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Multicultural Melbourne: 7 best exotic eats
Multicultural hubs unearth flavors of Asia, Africa and Europe -- and an atmosphere to match
Melbourne is stewing in a multitude of cultures. The city's first immigration wave during the gold rush of the 1850s has been followed by a steady intake after World War II, which continues today. Such is the Australian immigrant chronicle.
It creates an exotic atmosphere -- and also a cacophony of flavors to be enjoyed around the multicultural hubs.
The gastronomic jewels are many: an authentic Chinatown, east African cuisine, Moroccan, Jewish, Italian, Greek and Vietnamese, to name a few.
Here is a selection of seven exotic meals to savor -- and a flavor that surrounds you while you dine.
1. Flower Drum for Peking duck in Chinatown
The Chinese have lived in Melbourne since the early days of settlement, coming for the gold rush and staying to share the flavors of the Orient ever since.
Melbourne’s Chinatown, in the heart of the city, runs along Little Bourke Street and adjacent alleys, it is a thriving, colorful precinct full of restaurants, businesses, culture and history.
The jewel in the crown is Flower Drum, a Melbourne culinary institution since 1975. Specializing in Cantonese cuisine and seafood, Flower Drum is also renowned for its Peking duck ($20 for two pieces).
If you really want to indulge, try the signature Supreme Shark Fin Soup, which consists of a whole shark’s fin, braised and steamed and served in comb form, with broth, for $160. That’s right, $160 for a bowl of soup.
Flower Drum, 17 Market Lane, Melbourne; Monday-Saturday noon-3 p.m., 6 p.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 6 p.m.-10.30 p.m., +61 (0)3 9662 3655, www.flower-drum.com
2. I Love Pho 264 for pho-lovers in Richmond
Australia took in a huge number of Vietnamese refugees following the Vietnam War, with even more Vietnamese migrating under the family reunion scheme in the 1980s and 1990s. Australia is home to more than 300,000 people who were either born in Vietnam or have Vietnamese heritage, and Richmond is home to one of the largest Vietnamese communities.
Victoria Street, Richmond, is where you can walk into any one of 30 or more restaurants and be guaranteed a cheap and tasty feed. A favorite is the roast duck at Pacific House, but that venue is currently closed for renovations.
Instead, try I Love Pho 264, a venue that specializes in traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. A small room catering for 30-40 customers on shared tables, I Love Pho 264 is always a hive of activity, frequented by local families and business people. The beef and beef ball pho ($9) is full of beef balls, sliced beef cooked rare, brisket and tendon -- all lovingly slurped by regulars.
I Love Pho 264, 264 Victoria St., Richmond; daily 9 a.m.-10 p.m., +61 (0)3 9427 7749
3. Pasta and wine at Papa Gino’s, Carlton
Perhaps nowhere in Australia is more European than the century-old facades of Lygon Street, Carlton. The few blocks just north of the city center, adjacent to Melbourne University, were originally inhabited by the Jewish community post-gold rush, but after World War II, the Italian community has made it home.
It was the first district in the country to have a pizzeria and espresso machine, and continues to be Melbourne's "Little Italy." Sitting on sidewalk chairs, you can almost taste the eclectic mix of bohemians.
One such place is Papa Gino’s, where a spaghetti vongole ($14.50/$17.90), which is served with shelled baby clams in Napoletana sauce, can be enjoyed with a glass of Pinot Grigio from the local Henley Hill ($5.80).
Papa Gino’s, 221 Lygon St., Carlton; Monday-Sunday noon-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-midnight, Sunday noon-11 p.m., +61 (0)3 9347 5758, www.papaginos.com.au
4. Dinknesh Lucy for African flavor in Footscray
African migration to Australia is a fairly recent phenomenon, but the last decade has seen a steady influx of Sudanese.
Melbourne has a flourishing Sudanese community and western suburb Footscray, previously a Vietnamese destination, is now home to some fabulous African eateries.
The pick is Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurant Dinknesh Lucy, named after "Lucy," one of the earliest hominids, whose remains were found in Ethiopia.
Enjoy the live Ethiopian music every Saturday night and tuck into a shared plate (the traditional Ethiopian way of eating) of the signature Lucy combination: a selection of the best spicy vegetarian and lamb/beef/chicken dishes, served with enjera (Ethiopian bread) and eaten with your hands ($15).
For more local food gossip, go to the www.footscrayfoodblog.blogspot.com
Dinknesh Lucy, 227 Barkly St., Footscray; daily 11 a.m.-11 p.m., +61 (0)3 9687 8644, www.dinkneshrestaurant.com
5. The Moroccan Soup Bar for a banquet in Fitzroy North
Melbourne -- and indeed Australia -- does not have a large Moroccan population, but this cheap vegetarian restaurant is a phenomenon. With all mains under $15, it is always full and patrons need to arrive by 6 p.m. to ensure themselves a seat, because there won’t be a spare one come 6:30 p.m. The soup bar is so popular it won’t take bookings for anything less than six people.
"Soup Bar" is a misnomer because soup is not even on the menu. There really is no menu, either, but instead daily banquets. You can either order the whole banquet to share amongst a group, or select individual dishes from it.
The pick of the bunch isthe chickpea bake, on pita, with natural yoghurt, almonds, paprika and cinnamon.
Moroccan Soup Bar, 183 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North; Tuesday-Saturday 6 p.m.-10 p.m., +61 (0)3 9482 4240
6. 'Stan the Man' Souvlaki at the Real Greek, Fitzroy
Melbourne boasts the biggest Greek population (around 800,000) of any city outside Athens. Many have steadfastly held onto their unique culture, which you can find in the middle of funky Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.
The Real Greek is just that: an eatery where you listen to authentic Greek music and are served souvlaki by Papa Christo and Jim -- who have been doing it on Melbourne's north side for decades.
Named after Greek world champion kickboxer "Stan the Man," this souvlaki will hit the spot: lamb, tomato, onion, fetta, tzaziki and chips all rolled into pita bread ($10.50).
The Real Greek, 315 Brunswick St., Fitzroy; daily, 5 p.m.-midnight +61 (0)3 9417 1414
7. Glick’s Cakes & Bagels in Jewish Balaclava
After all those mains it’s time for dessert, and if you want kosher, head to Balaclava. The area from St. Kilda East to Caulfield has long been home to Melbourne’s Orthodox and modern Jewish communities, and Carlisle Street is its heartland.
At Glick’s you can not only get cakes, slices and bagels -- but biscuits, dips and salads and savories, too.
Using quality ingredients and an eye for detail, Mendel Glick has been selling his boiled bagels since 1969, based on a recipe he discovered post-World War II. Beginning as a niche market selling bagels on Sundays, Glick’s now produces 70,000 bagels per week to fill national contracts. It also does a mean bubka and a heavenly vanilla slice. On the savoury side, try the rice and mushroom blintz or a cabbage roll.
Glick’s Cakes & Bagels, 330A Carlisle St., Balaclava; Monday-Thursday 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m.-8 p.m., +61 (0)3 9572 1295, www.glicks.com.au