minute or so trying to imitate her pronunciation and giggling like idiots. Anyway, Africa Taste’s fufu is like gnocchi, except it’s made with bulghur flour. And then pan-fried, and coated with a tasty sauce and a healthy dollop of yoghurt. We had it with fish. It’s amazing, and I’d totally go back for more of this.
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We also ordered a Moroccan chicken salad – I think it was Moroccan? – with a bed of couscous, which was nice, but decidedly less interesting than the other two dishes.
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With so many African restaurants in the area, it’s hard to know which ones to visit. Interestingly, I never hear reports of bad experiences about any of them from friends. Is it because we’re all too inexperienced to know what to expect, or is the standard just generally high in the area? I’m not sure. But I’m going to keep trying more places to figure it out!

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