As promised, the second part of my story on travelling down under will deal with gastronomical bits.
My thrifty flight arrangement saw me spending 8 hours in the KL airport with almost nil to eat. I did, however, sip a lot of the famous malaysian teh tarik, or milk tea. No wonder my friend Vanilla Vain, who’s a coffee addict, said that she didn’t drink any coffee at all in Malaysia because of teh tarik. That was some mighty strong tea.
The first night I went to the much-raved about Vegie Bar in Brunswick for dinner. I am pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed at all. The menu was indeed extensive and the place was pleasant with a hint of chaos. I was told that it is usually much more packed than the night we dined there, but apparently we were lucky to get a cozy seat near the counter.
My dining partner scoffed at my pick of roasted vegies, but hey, to me that “boring” dish was a novelty, and after all, I WAS in Australia.
And I liked what I tasted anyway. Especially the carrot and sweet potatoes. The place served a hearty portion of it, too. Quite a tummyfull after over 20 hours of being devoid of any “real” meal.
We took an apple and rhubharb crumble to take home. That was my first experience of both rhubharb and crumble. I have previously only read about them in my fellow bloggers’ entries and was grateful that I finally get to taste that yumminess.
One day, I went to the Queen Victoria Market and became ecstatic. I wanted to try them all: Cheeses, dips, preserves, fruits..Of course we bought the necessary-the stuff I’ve always wanted to try, that is: squash and artichokes.
I came during what was said to be. one of the country’s longest cold snaps in a long time. In an effort to deal with the weather, I looked for winter recipes on the net and decided to use this Navajo stew from fellow blogger Mangocheeks. The process was fairly simple, but there were several ingredients that were simply impossible to find even though we searched through the market and three supermarkets in Melbourne: chipotle and black beans.
Despite the absence of those two, the soup was warm, filling and flavorful enough to help me deal with my first winter.
we used the rest of the ingredients bought at the markets to make a rather unique dinner: boiled artichokes with butter and tempe balado. Talk about east meets west!
I have heard rumors of tempe in australia not being as good as the one in Indonesia or simply tasting different. But I think it is safe to say that my tempe balado tasted roughly the same as if I had made it in its homeland. Of course there were a few adjustments. Like using a different kind of citrus leaf and mortar’n’pestle.
I wouldn’t say the combination was highly exquisite nor magically harmonious..let’s just say that both items are good on their own and bringing them together doesn’t hurt. Oh, and that was my first taste of artichokes yknow. Slightly too creamy for my taste but maybe that was the butter sauce.it was a bit too much for me, who is used to snappy sweet and sour flavors. I had artichokes dressing later during my stay, in a sandwich combined with sun-dried tomatoes and olives, and that was really good.
I visited a couple of bars when I was there. The first was a “traditional” irish-style bar near Brunswick, and the second was Grumpy’s Green in Smith Street. I owe reference of the latter to another fellow blogger: Johanna from Green Gourmet Giraffe. I am curious about the “eco-friendly bar” thing, and although it was too cold to sit in the gardens and too late to order from the all-vegetarian menu, I could still enjoy what the place has to offer with its relaxed and unpretentious vibe. I loved the slightly quirky setting, the little tucked-in seating spaces in several of its corners, the mezzanine room arrangements, and the big, eye catching logo on one of its walls. I think my companions, who have never been there before also, enjoyed it too.
On the day we saw the Skins ‘n’ Sharps exhibition in Hawthorn, we got a chance to sample the area’s falafels. Although according to Johanna the “best” ones are in this place called Half Moon Cafe in Brunswick, the ones I had that day certainly didn’t disappoint either.
I had tasted hummus a long time ago and I remembered liking it, but after that day in Hawthorn I decided that maybe “like” is much too weak a word. Of course most of my heart would go to tempe and oncom, but those chickpea dishes have been fluttering in and out of my mind since that day.
Speaking of Middle Eastern Dishes, I was also swooned by what I think must be one of the most delicious desserts I ever tasted-and I am not even a big fan of sweet stuff!- from this shop called El Fayha in Sydney Road.
I was first attracted by its quaint, and eye-catching red facade, as well as the fact that they put up a sign saying they sell “the best Lebanese sweet in Melbourne”. Can’t pass on that.
And I think they were telling the truth. The baklava was nice, but what was amazingly good were the pistachio bunches in pastry envelopes. They were sweet, crunchy, rich and sublimely scrumptious. A must-try.
I had my first taste of ready-to-cook vegetarian sausages as well one particular night, and they weren’t as gross as the rumours go.
Our days in the mountains and farm are mostly filled with snacks, whatever we can get cheap at nearby restaurants, and also a lovely homemade garlic pesto mix. But we got complimentary cookies at the farm near Otways, with the label saying it was from “The Ridge” cafe nearby. I saved up the cookies until the day I flew back home, and discovered they were so good! Maybe one day I’ll get the chance to actually eat in the cafe.
For my farewell/birthday dinner, we were planning to eat in one of the restaurants in the alpines but we couldn’t find one that seemed to really stand out and I wanted Japanese anyway, so we decided to wait until we get back to Melbourne.
Choosing between the variety of restaurants was hard, and we had to be assisted with the Lonely Planet since neither of us were Melbourne Japanese Restaurant-savvy. We thought about going to one seemingly fancy place with a casino but that seemed too pricey and loud, and opted for one called Tokushima in Smith Street instead.
I had to admit, the place was slightly too well-lit and crowded for an intimate dinner session. It was more of an everyday favorite rather than a special occasion place, but the food was good and it was indeed pocket-friendly.
I ordered ramen and my dining partner chose udon for the main course. A few mouthfuls later, we discovered that we liked each other’s order better and so a trade ensued. If only the world was that simple perhaps there would be less wars or oppression!
The udon soup, a longtime favorite Japanese dish of mine, was nicely done, with
delicate broth and firm-textured noodles, the way I like it. But I think the highlight of the dinner was the appetizer: eggplant with sweet miso dressing. It had fantastic texture and flavor- soft, caramely,slightly meaty if I dare say- and seemed like a dish requiring much care or practice because everything just clicked in place wonderfully.
I took some delights in jars back home, such as the Umba Chutney I bought at the Queen Victoria market-I used it to make sausages as you can see in my previous post- and a jar of lovely homemade fig jam. The jam is no more and the umba jar is less than half full now.
All in all, it was a delicious trip. I was very impressed at how each eatery had vegetarian options. I loved the extensive selection of yummy breads, and hey, I didn’t eat any vegemite or pavlova. I should come back and do that :D.